Space Invaders — A Response

Spoilers ahead! This response will discuss elements of the show that could be considered spoilers. You have been warned.

The waiting area in the New Athenaeum Theatre is packed, a sold-out show, and has the atmosphere of a family Christmas lunch when your aunty is two glasses deep and has started to go for her third. An atmosphere punctuated by all the forty-and-over women surrounding me holding filled wine glasses. The noise is almost deafening as we wait for the doors to open.

Doors open and we shuffle in, or shuffle as much as we can for a throng of about a hundred people or more. P!nk’s ‘Raise Your Glass’ is playing as we move to find our seats, an appropriate song for what will be a show that goes against the grain. After everyone is seated and the lights dim, our first joke is presented, an audience plant complaining that a show titled ‘Space Invaders’ isn’t about the classic arcade video game, but instead a comedy show. It gets a laugh and then Nicola appears and approaches the bare stage on which rests a red suitcase, a podium, a shag carpet and a chair.

She’s dressed in a bright blue jacket, a white t-shirt with glittery stars visible underneath and comfortable pants and shoes. She’s relaxed and obviously in her element despite her admission that this is her first solo show in Ōtepoti Dunedin, at which point the joking begins and it doesn’t stop for almost 40 minutes.

We go from audience participation and call-and-response jokes that settle the crowd to personal epilogues and the often unglamorous parts of aging. Her jokes about her wife and son are poignant, sweet and slightly embarrassing all in equal measure, while her more generalised about lesbianism are often well-worn. By this point the multi-media approach that Nicola takes with her comedy has been introduced and used, a pre-made slide show presented with a projector is certainly a defining part of her comedy and it’s good and funny.

Political jokes, COVID jokes and local references all make an appearance as the show continues, the slides coming in ever so often and the audience is all for it, laughing heartedly and often as punch after punch is delivered and executed. The jokes are never mean-spirited or against people who don’t deserve to get the old pie-in-the-face treatment.

It’s about at the halfway mark that Nicola reveals what will be a defining and important part of her show—engagement with the healthcare system and pelvic organ prolapse. It is a condition she and over 50% of women deal with or, as Nicola says, “25% of the population.” This really works to punctuate exactly how many people will deal with this condition and the lack of knowledge that most people have about it (including myself I am sad to say). 

“The audience is all for it, laughing heartedly and often as punch after punch is delivered and executed.”

It is during this section that I take a look at the audience and see they are enraptured by Nicola and the topic she is bringing to their attention, as the show changes subtly in its use of light and sound, with each action of Nicola on the stage now bringing greater impact. And it’s here in the midst, the more cutting and intense parts of her set, that she uses a joke set-up I’ve seen her use before. We’re presented with creepy messages she is sent privately on social media and what she’d like to say to the men sending these messages, and just like last time the audience and I love it and can’t stop laughing.

After this reframe, we smoothly transition back to the main topic of the set and again the audience is captivated. From the stage, crocheted bowels, ovaries and bladder are thrown into the audience for them to play with, soon joined by a crocheted anatomically correct clitoris, it is obvious that almost everyone here tonight has learned or been informed. They are enjoying the show, even as they laugh along to the prodding reminders that if this condition affected men in such a drastic and intense way as it did to women, vast resources of medical funding and effort would be spent on trying to fix it.

Then at the end of the set, Nicola admits she didn’t know how to finish this show. The lights shut off in surprise, all except for one intense blue spotlight in which Nicola stands stark on the stage Silhouette black on blue, she makes one final call for information and acknowledgement of pelvic organ prolapse, and the suffering that so many of our community experience in the face of a medical issue rarely talked about and hardly fought, for which you can feel the thunderous applause that fills the theatre.

I would say I left the theatre that night very satisfied to have seen Nicola’s work and the amount of obvious passion she’s put into it. This was also obvious in how many other members of the audience responded positively to it, with multiple people saying “It was good,” at a reasonable volume as they moved past me to leave.

Of course, there are criticisms that could be levelled at Nicola’s show, which more or less boil down to certain jokes I found unfunny or slightly stale in this, the year of Our Lady 2024. And despite the packed nature before the show, almost no one at the venue was masking, despite the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, though that is much more a criticism of the city than of Nicola and her show. But in the grand scheme of things I would say that her show was a rousing success and that for anyone in the vicinity of an upcoming show, I encourage you to watch either this show or any of her future projects. If for no other reason than to feel your face fall in disbelief as Nicola explains that what most surgeons suggest if a first surgery for pelvic organ prolapse hasn’t taken—to “obliterate the vagina”.

Featured photo courtesy of Nicola Brown.


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