Edinburgh Fringe 2015 Review: Sarah Callaghan: Elephant

Funny-woman finalist defines and defies her personal space to make for a confident Fringe debut

Sarah Callaghan photo by steve ullathorne

Image: Steve Ullathorne

★★★★☆

Venue: Pleasance Courtyard

In an hour of sharp satire characterised by unassuming observations on a world she’s only too familiar with, Sarah Callaghan makes her audience right at home. With a few gestures, she outlines the dimensions of her own space, describing all the things that embody it; the window, the broken curtain rail, and her prized possession: her shoes, inviting the audience to imagine that they’re all welcome guests in an entirely unwelcome room. She bemoans living with her mum (at the age of 23, which she insists isn’t the new sweet 16), and the crushing sense of boredom caused by being caged up in her comfort zone. The audience is there to make things better, whether they expect to, or not.

In line with this firm trajectory, the comedian manages to put herself across in a largely philosophical light; her acidic one-liners balance well against a few flourishing and refluent twists which fall back to well-considered maxims about her own life. Using the audience as a metaphor, she makes the remark that she can see the happiness right in front of her – the grinning faces of her customers – but can never reach far enough to have it for herself. Instead she spends her life brushing out the dirt on her trainers with toothbrushes: her favourite past-time which even beats sex (‘these trainers have brought down plenty of erections’).

By virtue of the comic’s verbal velocity, the set rattles along briskly and is peppered with neat wordplay, including a few riotous and bawdy puns that secure a laugh out of everyone. On the other hand, when a pun makes a fleeting appearance, the show’s idiosyncrasies are amplified. Scripted to a noticeable degree, Callaghan appears to have put all her efforts into writing a watertight show while the act itself seems to be an impressive (not unnatural) feat of memory, perhaps not surprising when considering the show’s title. Besides, the positives of this method abound: the audience receives a polished, meticulously well-thought out show with a genuine concept carried by the ebullience of its performer, and yet it can at times seem stiff and mechanical, unaided by the speed at which this soliloquy is delivered.

Technically Sarah Callaghan’s full debut at the Fringe, the pitfalls of Elephant are forgive-able. Her shrewd, not to mention very funny invective directed at the dull and easily-defeated people that populate her council estate demonstrate a frustration with the lack of courage many people live with when grounded by the temptation of the easy-option. Touchingly this acts to typify that in an age struggling to deal with the scarring effects of deficit, she’s got an excess of infectious optimism, only ever inspiring the crowd to root for her success. Keep tabs on Sarah Callaghan, she’s got her sights set high and copious amounts of talent to take her there.

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