Joanne McNally @ Assembly Roxy
Horror and humour curdle together in an hour about bulimia
Joanne McNally opens with a friendly ten minutes of storytelling and stand-up, and the laughs flow thick and fast. She gets the mums in the audience to raise their hands, then talks about drinking wine with her own mother. A glass is the equivalent of a donut, she reveals. But if she’s going to have the equivalent of a donut, she wants to eat the donut... and then she wants to purge it.
McNally’s story continues, but the laughs dry up. She tells us about being in the grip of bulimia, attending therapy, hitting rock bottom. Her therapist gets her to picture her eating disorder. He turns out to be very like “yer man, Louis Walsh” and an unconvincing voice-over from him eggs her on, in the only break from McNally’s gripping performance. Her unblinking stare is transfixing as she drags her audience through binge and purge, binge and purge. The tense of her monologue switches between past and present, planting a seed of worry: how far is the woman on stage in recovery? You want to think this is behind her; you can’t be sure.
It’s that doubt that hampers the laughs. There’s a wide streak of black comedy in this show – McNally is a dark and inventive writer – but too often, laughter feels like being complicit. At one point, McNally says of her mother “she won’t see the funny side, and I’m 80 per cent sure there is one,” before ripping into one of the best gags of the show. It got only half the laugh it deserved from an audience that were unprepared to go as dark as McNally did.