Many, many comedians talk about their romantic relationships. Some can base an entire show on their luck or otherwise in love. It’s an absolute unifier as a subject; everyone in the room will be able to empathise and for all its ubiquity it’s a rich seam to mine. Political comedian Kate Smurthwaite has joined the heaving throng, but she has a different angle.
Having “outed” herself as being in a polyamorous relationship on national TV, she’s decided to address the many questions she’s been asked about her lifestyle by the curious or prurient in frank and open fashion. Making use of the cinema screen in the Banshee Labyrinth as a visual aid, she works through a list of FAQs on polyamory, embellished with anecdotes and autobiographical humour.
ForniKATEress is a warm, witty and accessible introduction to a lifestyle that is still misunderstood; not helped by media that unhelpfully illustrates articles on the subject written by practitioners with sub-50 Shades of Grey lasciviousness and a nudge-wink Carry On smirk. It does however, by Smurthwaite’s own admission, sometimes come across more as a humorous TED Talk than a stand-up show. There are times where an amusing anecdote is left as its own justification for inclusion, rather than explored further for potential laughs. That said, there is a lot of ground covered, and Smurthwaite’s passion for the subject is evident.
The show really does highlight Smurthwaite’s strengths as a storyteller, helped of course by living a relentlessly interesting life. Not only sexually, but as a political activist, radical feminist and frequent contributor on TV and radio. There are hilarious tales such as the last-minute diary-shuffling of every polyamorist in North London caused by by just one person falling ill. There are righteous anger-inducing stories of Smurthwaite’s encounters with religious groups and misogynists. Using the question and answer based structure keeps the show tight, with only the occasional indication that some of the material hasn’t quite found its final space in the hour.
ForniKATEress is a consistently interesting show, and a valuable primer on what is still very much an alternative lifestyle. It’s often simply amusing rather than hilarious, but it never loses the attention or unwinds into a straight lecture. A receptive audience helps, particularly one gentleman who offers frequent outbursts of incredulity at each misinformed opinion Smurthwaite has been subjected to. The normality of the people who engage in polyamory is emphasised at every turn, and it also works as a thorough deconstruction of her own relationship history, incorporating her fiercely strident stance on political injustice. Assured storytelling.