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Sarah Kendall: One-Seventeen review

| Comedy, Spoken Word | 24/05/2018


Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer and Reviewer

Kendall’s journey through time and space leaves you laughing and moved in her most personal work to date.

The last time I saw Sarah Kendall perform live was at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe, where she delivered Shaken – one of three powerful tales to formed her subsequent hit BBC Radio 4 Australian Trilogy series.  But while impressed by her engaging storytelling, I felt her brusqueness – exacerbated by the boisterous weekend Edinburgh crowd – lessened the impact of her message.

Two years on, that criticism can no longer be levelled.  Despite enduring a difficult time personally, Kendall’s become a much warmer performer, willing to share more personal material in new show One-Seventeen.

As with her previous work, One-Seventeen links the past with the present, but now there’s greater frankness when discussing the latter.  Kendall’s retained her no-nonsense delivery and caustic comedic tongue, but the more intimate moments – when she airs worries about motherhood and the fragility of life – draw the audience deeper into her narrative and help even the lower-brow punchlines to land (the best example being a playful twist to a story about a seemingly deluded grandmother).

The show focuses on chance, specifically how people view events through a prism of good or bad luck depending on their personality.  Kendall explains how her father’s hard-wired to spot good luck, whereas her volatile mother – whose screeches Kendall mimics hilariously – sees only bad omens.  Handily, these genes have allowed Kendall to recognise both and not to judge either too harshly.

Taking a detached view of the slings and arrows of life, she weaves a path through her past to tell stories (from car crashes and doctors’ diagnoses to fetid hamsters and nighttime defecations) that each – in some way – represented forks in the road for her family.  The show moves backwards and forwards in time, but the signposts are so clear – and impressions of the protagonists so vivid – that it never becomes confusing.  And the show avoids over-stretching: Kendall eschews trying to get into the heads of her characters, preferring to select certain acts and words which perhaps reveal even more about them.

Astronomy forms a running theme – from her parents’ unsuccessful attempts to spot Halley’s Comet in 1986 to her autistic son’s more recent love of spaceships and astronauts – while the narrative gradually debunks its often confused-for companion, astrology.  Because Kendall ultimately concludes in her moving final monologue – a fittingly powerful ending to the piece – that we are all just here by chance and could at any moment disintegrate like the Challenger Space Shuttle.

Kendall’s storytelling skills are more durable.  The spiky Antipodean edge will always remain.  But at key stages, her armour evaporates and we see a passionate mother, caring daughter and supportive friend.  In other words, someone you could listen to for hours, if you were so fortunate.

Sarah Kendall performed ‘One-Seventeen’ at Soho Theatre between 15th and 19th May 2018 and is returning to London to perform at the Underbelly Festival on 3rd June (get tickets here).  For more information, follow Sarah on Twitter @Sarah_Kendall.

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