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.