Susan Calman, The Lowry, February 22 2015
In ‘Lady Like’, Susan Calman proves that she’s an old school stand up with a carefully honed performance, making much of frequently addressing the audience as ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ and working with no distractions on stage, simply herself and a microphone. It’s such an assured and professional set that it comes as a surprise to learn that this is Calman’s first UK tour. Although she describes her audience as a mix of Radio 4 listeners and lesbians (distinguishable only by their shoes), she seems to have a general appeal that has made her a mainstay of TV panel shows and radio comedy. Watching her live, you can see why.
Whilst she covers the expected topics: her infamous love of her cats, her height, being a celebrity lesbian and offending the old guard of radio four listeners just by that very fact, her love of food (especially Viennetta), her relationship with her wife; she also touches on some more serious subject matter, at one point leaving the audience momentarily silenced and unsure how to react, which was obviously planned and is then defused with aplomb. And even her stock in trade subjects are delivered with style and finesse, hitting home with both expected and unexpected humour.
Dressed very fetchingly in a bright shirt and tailored waistcoat (although unfortunately not the excellent and Dr Who-esque suit featured on her tour posters) she used the small stage in the Lowry’s Quay theatre with confidence, doing more physical comedy than you might expect from someone who so roundly mocks her own fitness levels. She talks with genuine affection for her home town of Glasgow even when describing its less attractive features, and this is part of her appeal. Using a real candour and honesty in her act makes you warm to her, even in those moments of mock rage she slips into when the subject demands. She is especially direct in talking about her experiences on social media and the effect this has had on her life and sense of self, and some of this section is actually quite moving. But she never becomes maudlin or self-pitying, and is swiftly back to describing what was possibly the least successful honeymoon ever, and how she Skypes her cats each night while she’s on tour.
As this is her first tour, and she may well be reaching a new audience with it, she devotes some of the first half of the show to describing the things that it’s important to know about her with a polished sense of self-deprecation. This sets the audience up nicely for the more in depth and slightly more intense second half. She touches on subjects like mental health and homophobia without making them heavy going or uncomfortable, indeed this is one of the things that makes her such a great and genuinely likeable performer; her ability to take big subjects and take them seriously whilst keeping them funny. There is never a pause, a hiccup or a slip in her performance, and she has the whole audience in the palm of her hand from the moment she walks on stage. Her visit to Paris with her newly married wife will stay in the audience’s mind for a long time, not least because of the physicality of her re-enactment, as will the preceding story of how they ‘upgraded’ their civil partnership in a supremely unromantic way.
Calman rounds off her show with a spectacular flair that enchanted the audience and brought several of them to their feet during the final applause. It’s a delightful finale to a delightful show that traces Ms Calman’s journey from self-doubt to starting to like the lady she is now.
Years of doing the Edinburgh Fringe and the quick wit needed to be a regular on radio panel shows have obviously stood Calman in good stead for her national tour, and so it comes as a surprise to find that she hasn’t been doing this her whole life, but in fact started out as a lawyer. Her description of her mother’s reaction to her career change is funny because you sense an underlying truth to it. Recently voted the fourth funniest lesbian in the UK (behind Sandi Toksvig, Sue Perkins and Rhona Cameron – for whom she is apparently she often mistaken) it is obvious that she has definitely now made the right career choice.
Sarah Jane Vespertine