Waiting outside Venue 302 on a Saturday afternoon, I kept hearing people saying they were there to see Jennie Benton, or even just Jennie. This made me wonder if the title of the show was designed to confuse and surprise: unlike most stand-up comedy shows where the name in the title is that of the comedian, this one is named after a fictional character Jennie, a spoken word artist and rapper from Tunbridge Wells. So, don’t mistrust your eyes when at the end of the show instead of Jennie you are invited to follow the comedian Susan Harrison on social media.
The set-up of the venue looked really promising for anyone who’s into linguistics; I was particularly excited by the presence of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary positioned in the limelight on the wee table on the stage and stealing all the attention. However, apart from learning the dictionary definition of the word “ironic”, you should not expect this show to be centred on language. Instead, in her rap songs and banter the comedian explores such eternal and topical themes as religion, recycling and marriage – which, I suppose, is good news for anyone but linguists or those who were in the mood for funny puns and witty word play.
Despite the show being classed in the stand-up comedy category, it reminds more of a theatrical sketch, something you could expect to see during a mid-year exam at an acting college. Susan Harrison is great at bringing her character to life with her nervous movements and squeaky voice. In fact, when having removed the unmissable hat she takes her bow after the show, you cannot help wondering: “Where did Jennie go?!” The comedian even seems to employ the Chekhov’s gun dramatic principle transferred onto her props: “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.” Susan keeps all her promises, however unrealistic they seem. The box of olives, the letters on the wall and the life-size carton person are all not only used in the performance, but become its self-standing participants telling the audience their own little story.
However, Susan Harrison is much better at the acting part than at the making you laugh part. Jennie is one of those comically unlucky characters that everything goes wrong for, and after a while you start sympathising with her so much that you would actually feel bad laughing at her. The show is likely to bring a soft smile to your face, but it would have a hard time trying to make your abs and cheeks hurt from all the laughter. On the bright side, the comedian goes out of her way to engage the audience in her act, so you can expect to sing along and even go home with an added bonus in the form of a pack of crisps. It’s also for this reason that you should avoid taking a seat in the front row unless you are prepared to wear a mask, read out word definitions or miss a small part of the show as a result of being sent to the men’s loo.
Even though “Jennie Benton Wordsmith” is probably not the funniest show you’ll see at the Fringe this year, it’s still quite entertaining and interesting to follow. It features a love triangle, offers some improvisation and will be more enjoyable for those who have seen the Countdown and Stars in Their Eyes TV shows. Somewhat unexpectedly, Jennie is not the only character you’ll see on the stage, which adds some liveliness and diversity to the act as well. In spite of being generally sweet and cute, the show does involve a fair share of swearing (although less than what you’d expect from your average comedian) and touches upon sexting, so don’t be misled by the early afternoon time slot – this is not a show you would bring your kids to.
Although Susan Harrison’s show does not exactly meet the expectation of being the celebration of words, she rightly mentions in one of her rap songs that “the alphabet is there for you and someone else might not be”. If you agree with this statement then I would definitely recommend that you go and catch this show at the Underbelly Med Quad.
About the guest reviewer:
Maria Polyakova lives in Edinburgh and works in Digital Marketing. She loves theatre, folk dancing, short story writing, and discovering foreign languages and cultures. She can be followed on Twitter at @Melorwen.
A ticket was provided to enable this review.