Reviewed by Peter Newling
Let me say from the outset that this show has been the highlight of my festival so far. But it won’t be for everyone. Sometimes the things we value the most are the hardest to love.
When Brown says: “I’m not the most likeable guy” you can take his word for it. He doesn’t set out to be liked – with a glint in his eye he revels in discomfort. His material covers a range of too-close-to-the-bone-for-many topics. From men’s mental health to white privilege to intergenerational differences, he never shies away from the tricky discussions – he stares them down and pulls them apart. Importantly, and with traditional contrarian skill, he challenges the audience to examine their own reactions, their long-held beliefs, their own biases and the values upon which these are based. He pays particular attention to the weight we put on the words, rather than the actions of others.
But make no mistake – the discomfort is more than offset by genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. He strikes a remarkable balance. He has a beautiful, considered turn of phrase – and some of his impossibly long set-ups are a real highlight.
It’s not every day that you see a show that needs a prelude. And footnotes. And a mid-point interlude/debrief to make sure everyone’s okay. These are important elements of the work – not only does it allow him to bring the crowd in on his motivations and intentions, they add context and connectedness to the themes. The postlude is really something special.
Future historians could look to this show as an accurate snapshot of the topics dominating social debates in the early 2020s in western culture. Brown offers us the chance to think about them a bit differently.
Sensitive Man is a finely honed piece of work. Every word, every topic has been meticulously chosen. There is nothing accidental in this routine. To me it’s a rare example of handcrafted comedy.
As mentioned before, this show won’t be to everyone’s taste (Brown would describe the unimpressed as ‘hard of humour’). But if you’re partial to stand-up that makes you work a bit, this could be just the show for you.
Alfie Brown’s Sensitive Man is playing April 12 – 24 at the Mantra on Russell