Jen Brister – Edinburgh Festival review

Now and Then By Jen Brister feels closer to ‘comedy as therapy’ than most shows

Jen_Brister1Is there a building annoy more confusing that the Just the Tonic Caves? Such is its labyrinthine layout, I never know where the hell I am, nor could I ever find my way back to the same place if I needed to.

About 12 of us managed to locate the correct room for Jen Brister’s show, Now and Then, and unfortunately it probably wasn’t worth the orienteering. Brister is taking stock in this show: 37, in a happy relationship, but losing moisture and, more profoundly, says she is seriously dissatisfied with herself. She wants to be more spiritual and content, wants to grow old to become Thora Hird or her mum. She locates the origins of her self-esteem problems to a teacher who chastised her for wearing red tights, and this is the driving force for the show.

As a spectacle, the show was closer to “comedy as therapy” than most. Brister poured her heart out for an hour, but it felt over-performed and intense to the point that we couldn’t relax and enjoy the charisma and performance skills that she clearly has. It seemed like an emotional show for Brister to perform, but this was all too visible and that’s not going to put an audience at ease (especially a small one). She called herself a dickhead so many times – and really appeared to mean it – it became uncomfortable.

The material often involved a lot of bluster and effort on her part for pay-offs that didn’t fulfil the promise, such as her teenage attempts to pretend she was straight, and an overly long drugs story. Insert some meatier punchlines in here and she could have something. Her most successful routines were about her family, and this was by far the most enjoyable strand of the show. Her fake arguments with her brother and impressions of her mother were funny and endearing, and the family dynamic could become the basis of a show in itself. There’s also an exquisite Fearne Cotton slap-down to enjoy.

It ended with a fantasy sequence where Brister is hailed as a Nobel winner and appears on Woman’s Hour, and she reappears wearing a pair of red tights. That unfortunate episode in her childhood still seems to really haunt her, and perhaps this show will exorcise a few demons, but for the audience’s perspective, the hurt wasn’t quite converted into comedy.

2 stars
• Jen Brister – Now and Then is on at 7.35pm at the Just the Tonic Caves
Review written by Paul Fleckney

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