Review: Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas

After a year of runaway international success, Hannah Gadsby returns to Adelaide to test run her new show Douglas.

Like hit 2018 Netflix special Nanette, Douglas begins with a brief explanation of the show’s title – it’s named for Gadsby’s dog, a very pattable Lagotto Romagnolo projected onto a screen behind her. It’s not the name she planned on for the pup, she explains, but she was never particularly good at naming animals anyway.

Douglas the show, which like much of her previous work is being debuted in Adelaide in a Fringe-adjacent preview run, has an at times pleasantly loose energy. Gadsby has made an artform out of exposing and exploiting the meta-framework of her comedy, but over an hour and a half the architecture of what Douglas will become by the time it hits Melbourne, America or, perhaps inevitably, Netflix, is already clear and present.

The shadow of Nanette looms large (“Fuck, make me work for it,” she says as the simple utterance of the word ‘Nanette’ provokes loud applause) but also doesn’t; unlike American audiences this is a crowd that has clearly watched Gadsby for a decade and is overjoyed to have her back, even just for a night. Anecdotes about the absurdities of her newfound Los Angeles lifestyle break the ice perfectly, and an amusing but pointed dissection of renaissance art is classic Gadsby – a treat for fans of her work on the ABC or anyone who has ever walked through a gallery.

The tension Gadsby so expertly deconstructed and created during Nanette is less baked into the show’s format, although Douglas does see her explore some personal revelations – which I won’t disclose here – with empathy, wit and some extremely relatable metaphors.

But at its core Douglas is about names and labels, and how they can mean a lot, or very little. They can shape the world, be oppressive and belittling or even a little bit liberating, whether it’s pedants questioning Nanette’s classification as ‘comedy’, living in a world categorised and named by long-dead men or, perhaps, a medical diagnosis.

But perhaps the most weighty label bearing down upon Douglas is ‘follow up to hit Netflix special Nanette’. We needn’t worry. Douglas has the makings of a masterful show as we watch Gadsby use her new platform to bring hitherto under-acknowledged subject matter to the fore – and drop some excellent, daggy one-liners along the way.

In and around Nanette Gadsby repeatedly said that she needed to quit comedy, and despite that show’s career-making success, she wasn’t wrong: Douglas shows that she’s now doing something quite a bit bigger, whatever you might call it.

Douglas was performed at the Dunstan Playhouse on Friday, March 22

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