Warning: May Contain Nuts, South Street Arts Centre, Reading
Thursday 20 May 2010
At a time when many comedians see being controversial as an excuse to aim for cheap laughs, a night promising a "taboo-busting evening" may not appear too enticing. Thankfully, the taboos challenged in Warning: May Contain Nuts are ones that actually deserve to be confronted – mental health is an issue around which many damaging perceptions still exist, but it is also a topic that comedy rarely takes on.
Organised by the arts charity Company Paradiso, the night is a mix between a workshop event and a comedy show, with professionals sharing the stage alongside some who are performing for the very first time. Of the lesser-known names on the bill, the most impressive contribution comes from Seaneen Molloy, reading from her witty and honest blog about her manic depression. If she ever plans to turn her writing into a full live show, on the evidence of tonight she would be a natural.
If she was looking for inspiration, she could do worse than follow the example of Mackenzie Taylor. Performing an abridged version of his show No Straightjacket Required, he is given the longest set of the event and his tale perfectly suits the theme of the evening. His remarkable true story about struggling with mental illness and his suicide attempt manages to be both unflinchingly candid yet consistently entertaining.
He manages to change the mood of the audience swiftly as he intersperses the more sombre passages of his story with off-beat observations, such as comparing his illness to having a bad modern jazz band constantly playing inside his head.
Before an impressive set from Reading band Amy's Ghost concludes the evening, the bespectacled John Hegley performs his second short section of the night. With just a mandolin for accompaniment, his comic songs and attempts at audience participation show why he continues to be a master at his rather unique craft.
Whether mental health issues becomes a topic more regularly approached in mainstream comedy remains to be seen, but shows like this make it more likely. Comedy nights that manage to give the audience both food for thought and more than enough laughs are rare – but this is one objective which Warning: May Contain Nuts certainly achieves.
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