“It’s so adorable! Do you come here so that you can sit in such an adorable room?” was how comedian Sarah Kendall greeted her audience at the Georgian Theatre Royal.
Like many comedians before her at this tiny historic venue, the energetic red-haired Australian seemed bowled over by the intimacy of the space. “Welcome to our front room!” bellowed one man in greeting and Kendall relished the close audience interaction that was to follow for the rest of the evening. So much so, that at one point she enticed a couple to move forward into some empty box chairs so that they could be even closer to the stage. “Break the rules!!” she commanded as they hesitated to change seats. “You’ve got to remember that I’m descended from convicts – it’s what we do.”
One-Seventeen is ‘a show about luck’ and bounces between stories featuring Sarah the adolescent and Sarah the grownup – all carefully interconnected. It begins in 10-year-old Kendall’s back garden, where her family gathers to watch Halley’s Comet on its race across the sky. Her parents are on the verge of divorce, there is a vicious and ongoing war with the ‘new money’ neighbours, no one actually sees the comet but the day is saved by a dramatic altercation between the family cat and a venomous brown snake.
Stargazing and cats are a recurring theme throughout the show and Kendall proves herself to be expert at cat impressions. Luck is epitomised by her parents’ opposing viewpoints. To Kendall’s ‘glass-half empty’ Mum, almost everything can be construed as a bad sign (she rejoices that Kendall doesn’t win the lottery as she may buy a jet ski and crash into a ferry). To her Dad, bad luck is often good luck in disguise.
Kendall’s family and pets feature prominently in the beguiling tales that make up the first half of the show. And there is no doubt that she is a skilled storyteller. We meet her two grans – the ‘exciting’ Shirley who is convinced that she was abducted by aliens and the ‘boring’ Alva who it later transpires stabbed someone with a pair of scissors. There is also a life and death situation with a hamster and another cat trapped in a school bag that finds itself at the centre of a pivotal car crash. In most parts, the re-telling of these stories is hilarious but there are poignant moments too such as her son’s autism diagnosis or the return of a childhood friend’s cancer. The switch between laughter and sadness turned on a sixpence, with Kendall firmly in control.
The second half of the evening was an entertaining run-through of scripts for Kendall’s new radio series – all connected to the stories told before the interval. At times, Kendall assumed the role of a schoolmistress, peering over glasses at her audience and checking whether they understood the references. This was something the audience was more than happy to engage with and the only time that Kendall was derailed was when someone helpfully tried to tell her that Halley’s Comet actually hung around for some time thus undermining much of the material used during the show. A concerned audience discussion followed and eventually the penny dropped that Halley’s Comet and Hale-Bopp had been confused. Phew!! Thankfully all was well and everyone went home happy.