Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
The life of Emma Hamilton, mistress of Lord Nelson, seems an unlikely topic around which to build a stand-up show. But then Shappi Khorsandi’s personality does not seem best suited to academic research and neutral presentation. Khorsandi presents herself, and may actually be, a bit scatter-brained. Efforts to build a rapport with the audience are hindered by an inability to remember names. At one point Khorsandi has to be reminded that, when featuring in the realty TV show I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, her co-star was Amir Khan not, as she constantly remarks, Imran Khan. ‘‘I got the Brown People mixed up,’’ she wails. ‘’ Thank God I’m not white.’’ This type of social embarrassment is a theme to which Khorsandi returns throughout the show usually using herself as an example.
Mistress and Misfitis a loosely constructed show. Khorsandi sympathises with Emma Hamilton and the choices that she, and by extension other women of the period, had to make. Khorsandi ‘s approach in examining the period is unconventional revealing that an equivalent of ‘Trip Advisor’ was available offering reviews of prostitutes. There is an underlying distaste in Khorsandi’s delivery as she describes the manner in which Hamilton was passed from one man to another when she became a liability.
Khorsandi does not try to draw parallels between herself and Hamilton although she does not deny they have things in common. Both were models for artists but while Hamilton inspired great works Khorsandi posed for polite Muslim boys who were so shy they basically just sketched their own shoes.
During one of the many lengthy digressions from the main topic Khorsandi acknowledges that she has made the show about herself again. For once, however, the autobiographical approach is welcome. Khorsandi has led a fascinating life with her father, an acclaimed poet, being forced to flee Iran to avoid execution and the family having to live in a safe house after an assassination attempt. Khorsandi has a fine ear for cultural embarrassment and one of her best routines involves the mortification of a doctor, who is performing an internal examination by inserting a camera up Khorsandi’s bottom, freezing into immobility when an Iranian nurse recognises the patient and recites in full one of her father’s poems.
Khorsandi constantly returns to the complexity of modern society and the obsession with classifying people by race, gender or sexual identity. She recalls the difficult decision to withdraw her novel from consideration in the contest for best novel by a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) author on the grounds that she did not actually fall into any of the categories and the subsequent controversy with exasperation as much as amusement.
Khorsandi’s technique is to set up a solemn scene and then push it to a comedic or ridiculous conclusion. The father of one of Khorsandi’s children has never met his daughter and abandoned her mother when she refused an abortion. Khorsandi recalls enviously watching a contented family in the park before revealing that they are geese.
Despite having a theme and a loose structure a great deal ofMistress and Misfitfeels improvised; certainly during the first Act when Khorsandi performs as her own support Act. It is hard to be sure what will feature in the show from night to night but certainly at The Lowry the material was of a very high quality that should ensure a good night wherever the show plays.
Reviewed on 1 June 2018 | Image: Contributed