By Ellie Robson
On 26th October, rising Danish comedian Sofie Hagen took the stage in a sold out show at Norwich Arts Centre. Although only a small venue, seating 120 audience members at full capacity, both Hagen and her support act, Jenny Bede, could easily have commanded and engaged a much larger venue.
Hagen preceded the show with a short welcome to her audience, explaining her Danish roots and discussing her foray into feminism, which she then described as having developed into an angrier and more educated “FEMINISM”. For many of Hagen’s fans all over the world, including myself, her feminist acts are what brought her to their attention. Hagen was an original creator of the successful podcast “The Guilty Feminist”, in which she and her co-host, comedian Deborah Frances-White, hold panels and challenges addressing many issues effecting women, with episodes discussing apologising, the “tomboy” stereotype and of course, periods.
Hagen is no longer a regular contributor on that show, but now has her own, arguably more intimate podcast “Made of Human”, in which she interviews other members of the comedy industry to talk about life, and, in Hagen’s own words, “to find out how to cope with being an adult person”.
The stage was then given over to the surprising and wonderful Jenny Bede, who is both an actress and a comedian. I say “surprising”, as I think myself, and much of the audience, were gleefully taken aback when Bede launched into songs to support and further satirise points made in her act. Bede’s performance focussed on her recent split from a long-term relationship, and the struggle of seeming to be “the one before the one”, meaning that she was the woman that men dated before dating their future wives. Bede emphasised the struggle of being single whilst all her friends were meeting their partners and having children, which seemed to draw consensus from the audience.
This drew my attention to the audience’s demographic, who, due to Sofie Hagen’s far left political activities, I mistakenly assumed would be made up of young women, possibly with many university students such as myself. It was a lovely surprise to realise that, as an 18-year-old first year university student, I was by far the youngest member in the audience. Much of the audience were young to middle-aged adults, both men and women, and it was extremely exciting to see such a range of people supporting these two women performers.
Personally, my favourite part of Bede’s act was her musical rendition of an exchange with another actor. Through hilarious lyrics, Bede shared the story of a young, female, blonde fellow actor and her complaints about not being able to secure an audition for the upcoming UK production of the musical Hamilton. For fans of the acclaimed, multi-ethnic musical such as myself, this discussion of white privilege was delightful.
A brief interval followed Bede’s engaging and entertaining performance, and then Hagen took the stage to do her show, reiterating her trigger warnings and further explaining that her show was based on her experienced emotional abuse. By warning her audience of this, and promising that anyone who left during the show due to being uncomfortable or upset by her subject matter would not be judged or called out, Hagen immediately created a feeling of safety and trust amongst her audience.
Hagen’s show focussed on both her grandfather and step-grandfather, two men who have formed abusive relationships with her grandmother. In Denmark, she explained, it is common to find, when a family member dies, that they may have Nazi memorabilia, or some other evidence that they were Nazi supporters and sympathisers. In a shocking revelation, Hagen described her own experience of this when her grandfather died. However, much of her show revolved around her living step-grandfather. In her one-hour performance, Hagen used her own experiences to hold discussions about emotional abuse, and shared the terrifying realisation that the treatment she was receiving from her grandfather wasn’t normal. The most heart-breaking example of this was when Hagen was 5 and her younger, new-born sister was ill in hospital, her step-grandfather let her believe that the rituals she had been carrying out in an attempt to save her sister may actually contribute to her sister’s death. Luckily, her sister lived, and when Hagen’s mother learned of this experience years later she moved he daughter and herself far away from this situation.
One of my favourite parts of Hagen’s show was her discussion of her therapy and personal mental health. I hope that performers such as herself will continue to normalise discussions about therapy and the acceptance of mental illnesses and the effects of abuse. Hagen finished her show with a final punching point; that last year, she was terrified when she saw a man who reminded her of her step-grandfather on television, and then, was even more disheartened days later when that man was elected as the next President of the United States.
I acknowledge that my discussion of Hagen’s show makes the show appear as a sad and serious event, but Hagen’s performance was outstanding. She wove her genuine and important experience with hilarious anecdotes, and perfectly balanced her shocking, personal story with an interesting, funny and inspiring show.
Sofie’s Hagen’s show “Dead Baby Frog” had only one performance in Norwich, but her tour continues all over the UK until early February, with tickets available at http://www.sofiehagen.com/
Image from Norwich Arts Centre.