In Sarah Keyworth’s debut Fringe show Dark Horse, the comedian tackles some heavyweight issues and explores gender, sexuality and identity in an emotive but hilarious hour of comedy. The audience are taken on a journey to self-acceptance via childhood bullying, slut shaming and Keyworth finding joy in her job as nanny to two posh children.
The comedian has never been “girly”; at age five, she demanded a short haircut like her brother, earning her the label “tomboy”, which feels harmless compared to the name-calling when she reached secondary school – “manbeast”, “he-she”, “dyke”, “tranny” and “hermaphrodite”. She decided to conform to gender norms with the sole desire of fitting in – growing her hair, wearing pink and embracing girly culture, all of which caused the name-calling to stop. At university she posed as heterosexual, leading to a hilarious visual gag which has the audience in fits of laughter. After being labelled a slut for her perceived promiscuity with men, she comes out as gay and starts living the life she wants, freeing herself from society’s view of femininity.
In her job as a nanny to two children who are “so posh they have dog’s names,” Keyworth finds history repeating itself as she watches the children grow up in a culture where boys and girls are still put into neat little boxes of what is deemed acceptable for their gender. She watches the little girl grow from a confident four-year-old, so comfortable in her own skin she must be forced to wear clothes, to a seven-year-old bundled under layers during a heatwave because she doesn’t want to dress like a “slut”. The recurring theme in Dark Horse is the power of language, and how this is used to pigeonhole and confine people and how passionate Keyworth is about changing the way we speak to children about gender.
The comedian’s style of storytelling is gripping, making you eager to hear more, even when the conversation moves into slightly gruesome mooncup territory. The show may be built on sociological ideas, but this isn’t a TED talk or a patronising lecture, it’s a passionate, hilarious and moving hour of comedy. As well as the weighty material, there are hilarious anecdotes on why being a lesbian is like having the same phone as your partner, why lesbians wear camouflage and Keyworth finding her own liberal ideas challenged by polyamory.
With a sell-out run and a Best Newcomer nomination at the 2018 Edinburgh Comedy Awards, Keyworth’s show is rightly making an impact and will likely prompt the audience to reflect on the way they speak to their own children, siblings, nieces or nephews about gender roles.