Punching pigeons comes surprisingly easily to Martha McBrier, whose hour of engaging and funny storytelling draws on run-ins with pesky birds of all kinds, all the while unmasking a personal, serious side about her long career in social work that never feels trite or gratuitous. That McBrier is immensely endearing comes simply as a by-product of her vital and earnest anecdotes; if there’s artifice here, it’s cunningly disguised.
Over the course of the set, McBrier reveals personal details that do her great credit, but there’s not a single humblebrag.
Her stage presence is warm and dynamic, and offset by a satisfyingly tangy dollop of foul-mouthed vim: in the back room of Finnegan’s Wake, she eschews the mic in favour of a relaxed, expressive style of relation. Whether she’s folding up imaginary prams or mimicking children feeding squirrels, there’s no need for amplification. Belly laughs aside, we’re all ears.
The stories, including the titular pigeon-punching, are ostensibly a series of misornithic tirades; budgies, pigeons, even penguins come under her disarmingly steely gaze. But underneath all this is a heartening set about societal quirks. When she embarks on a lengthy and deeply amusing digression into the aggressively helpful nature of Glaswegians – complete with living, breathing impersonations – it’s always clear that we’re coming back to a particular point because of her effective use of simple visual aids.
There’s an almost uniformly satisfying payoff to these tangents; if anything, she could take some of them further, especially the more absurd ones. When she reports her friend’s announcement of penguin violence as a feminist issue, there's potential for far more humour to be mined. But perhaps that’s the great strength of Pigeon Puncher – however weird the stories, they always remain grounded in the bitterness and joy of reality.
Over the course of the set, McBrier reveals personal details that do her great credit, but there’s not a single humblebrag; she tells you about her do-gooder job only when the story requires it. Similarly, her story about her love of Kate Bush provides a vivid and thought-provoking examination of what it’s like to have a disability trivialised, but she doesn't play it for sympathy.
It all makes for an insightful and educational hour that transcends any danger of sanctimony. Instead, McBrier comes across as a friendly voice with a knack for funny storytelling – who wouldn’t want to listen?