‘Anyone here a carer?’ asks comedian Nellie White as she kicks off her show. A few people nod or raise their hands, and she asks them whether they like it. It’s a low-key start to a show that, sadly, never manages to gain much more energy and falls short of the heights it had the potential to reach.
Back in 2009, Nellie moved from Perth to London and hated it. She found it a city of sadness (possibly because of the Queen) that left her broke, unhappy and homeless (but only for fifteen minutes). Rather than be accused of lazy witchcraft or eat at the world’s most miserable fast-food chain, she found a job as a carer in a small village ninety minutes from London, a place with no single men and no shops, with a pub that she wasn’t allowed to drink in. And there, she looked after an elderly woman with MS, assisted by the world’s least helpful helper dog. She discovered that doctors don’t know crap and a debilitating illness doesn’t stop a person from being fascinating.
But despite all that rich material, Nellie’s show never gets off the ground. It falters, pauses and limps along, peaking early into the set and then petering out badly before she abruptly cuts it short. I feel bad saying that, because I really wanted to like this show; it was obvious that Nellie was speaking from the heart and trying to bring comedy out of memories and a relationship that meant a great deal to her. And maybe that’s the problem; she doesn’t seem to have the necessary distance from the material, instead becoming visibly upset and emotional as she delves back into that time and talks about what she experienced and the friend that she found and lost.
There’s the core of a strong show here; there are clever jokes that tear up the room. But it’s not ready for general consumption yet, not until Nellie White practices and develops it further and manages to carry it for a full fifty minutes. I’m sure that will happen soon enough, and if you see her on next year’s comedy festival bill you should check her out. But maybe not right now.
Nellie White is the Shitty Carer is playing 29 September to 6 October at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.