Review: A Bitter Shrew – Gillian English

4 years ago
Aidan Johnson

A woman with a “dangerous nose” and a shrewd ability to make people laugh, Gillian English brings a refreshing breath of Canadian New World humour to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Aside from being educational (in an amusing way), the show does touch on some socio-political issues, as well as take the audience on an emotional journey in a very effective manner. Something to consider seeing if you get the chance.

To be perfectly honest, this show would not do well in Pauline Hanson territory in Queensland. English touches on “un-ladylike” topics that would make arch-conservative audiences blanch. Fortunately this is Melbourne, where this style of comedy is free of the shackles of conservative prudishness. And the show is all the richer for it. With a healthy sprinkling of sex-positive feminist rhetoric, the show is nonetheless not a preaching of that gospel, but rather accepts that as a starting point, and assumes the audience is on board.

The primary themes of the show centre around sexuality, feminism, and toilet humour. Although not overly bawdy, the show certainly doesn’t pull punches with some of the jokes. English’s style works really well – her stronger presence (both in stature and in voice) mean her numerous stories are very much in character. And there are some useful educational pointers (especially for straight men).

English also does more than simple laughs. The show is cleverly written and performed, and takes the audience on an emotional journey, so much so that after a poignant moment it was possible to feel the tension and anxiety in the room. Then she brings it all back again with some tasteful yet relieving jokes. It’s a testimony to her ability to write and perform that despite the more heart-wrenching moments, the audience was still able to leave

Although there were some minor line stuff-ups, because of English’s raw and relatable style, they were easily played off. Aside from these line mishaps (none of which fortunately happened during the emotionally heavy moments), English puts on a solid show. If you get a chance, and are after a fun night out, definitely see this Canadian comedian.


Gillian English’s show, A Bitter Shrew, is on until 23 April at the Imperial Hotel. Buy tickets on the MICF website or at the door.

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