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Brighton Year-Round 2023

Low Down

If you’re reading this review then you’ve probably been to see at least a few stand-up comics. They come in all flavours – male and female, straight and gay – and they usually try to be outrageous enough to keep the audience laughing and to stay one jump ahead of being heckled (though in some shows the hecklers are funnier than the performer). I’ve heard everything from hysterical laughter, to groans, at the end of a story or gag.


What I can’t recall from other shows, though, is the absolute silence that followed one of Lea Sep’s pieces. For a few seconds, though it felt like much longer, her audience was – literally – gobsmacked.

Lea had been to the pub to watch a football game between England and Croatia – did I mention that she’s Croatian? – and went downstairs to use the cash machine. There were three old blokes on seats near the machine: Lea described them as being in their seventies or eighties, sat with legs open, man-spreading, and she acted the part of one of them by bending forward with her knees wide apart, leering at us while she put on a screechy cackle like a pantomime witch …

“Ohhhh! … she’s after Money! ”

Lea ignored this, and then she heard him say –

“If she wants extra money, she can suck my dick !

A b s o l u t e silence while we attempted to process that. Not a particularly outrageous phrase, certainly one that we’ve all heard before, but it was the context that was so disturbing – a man using a sexual image to put down, to belittle, to threaten a woman.  To make her feel uncomfortable in a public space. To make her feel that she doesn’t have a right to be there.

And that’s really the point of Lea’s show – to point out the patriarchal nature of our society, and the ways that many men reinforce the idea that they are superior to women. She gave us half a dozen examples; from the use of gender-specific colours for children’s toys and clothes, for getting better pay for equivalent work, to the assumption that men are more competent at technical tasks like driving a car, and at physical sports – pool, for example.

Lea Sep’s show, Unisex, was part of the Femfest programme of events, and was staged at The Actors, a venue well-used to hosting LGBTQ productions. So the audience was predominantly women, and was familiar with a feminist take on the problem. What makes her show different to the usual polemic, though, is that in many of her examples she gets the effect by demonstrating the opposite.

If a lot of male behaviour is unpleasant, its effect is dulled because we’re used to it – we’ve seen and heard it all before.  Lea’s genius is to turn the situation on its head – to demonstrate the same abuse but coming from a woman.

So, to return to the pub and the football game (Croatia won, by the way …), she imagines herself as a seventy-four-year-old, in the same pub with her female friends, taunting a good-looking young man (in the same screechy voice) with – “If you want some extra money, you can lick my pussy !!!” Shock horror! Gross! Outrageous!

And very, very funny, getting shrieks of laughter from her audience. But that’s the point – why is that kind of sexual put-down considered normal (and, shamefully, almost acceptable) from men, but completely over the top when a woman tries it?

Lea had made her point – in fact she made a great many political and sociological points over the hour she was on stage, quoting everyone from her grandmother to John Stuart Mill (No, I haven’t read him, either …). But she did much more – she intercut the spoken material with songs, about her life and that of her friends, that she’s written herself. Accompanying herself (of course) by beautifully mournful playing on an acoustic guitar. Wow! This performer is Renaissance Woman.

Much more than just a ‘performer’, in fact. Lea Sep completely broke the usual convention of just standing on stage telling stories. We were given bits of her own life story; of coming to England from Croatia to study; short asides where she lowered her voice as she commented on her personal feelings; and lots and lots of audience involvement.

When she came to demonstrate the various forms of sexual harassment that women experience – everything from unwanted physical touching to dick-pics – she made use of material that she found on stage, like a microphone stand. But there’s no way I’m going to describe that part of her show in detail – you might never be able to un-see it.

You’ll just have to go and experience it for yourselves.


Strat Mastoris


Show Website