Galleries need more curators like Hannah Gadsby. From the moment the self-professed 'art lady' begins pointing out phantom limbs and exceptionally small dogs secreted in Renaissance paintings, we know we're in for a slide show lecture with a difference.
The Exhibitionist — Gadsby's new stand-up routine, on at Soho Theatre until Saturday — takes the genre of the portrait as its muse. No one is spared by the comedian's laser pen (her weapon throughout) — not the Danish royal family (whose ensemble painting will make you sleep uneasy for a week), not Botticelli (who unashamedly paintingbombs his own Adoration of the Magi), not even wholesome old Rolf Harris (sorry, what's that?).
Gadsby's musings steep you in high-brow smuggery for learning stuff about art, yet her churlish charm ensures laughs are laid on as thick as Van Gogh oil paints. Gags about rude body parts could so easily be hackneyed, yet Gadsby keeps it interesting — imparting such wisdom as why so many codpieces you see in paintings are dyed red (watch the show to find out).
The performance is all the richer thanks to Gadsby's broadsides against herself. She dredges up cringeworthy snapshots from her past Down Under (in one she resembles a middle-aged Japanese businessman, in another she reclines satisfied with a finished Nazi thriller in her hand). And as she weaves these into the narrative of the portrait, we realise how little has changed from the time of Botticelli to Generation Selfie.
The only people likely to feel let down by The Exhibitionist are those hoping (from its suggestive title) for a flesh fest. Even then, there are Rubens rears and topless Vlad Putins enough to keep you sated throughout.
The Exhibitionist runs at Soho Theatre from now until 13 September. Tickets £12.50/10.
Londonist saw this show on a complimentary press ticket.