Sara Pascoe vs History

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d come to the wrong classroom: at times this show seems more like Sara Pascoe vs Biology, what with the fascinating nano-lectures on “sperm selection” and the evolution of human sexuality. You’ll ask yourself: could the link between breast size and capacity for vaginal orgasm really be part of a history lesson?

It’s refreshing to see a performer so comfortably goofy and enthused on stage.

Well, yes, because everything’s relative in this ambitious, compelling set, whose scope is by turns extremely broad and tremendously detailed. In the wake of moving in with her boyfriend, Pascoe questions what makes a relationship successful. Which romantic precedents can she follow? Sylvia and Ted? Napoleon and Joséphine? Adam and Eve? Her own romantic history provides a rich seam of anecdotes, but most enthralling is the way she nonchalantly peels back the layers of societal limescale which push us towards shacking up in the first place.

It’s a beautifully constructed set, providing a steady stream of laughs. She starts small, with a glance at her life in Lewisham and a digression into nominative determinism. Before long we’re being educated on the very active nature of female sexuality – this is where the biology comes in – allowing Pascoe to segue into topics of once hot, now warm contemporary debate, such as Miley Cyrus at the VMAs or Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. The way she approaches these stale subjects is refreshing and balanced, but breezy enough that it never feels sermonic.

Underneath the quirky humour is a show with a distinct and indisputable feminist voice. Pascoe balks at being labelled with the pleonasm “female comedienne” by FHM. She apologises for using a “hack” (hackneyed) stand up topic – going to the gym – before listing other examples of the phenomenon: “talking about plane food, or being a man.” Her razor-sharp wit, smoothed by carefully measured helpings of whimsy, exposes indefensible but socially ingrained double standards; her dismantling of the arguments for Page 3, in particular, is a surreal joy to behold.

Pascoe seems as keen to educate as she is to entertain; her set succeeds in providing keen intellectual engagement, perhaps at the expense of a definitive moment of hilarity. The show’s final moments feel a little rushed – the scale of the show suddenly dwarfed by a look at the entire Universe – but the ambition of it is commendable. It’s refreshing to see a performer so comfortably goofy and enthused on stage. If she were in fact a teacher, one can only wonder what her students would be capable of.

Reviews by Larry Bartleet

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The Blurb

The past contains wars, witches, Kim Yong-Il and your ex. Your brain can recall being a child, while your body remembers being a monkey. Everything that has happened shapes who we are today ... does free will even exist? Who cares! Miss Pascoe is here to amuse us with her joking! 'An exhilarating, deeply satisfying show' (Times). 'Nothing less than full mega-watt charisma' (Guardian). 'Always clever and sometimes exquisite' (Independent). Sara's TV history includes QI, Twenty Twelve, Campus, Stand Up for the Week, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Live at the Apollo.