John Pendal: Monster

Known better for his kink-based comedy, John Pendal returns this year to the Fringe with a different angle to a similar style he employs, one that combines his witty sexual quips with soul-touching anecdotes. Both immediately friendly and foxy at the same time, Pendal is a performer gifted with a bawdy confidence that reverberates around the room, putting the audience at ease with the former International Man of Leather. Yet, behind Pendal’s affable disposition and comically slick virtuosity hides a tender soul in the midst of the fallout of a life pockmarked with painful growing experiences. Harrowing, yet beautifully done, John Pendal’s emotionally raw and subliminal style is the crowning jewel of Monster. What was pitched as a retelling of a life burdened with guilt, shame and hardship evolved into something far more visceral and poignant: a true, heart-rending tale of self-discovery, studded with the brutal exploration of homophobia, gay conversion therapy, and the long-term impact of childhood trauma.

Tender, gripping, and altogether satisfying

Pendal’s fast pace and formidable use of audience interaction sustains the momentum without dulling the attention span. His jokes are a by-product of his life experiences, ones he weaves into a fine tapestry of memories and spoken with an enchanting charisma that carries this show with fervent energy. But it is ultimately Pendal’s dedication to his audience that shines out as his most loveable quality, going above and beyond the call of duty to check-in on his spectators by ensuring that these delicate topics don’t hit too close to the bone, stopping at appropriate intervals if audience members need a moment to gather themselves. Fear not, however, as Pendal will provide many a cute picture of his cats Lizzie and Tommy to lighten the mood when needed.

Reminiscing upon his troubled childhood marred by homophobia, celiac disease and society’s general misunderstanding of autism, Pendal moves to discussing the discovery of his sexuality at the age of 22. Pendal recounts meeting close friend and counsellor Abigail, who steered him towards self-acceptance by helping him realise that homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed of, where the comedic storyteller unveils the lasting damage gay conversion can have on one’s mental health. This recollection rabbit holes into fond memories of glass collecting in a kink club, winning International Mr Leather, and his life within the fetish community. Things are back to blasé; laughter abounds, and the audience are thoroughly pissing themselves at Pendal’s skit on the tribulations of nightclub bathroom sex. Until a left turn falls into a momentary reflection that leaves a decisive blow: the comic wipes away a tear at the memory of one of his companions, tragically lost to AIDS during the midst of the 1980s. The audience grows silent, broken only by a soft gasp or sniffle; no cat picture can resolve the damage, made hauntingly real by Pendal’s raw emotional output.

The show’s ending leaves us with much to ponder, where Pendal presents the room a question his counsellor Abigail once asked him: “Who would you be if you didn’t have shame?” Pendal's sisters' response to this, read from a handwritten letter, reimburses the audience with self-esteem and hope for a brighter future, ending the night with undeniable tenacity and a tear-jerking conclusion. Tender, gripping, and altogether satisfying, John Pendal: Monster affirms the Watford storyteller’s abilities are stalwart, expertly mixing the humorous with the serious, leaving you to shed both tears of sorrow and joy in the wake of this indelible triumph.

Reviews by Stuart Mckenzie

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Since you’re here…

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The Blurb

The critically acclaimed storyteller and stand-up comedian returns with a show about sex and sexuality, which laughs in the face of shame and guilt. Monster is aimed at anyone struggling to feel good about themselves. Since beginning his career in stand-up comedy in 2010, John has performed around the world. His first three shows went on to tour Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Edmonton, Fort Lauderdale, Melbourne, Oslo and Rome. 'An absolute cracker… Fringe brilliance' ***** (BroadwayBaby.com). 'Hilarious… Definitely not to be missed' **** (VoiceMag.uk).

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