Writer: Harriet Kemsley
Harriet Kemsley bounds on stage with perhaps more enthusiasm (and energy!) than one might expect from a recent mum, and certainly more than many can muster on a Tuesday evening. Fresh from a successful Edinburgh run, Kemsley is here to share her chaotic, no-holds-barred and consistently enjoyable stand-up set with an expectant Soho audience.
Kemsley immediately delves into a warts-and-all discussion of her relationship, sex life, and family, before the structure of the show reveals itself. Kemsley’s new motherhood has thrown a new light on both her own failings and those of the world she’s bringing her daughter into—failings that are analysed, satirised and combated throughout the next hour. It’s a thread throughout the set that mostly works, if sometimes veering between earnest message-giving and chlamydia comedy a bit too rapidly. The device of the hamper of her own childhood memories offering guidance for a new way forward comes in too late for it to act as the core of the set—it feels like an after-thought, as if Kemsley was told she needed a plotline. This is not however manifesto comedy, and Kemsley manages not to preach. Instead, she uses anecdotes to shed light on the difficulties of growing up as a woman in a male-dominated world and how this might change in the future.
Kemsley is an obviously talented stand-up, whose act is polished enough to deliver joke-upon-well-rendered-joke, but chaotic enough to keep the audience on side. Her audience interaction in particular is a joy, and Kemsley’s comedy is relatable but personal. However, a filter is something Kemsley does not have, and it is at this point that comedic tastes will differ: some routines about the ickiness of birth and the conjoining of various downstairs areas had some audience rolling in the aisles, and others maintaining polite, uncomfortable smiles. But Kemsely never lingers too long in any sphere to stop the laughter, stringing along a varied group of often pleasingly absurd gags on topics as diverse as lip fillers, gingers, and sloth sex.
Honeysuckle Island is a well-wrought hour of stand-up, if one that aims too much for a gimmick it doesn’t entirely need. It’s a pleasure to spend the time in the company of Kemsley, a warm and witty dose of chaos who also offers interesting reflections on the roles of mothers and daughters in an ever-changing world. And it ends with firmly tongue-in-cheek angst about climate change and the Vengaboys. What more could you want?
Runs until 17 September 2022, then tours