Review: John Pendal: Monster – Sarah MacDonald

Show: Monster
Venue: Turret @ Gilded Balloon Teviot
Stars: *****
Reviewer: Sarah MacDonald

John Pendal storms the stage with heart wrenching honesty complimented by some raunchy titbits, in a show full of straight-from-the-heart laughter, in his triumphant return to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe with his show “Monster”. Directed by the wonderful Laura Lexx, the formidable duo has crafted a show that is accessible to all – both in content and setting. Everything from managing temperature to catering to the socially-anxious amongst us (Pendal even offered his stage seat to a waiting audience member) provided a truly gracious welcome to his whole audience. His attention to detail spans not just across his delightful welcome but across every anecdote and shameful folly he recounts in this comedy-come-counselling look into shame, growth and self-discovery.

Despite the seemingly heavy content – Pendal’s integrity, forth-rightness and ability to find comedy even in his darkest moments makes this a comedy show unlike any I’ve seen in over a decade attending Fringe comedy shows. On account of the naughtiness entailed within the show it is definitely an 18+ but this also allows for there to be a gravitas, as well as hilarity, in some of the topics addressed. It’s hard to turn gay conversion therapy, undiagnosed coeliac disease and autism into the sort of material that elicits laughter from every person in a room but Pendal works his magic. His comedic content alone showed an absolute proficiency in crafting jokes, engaging the audience, and elucidating aspects in human nature rarely examined with such clarity whilst still remaining tongue-in-cheek.

Another commendable element in “Monster” is Pendal’s self-awareness when it comes to discussing topics around womanhood and potentially painful material. He willingly states to his audience that he will skip material if anyone in the audience is uncomfortable with it and is immediately ready to take his show forward. He brings up his background as a sex educator and talks about a focus on consent in this education, further very worthy material for comedy, however, I mention this because there’s a novelty and poignance in the fact that he carries that continued check in for consent when he takes his audience on a potentially painful journey. Pendal’s queer experience is encompassing – his personal account of moving in a queer community did not erase – it celebrated everyone across the board. He also did justice to the elements in the show that deserved a palpably emotional response from performer and audience alike. Providing some well-prepared cat photos to take the edge off when it was all getting a little overwhelming.

Pendal’s graciousness glares out through this touching comedy masterpiece. Despite recounting growing pains that would be enough to turn anyone into a cynic; Pendal has instead turned his experience into a relatable and rousing set that evokes tears, laughter and raises awareness. Pendal ends the show with a touching question posed to him by his counsellor, Abigail: “Who would you be if you didn’t have shame?” Pendal openly states he’s not sure he has a full answer for himself yet, but the response his sister wrote to him is a beautiful eye-opener in the importance of naming that which has made you think that there is a fault within you and dismantling it. The performance is absolutely admirable from every angle Pendal pursues.

John Pendal: Monster: tickets available here
Turret @ Gilded Balloon Teviot
13-26 August (not 16, 23)
7.45pm (60 minutes)

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