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Felicity Ward: What if There is No Toilet? - review

Apr 27, 2016 Theatre

Anyone who has experienced anxiety will be familiar with Beryl. She’s Aussie comic Felicity Ward’s personification of the panic-inducing thoughts the imaginative mind can sometimes run away with, thoughts like “I’m stuck in the middle of an audience at a comedy show. What if I need the loo? Now I definitely need the loo. Now I feel trapped.”

Ward opens her show at the Herald Theatre with a bit of housekeeping for Beryl: there is no gig in the world safer than this to go to the loo – just mind the steep, climbing wall-like seating arrangement of the auditorium. And with that, she sets the tone for a zippy hour of rhythmic comedy, crammed with asides, tangents and improvised riffs that make the stage seem like her living room.

How Ward has arrived at this level of apparent comfort with performing is the subject of the show. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, anxiety and “evolving depression” were triggered by fairly traumatic stand-up experiences in Edinburgh, where Beryl would appear uninvited to convince Ward that she was about to lose control of bodily functions. A medical diagnosis educated Ward about the interconnectivity of the brain and the bowels (apparently there are as many nerve endings as a cat’s brain down there) and Ward began a journey of variously effective treatments. People with anxiety are intelligent, she explains; the yoga pants can do one, the logic can stay.

Vignettes about living in the UK – where Ward has relocated – litter the show, from navigating “The Skype” to stay in touch with home to the incongruousness of Smooth FM (her favourite easy-listening station) lorry driver phone-ins. These details give us a fuller picture of Ward’s life, so that when she gets round to talking about the more “serious” stuff – a “pathetic attempt” a self-harm, for instance – it doesn’t become the thing that defines her. In turn, Ward normalises mental illness in a way that’s surely a comfort to the 50% of the audience who put their hands up when asked if they’d ever experienced it in any way. Even if it isn’t, the silly and joyous ending makes it hard not to leave smiling.

What if There is No Toilet? until 30 April, Herald Theatre. Book tickets.


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