By Jess Welch
If you’re looking for the answers to life, or positive affirmations, Simon Amstell’s What Is This? is not the show for you. While Amstell asks the questions, he doesn’t have the answers and that’s ok. He might not have your answers, but he’ll take you through some of the things he’s learned so far in life. They might be applicable to the audience, or they might not, but we all learn a lot about Amstell and the life he’s led.
What Is This? delves into Amstell’s psyche, examining how he’s become the man he is today. It’s the stuff most would only share with their psychiatrist, but Amstell honestly and vulnerably shares his experiences. It’s a glimpse into the backstory of a stranger, the likes of which are rare to find. At times you will feel sad for the things he’s experienced, but Amstell is a master at toying with our emotions and somehow turns the melancholy into hilarity.
The stories of his childhood are especially heart breaking in places, but the understanding and healing from those times are the highlight of the show. Many have fraught and complicated relationships with their parents and hearing the story of Amstell and the journey, especially with his father, is incredibly personal and touching.
Of course, there are other, less serious and slightly less child friendly than others, but they blend perfectly with the stories of childhood as a sort of cause and effect. I have never seen such honesty and self-awareness in a show, and it’s wonderful. There is one moment in the show that opened my eyes to not only what Amstell was feeling in that moment, but what the other person in the story is feeling and it’s eye opening. The empathy that Amstell shows is astounding.
The audience leaves examining their own life, taking stock and trying to work out what happiness looks like for them. You will leave asking What Is This?
Simon Amstell performs What Is This? at Arts Centre.
By Annette Slattery.
Simon Amstell, is numb, disconnected from other people, he explains to us from the outset of this, his first Australian show. He’s disconnected from people at parties; he believes people on the street are disconnected from him and he feels disconnected from his father. This show traces his spiritual journey, including a trip to Nepal to attempt to find some kind of connectivity with nature and the people around him. He also talks about sex quite a bit.
If you come to this show for the acrid comebacks and searing put downs of the “Never Mind the Buzzcocks” Amstell, you will be disappointed. This is a softer Amstell, more contemplative and vulnerable. He’s even dressed differently from how you might expect. He’s not the sharply dressed, young, hip, uber groovy Amstell of “Popworld”, but with his glasses, devil may care hairdo and loose fitting clothes, he’s almost a bit shabby. However whilst his clothes or his attitude may be not be sharp, his wit is as sharp as ever. Like some of the great comedians, Amstell can also impart a great deal of meaning with a look or a simple gesture, something he displayed superbly as he dealt with a girl using a camera in the front row.
This was the first preview show and as one might expect there was still a bit of working out to be done. Amstell made no secret of this and used it as the source of great amusement as he made a point of noting down some of his funnier adlibs and of checking his notes with a clown like, faux slyness.
Some of the themes in this show; bemoaning a dying planet and going on a spiritual quest to find himself, seemed a little old hat. However Amstell injects enough humour and self awareness into these subjects to pull it off. This is a consistently funny and interesting show from Amstell and it only promises to get stronger as the run continues.
Simon Amstell is performing his show “Numb” at The Lower Melbourne Town Hall. Though scheduled to start @ 8:15, the show started and finished 20 mins late. However this may just have been a first night hiccough.