Dante's History of the Banished

Dante’s History of the Banished is framed around the conceit that Dante Alighieri, legendary poet who penned the Divine Comedy, is writing a new book about the titular ‘banished’, knowing something about the experience himself. By engaging with the exiled figures of yesteryear, Dante hopes to shed some light on the dispiriting, painful experience.

Martin is talented in every style she pursues, and like her Italian forebears, is a real Renaissance woman.

Charlie V. Martin inhabits her characters, which include Dante, Napoleon, King Lear and Eve of Genesis fame, with depth and loveable charm. Martin, in all her roles, is a fun and joyous performer and commits wholly to her characters. Her natural funniness always shines through, and I was particularly impressed by an improvised agony aunt section as Napoleon in which Martin ad libs answers to audience members’ problems in a demure French accent. One audience member said he was scared of heights, to which Martin replied, ‘well don’t go up them then, problem solved’ (maybe you had to be there). The audience interaction here was funny and Martin’s lateral take on the world is fun to watch unfold in real time.

Unlike comedians who learn just enough about a topic to form a punchline, Martin demonstrates genuine expertise in her chosen area of comedy. As Dante, for instance, she wears historically faithful clothing (Martin explains how she wants to move away from the gritty, hyper masculine versions of Dante in video games) and occasionally lapses into real Italian.

Charlie V. Martin merges several other styles into her show, some of which work and others which stumble a little. A ten minute reproduction of King Lear with puppets switches from light vaudeville to grave soliloquising, and at one point I was just genuinely taken in by Martin’s superb performance as the King. Some other moments are a little more self-indulgent. As Eve, Martin’s extended rant about the patriarchy in a nominal stand up set strays a little too far from comedy and into sophistry, and isn't particularly innovative or interesting; her points are ready made for mass consensus, and I found myself agreeing and cheering as a thoughtless reflex.

Whilst all the characters in Dante’s History of the Banished are people – fictional or real – who were all at some point exiled, this is as far as Martin’s thematic coherence goes, and there was little discussion of banishment itself save for a few pre-made video transitions between characters, and the briefly discussed link between exile and modern mass-deportations. Still, this hardly bothered me, and the thematic looseness actually came as a relief; who needs a comedy show to have a cogent ideological thesis (besides Russell Brand) to enjoy it?

Thankfully, Martin is so full of life, and so funny in her various performances, that she can be forgiven for the thematic inconsistencies and brief descent into demagoguery. Martin is talented in every style she pursues, and like her Italian forebears, is a real Renaissance woman. 

Reviews by Ben Munster

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The Blurb

A solo debut that introduces you to history's most infamous exiles as you've never seen them before. Dante, the renowned Italian poet, can't wait to leave behind his tales of hell to guide you on a journey through space, time and potted plants. Eve atones for her sins with feminist punk stand-up and Napoleon is your tough love life coach. Finally, King Lear attempts to perform all of King Lear in under two minutes. A mixture of characters, storytelling and improv. Written and performed by Charlie V. Martin (BBC Scotland, NFTS with Channel 4).

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