Going to see comedians with no prior knowledge of their work is always a bit of a risk. But when I heard that Hayley Ellis and Sally Anne Hayward were both former Sarah Millican support acts, I relaxed into my seat a little. Unfortunately though, my sense of relief was short lived. While Ellis’ half provided a fun-packed hour of Northern charm, Hayward’s outdated material left me on edge.
Unfortunately though, my sense of relief was short lived
The first hour of the show was everything you’d hope for from a low-key Wednesday evening of comedy, with Hayley Ellis providing just enough relatable anecdotes and daytime TV references to make you feel like you’re in her living room, having a giggle over a copy of Closer magazine. Skillfully flitting from hangover cures, to veganism to the contents of Rachel Riley’s fridge, Ellis manages to draw the audience in at every turn. One particular highlight was when we were encouraged to help orchestrate her grand outro with the aid of party poppers and a toy helicopter. Although it might all sound like fun and games, you’d be wrong to think that Ellis’ set is purely trivial. The comic manages to detail her history of anxiety with a lightness that is both educational and engaging.
But if Ellis’ comedy is a cosy cuppa tea on the sofa, Hayward’s is a shot of vodka on a bed of needles. It’s clear from the outset that Hayward is quite comfortable putting on a ‘bitch’ persona (she’s previously been described as having the sensibility of the Jack the Ripper). But this becomes difficult to swallow as she throws punches at increasingly undeserving targets. Now I may like a joke about sitting on Donald Trump’s face as much as the next woman, but gleefully mocking fat people, people with eating disorders and Raynaud’s disease isn’t really my bag. As she pokes fun at feminism and those with food intolerances, it’s clear that Hayward is trying to push boundaries – though I’m not sure she’s pushing them in the right direction. And if the unpleasant content of her jokes wasn't enough, her delivery was also pretty poor. We were treated to the same whiney impression of a colleague with Raynaud’s several times, which quickly lost its impact.
While there certainly was some raucous laughter during Hayward’s set, the atmosphere in the room eventually grew icier and I found myself willing it to end. When it did finally draw to a close, I found myself stunned by the difference between the two comedians and utterly perplexed at how they even knew each other.