Brighton Festival 2021
An enthusiastic introduction from Brighton Festival’s guest director Lemn Sissay sets the tone. Performing to a masked audience sprinkled around a large concert hall must be daunting, but Long’s natural warmth and delight to be on stage (albeit looking like “a husk that’s crawled out of a cage”) instantly connects. “I’m the only person this has ever happened to!”she jokes, lighting up the stage with her personal and very funny take on new parenthood.
“It’s like Las Vegas without the budget for chairs” says Josie Long, peering out at the enthusiastic, sparsely spaced audience in Brighton Dome’s concert hall. Like many Festival events, Tender had been programmed for last year but perhaps more than most it has catching up to do; not least that the baby central to the story is no longer such a new tot. Allow her some artistic licence, Long asks. She has spent lock-down in a dressing gown imagining herself a mob-boss under house arrest and missing things she has never even done, like Ketamine.
Going back to her (on stage) script to perform the ‘proper’ show Long wonders if we need another female comic talking about female issues, that she didn’t ever imagine herself doing so. But life changes and it seemed important; Long wants to be honest and open and funny about what she has learned. We knuckle down for the ride. She is a gifted constructor of jokes, building tension and powering through punchlines with brilliant control of pace. An ebullient energy drives the narrative, newly threaded with pandemic-related asides. There are jokes that tie us to the material; Michael Gove flint-knapping her spine during contractions, stand-up being the only form of art that requires any skill, her physicality on stage as a woman with “all this body.”
Tender is as much about the climate crisis as it is about motherhood. Prior to having her child (whose name she can’t properly pronounce) the damage humans have done to the planet was an obsession and Greta Thunberg’s book is frequently referenced. Now, she wonders how the next generation, and the next, will manage to turn stuff around and live in some kind of harmony with nature. It’s a question everyone in the audience can relate to. Those who are mothers, and quite a few young ones are in the house, groan and cheer at the descriptions of labour and a graphic birthing episode.
Long’s world view has always been one of positivity undercut with rage. Motherhood, a pandemic and years of a Conservative government have naturally chipped at that, but the message of the show is one of love, passion and hope.