Hannah Gadsby is excellent in this show that probes gender stereotypes and points out the raw deal that women have had over the centuries when it comes to marriage, sex, equality and pretty much everything else.

There is a political message here, but Gadsby handles it with aplomb and with plenty of humour. Hannah Wants a Wife is not really about Hannah wanting a wife at all, and this was a pleasant surprise – the show ranged far beyond gender stereotypes of marriage.

Gadsby studied Art History at Australian National University in Canberra, and she puts her knowledge of and interest in art to good use. There’s a copy of a 15th century Flemish painting on stage, which turns out to be central to her performance.

Gadsby clearly respects the painting as a work of art, but this doesn’t stop her from being irreverent in her dissection of it. Powerpoint slides allow her to point out details in the painting as she theorises on the role of the female and male figures in the image. The painting is an effective springboard to other topics – time travel, being asked on a date in London, female stereotypes, marriage and much more.

This show works because Gadsby is game to actually – seriously – explain the meaning of an artwork or make a political point, even if it means there’s a brief period when the audience isn’t laughing. With some comedians, these gaps make the audience uncomfortable and the subsequent transition to a joke can be awkward. Gadsby, however, is an assured comic and the serious elements of her show only add to its impact.

There is always a laugh not far away, but what makes Gadsby so good is that her gags are rarely predictable. She makes the audience laugh, but ultimately ends the show in a manner that asks us to reflect on why we laughed, and on the assumptions that she relied on to create humour in the first place.

Hannah Wants a Wife is witty and intelligent comedy, and it tops my list at this year’s festival.

Hannah Wants a Wife is on at the Victoria Hotel Banquet Room, Tuesday to Saturday at 7.00pm and Sunday at 6.00pm until April 22.

Suzannah Marshall Macbeth blogs over at equineocean.

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