Isabelle Farah: Ellipsis
- Deborah Chu
- 9 August 2021
One-woman Fringe show about stand-up comedy and the long shadow of grief
Hannah Gadsby's 2017 show Nanette was widely considered as a watershed moment in comedy. That year's Edinburgh Comedy Award joint winner delivered a searing indictment of the ways in which stand-up encourages comics to translate their trauma into laughter for strangers, and the psychological toll this extracts from the performer. Gadsby is what Isabelle Farah would call a 'level five comic': these upper-level acts, according to Farah, are capable of tackling difficult, conceptual topics. Those on the lower echelons, like herself, should first cut their teeth on smaller observational bits.
Unfortunately for Farah, a recent bereavement means she's finding it hard to cope with the everyday, much less churn out the gags. Ellipsis recounts her first year struggling under the cloud of grief: sitting through an office job with gritted teeth, performing gigs, over-medicating and over-drinking. She prides herself on 'coping' well; that is, until she isn't. Such feelings cannot be pushed aside, or made light of through humour, her therapist points out, before they're faced with head-on. The pain of loss demands to be felt.
This likely accounts for why Farah decided to perform Ellipsis as a one-woman show, with moments of stand-up interspersed throughout. There's nowhere to hide in her plainspoken delivery and, much in the Nanette vein, an audience is made to sit in the raw, unfiltered tension of her loss, and the stark knowledge that we are forever changed when someone we love has died. Unfortunately, all the best, most memorable parts of the hour are when Farah is in comedian mode; she clearly feels most at ease in front of a microphone, which perhaps is part of the point this show is trying to make. Yet despite this sometimes-uneven toggling between the worlds of confessional theatre and stand-up, Ellipsis still makes use of Farah's many talents to shine through the murky lens of grief.
Isabelle Farah: Ellipsis, Assembly Roxy, until Saturday 14 August, 4.15pm, £10–£11 (£9–£10).