You could assume that a comedian that’s been touring a marathon of a show since the run-up to the Fringe might be demonstrating a little fatigue now it’s hit the home stretch. Not so Mae Martin. With only a couple of London dates left, this evening at The Stand feels like a triumphant reprise for a staggeringly assured set that deservedly scooped a Comedy Award nomination at the Fringe.
The elfin Canadian is in fine form straightaway, dipping in her to test the audience’s mood, and finding it warm. With Dope extended to eighty minutes she’s able to be more expansive, and she surprises herself with a brief preface to the show. “I’ve never done this before!” she gasps, in her habitual breathless, Bambi-eyed style.
Dope deals with Martin’s addictive personality, which she anthropomorphises as a French-speaking shrimp that lives at the back of her head and awakes every time she finds something new about which she can obsess. This first manifests as a childhood crush on Bette Midler that goes to extremes, and then the comedy bug which has become her career but also put her into the path of the hedonistic elements that prove explosive when introduced to someone of her type.
Martin proves herself a wonderful storyteller. The show’s structure is finely-honed, as you would expect by the end of the run, but she’s deft enough to leave room for timely digressions and some breaking of the fourth wall. So much of the humour comes from the vivid images she conjures of her early years (she describes herself as a “grotesque Dickensian” child), and the imaginative analogies she uses to illustrate her tales. A central theme is the similar way love and drugs affect the brain, particularly dopamine levels. She illustrates this superbly by comparing cocaine to an ex-lover in a hilariously graphic way. It’s a brilliant highlight, and it’s then that you can see the fifteen years of comedy craft shine through her open, youthful face.
If you were to nitpick at all, there are a couple of moments where Martin slightly breaks stride to warn the crowd that the heavy stuff is on its way, or there is a moment with no punchlines. She’s so good at conducting the tone of her material, and the audience is so clearly going with her, that these signposts are redundant. Yes, there are occasions where there’s a couple of minutes between laughs, but Dope relies on story and Martin’s natural endearing persona and technical skill rather than rat-a-tat jokes.
Martin closes her show by bringing it full circle back to Better Midler with a superb climax (in more than one sense) that is a perfect summation of her light touch and frank material. She’s visibly moved by the end, and it’s a lovely way to conclude a show that will live very long in the memory.