Devil's Door Bell

In her stand up show The Devil's Door Bell, Njambi McGrath presents an hour of satirical shaming, teasing the audience into reflecting on colonialism's legacy in Africa.. Trilingual McGrath opines on cultural identity and her upbringing in “Second World” Kenya with warmth, humour and a resigned anger, covering topics from farming, family life and teenage pregnancy to female genital mutilation, kidnapping and Al Shabaab. At times weary and strikingly matter-of-fact, at times angry, indignant and switching back for an easy and quick joke.

Charming and engaging with a vivacious energy, and her subject matter potentially dark and refreshing.

Some of the topics touched on can evoke a particular kind of discomforting humour, as when McGrath playfully needles the audience for Britain's share of colonial shame and the attempts to assuage this through cast-off charity, thanking us “for all the useless stuff.” Americans are similarly held responsible for the state of Somalia, but she has a charm and warmth which keeps the tone light and the crowd on-side, never descending into finger-wagging moralising. She engages well with the audience, inviting them into her world, but does not expect participation and does not intimidate.

On occasion, McGrath delves deeper into darker anecdotes from her childhood and adolescent years in Kenya. These storytelling fragments have more of a personal impact, and allow her to adopt a different style with a slower pace, pulling back on the jokes to emphasise the difficulty of the situation. In general though, the show tries to pack in the laughs, occasionally unexpected, but often seen coming. Some of the gags feel over familiar, let down by a delivery which rushes to the punchline and fails to sell the joke, but when it works she manages to take the audience to an expected finish, and then surprises them sideways.

With such breadth of material and tone, the show somewhat lacks structure, and could use a more coherent and narrower focus. Several issues – especially the social topics – could be more illuminating and more amusing if they were the centre of the piece, rather than running disconnected from one thing to the next. In brief moments she has shown expertise at taking the audience on quieter, darker moments of reflection and feeling, and where jokes might be more built up and developed. Her performance is so full of movement, along with the constant punchlines, it can be difficult to know how to relax, and ideas are abruptly abandoned without much sense of flow. Despite this, she is charming and engaging with a vivacious energy, and her subject matter potentially dark and refreshing.

Broadway Baby Radio interview with Njambi McGrath

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The Blurb

Teenage years are fraught with difficulties for most, but hitchhiking, kidnappings, backstreet abortions and boarding school shenanigans are all in stride of a disco loving teenager Njambi McGrath in her un-Oxfam African childhood. ‘Brilliant’ (Kate Copstick). ‘Trailblazing’ (Guardian). 'A must-see' (Scotsman).