“This is a lecture about art” says Hannah Gadsby, as she takes her place behind the lectern. It certainly bore all the hallmarks of a lecture – lectern, screen with relevant slides, laser pointer – but this was funny and irreverent, personal and occasionally silly.
We giggled to hear the great artists of the High Renaissance introduced as the Turtles (Michaelangelo, Raphael and Donatello), giggled again as the creator of the Sistine Chapel ceiling was described, after reference to his obsession with human anatomy and emphasis on extreme musculature in all his figures, as a “big gayer”.
Gadsby (who does actually know about this stuff, with a degree and everything) comments enthusiastically on images of the Madonna from earliest times to the Renaissance. “Look at that halo” she murmurs, the red point of her laser pointer dancing over the screen. “It’s like you’re there”.
One of the best things about this show is that you do learn the full story of the Madonna (ever so slightly airbrushed from the original Gospels after the Crucifixon) and about her importance in art, religion and society. You also learn about the differences in the various artistic movements, and you learn that there might be someone up there after all, as we watch the large painting of the Madonna spontaneously fall off its perch halfway through the show after a particularly saucy section about the Annunciation.
The show is, says Gadsby “mildly blasphemous”. But it is hugely entertaining and absolutely fascinating. It is one thing to wear one’s knowledge lightly; Gadsby barely wears it at all, just casually flinging fact-studded asides at a packed and rapt audience.
Renaissances High, Northern and Proto, the progression from Intuitive to Atmospheric and One-Point Perspective and the momentous effect of the invention of oils might not sound like the stuff of the Fringe comedy. But there are shows with way fewer funnies than this, and they will never show you round the murals in the Scrovegni Chapel.
Later in the day Hannah returns with her regular stand-up hour, Mrs Chuckles. Ironic title, as you will have guessed: Hannah rarely chuckles (although her recent discovery of Tunnock’s Teacakes appears to have cheered her up a fair old bit). We, on the other hand do, rather a lot. Hannah comes from a tiny town in Tasmania, didn’t meet a stranger until she was seven and had three big claims to fame in her schooldays. She is a fan of silence, useless at small talk but fascinated by last words.
Her show is not packed with comedy gimmick or one- liners, but it is an hour of sheer smiley, relaxed enjoyment. Were it potable, Mrs Chuckles would not be a smart cosmopolitan or a laddish pint of Stella, but a big mug of hot chocolate with a large shot of brandy. Try and see both shows before Divine Vengeance is wrought upon her for the dodgy comments about Jesus’s mum.
Kate Copstick (23/8/11)
Buy Tickets for Mary. Contrary. Here
Buy Tickets for Mrs Chuckles Here