Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
In the second half of The Calman Before The Storm Susan Calman reads out tweets submitted by audience members during the interval detailing acts of kindness they have either administered or received. It is a charming sequence and some of the submissions leave Calman visibly moved. It is, however, a bit out of place in a show that largely tackles the way that perception can lead to prejudice and so shape opinion.
The theme of perception is ironic as the poster for The Calman Before The Storm shows the petit Calman wearing a red duffle coat that makes her look worryingly like the psychopath out of Don’t Look Now. Calman celebrates her tenth year in showbiz by refuting some of the misconceptions that have arisen about her and her country.
There is a sense of Calman having and eating her cake. Denying the perception that she is ubiquitous on Radio 4 but at the same time acknowledging that the audience is only appreciative of her routines because they are regular listeners to that station.
Calman uses her appearance and Scot accent to ironically undermine some of her claims. She bemoans the observation that Scots live on unhealthy diets of fried food and alcohol and are aggressive but her stance is pugnacious. Calman adopts the pose of a prizefighter – standing legs spread like a gunfighter or striding vigorously around the stage. She acknowledges that her Glasgow accent could seem a little intimidating by bellowing out innocuous phrases in a guttural roar.
Calman is famously open about her sexuality but even here she points out that she does not conform to the norm- she retains a posh cardigan to be worn only on special occasions. She is a gracious host – comparing the Salford audience favorably with venues where she formed the impression that spectators had attended just to see what a lesbian looked like. Even the recent purchase of a house does not accord with expectations pushing Calman into surreal meetings with neighbours and bizarre rituals at garden centres.
One way that The Calman Before The Storm does conform to the Radio 4 formula is allowing Calman a soapbox for her political opinions. Her approach to the election of Donald Trump is superb opining that society has been traumatised to the extent that anything now goes including banks giving unrealistic mortgages to impoverished comedians.
The selective nature of the show limits its universal interest. Before long it becomes apparent that it focuses exclusively on Calman or subjects in which she has an interest. There is even an element of settling scores with TV panel shows that refuse to employ more than one woman comic at a time or those who question Calman’s feminist credentials. It is notable Calman cheerfully targets that Brexit and the ‘Tangerine Juggernaut’ while being curiously reticent about how Scotland rejected the vote for independence during the referendum
Reviewed on 5 March 2017 | Image: Contributed