Joanne McNally: Bite Me

Joanne McNally’s hour long confessional Bite Me switches between fairly light comedy and truly despairing tragedy as she opens up about her struggles with bulimia. Whilst I loved this show, some might be confused by its surprising tonal u-turn.

Bite Me made for an incredibly powerful and memorable show.

At the start, McNally is warm and conversational, joking about her aging mother, Happy Feet and 21st century ennui. For this first ten to fifteen minutes, I found the show genuinely hilarious, and was intrigued by McNally’s dark, sardonic persona. There's even some audience participation thrown in, performed almost entirely sarcastically. It's refreshing to be treated with mild contempt instead of needling desperation by a stand up. McNally is truly funny.

What followed after this introduction was a sudden, confusing change of tone. McNally’s demeanour changed almost entirely in the space of a minute, after, out of the blue, she subverted the light interplay of her crowd work with the line “has anybody here ever lost their mind?” Her voice audibly lowered, and she visibly grew more sullen and introspective, and the whole act became darker in the space of a few seconds. This is the point at which McNally began to recount her harrowing experience with bulimia, framed in a one on one session with her therapist.

At first I thought this segment was leading up to another punchline, but after a few minutes it became clear that this was the substance of the show. Initially, I found this confusing and overwhelming, but as the story continued McNally had me on the edge of my seat and I found it a deeply fascinating, intoxicating experience. McNally has a macabre way with language and doesn’t gloss over the realities of her condition, happily revealing herself to the audience in the worst possible light.

The confessional faltered mainly when it was straddling the line between the extremes of comedy and tragedy. The comedic moments were hilarious and the tragic moments were moving, but throughout the show there was a gulf between these two approaches which was never quite bridged. For me though, it didn't matter. Once I was on board with McNally’s story I didn't care.

The jokes that did come later on were more like whimsical elaborations than punchlines; enjoyable in their own right, but best not played for laughs, and perhaps too mellowed by the tragic context to ever kill. Sometimes tragedy doesn't yield comedy so easily. Still, McNally has a naturally funny cynicism about her, and the show still, inexplicably, feels like a comedy even when the laughs are thin on the ground.

Whilst it didn’t maintain the same level of hilarity throughout, perhaps partly down to a difficult audience, Bite Me made for an incredibly powerful and memorable show. I’d recommend this production to anybody prepared to trust McNally’s vision and follow her into the darkest recesses of her mind. 

Reviews by Ben Munster

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The Blurb

Joanne was on an amazing diet and that was brilliant until it landed her in a clinic with a load of people who had lost their minds, which was ridiculous because Joanne definitely still had hers. Turns out her mind had legged it years ago; luring it back becomes the hardest, funniest and weirdest time of her life. Bite Me takes a no-holds-barred approach to her experiences with eating disorders in a thoughtful, deeply sensitive, laugh-out-loud production. 'It's a joy and a delight, and a show everyone should see' (TheArtsReview.com).

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