Nellie White is the Shitty Carer

White has a pleasant, occasionally charming, stage presence. But she is not much of a shitty carer.
Nellie White is the Shitty Carer

If you’ve decided against seeing Nellie White because the subject matter doesn’t appeal, then fear not – the title of her show has little bearing on the content. 

Even to the degree that White does eventually discuss her three months working as a carer for Leigh, a mature-age English woman with MS living outside of London, it seems that White is not the shitty carer at all. Indeed, as White concedes, she loved Leigh and they became close friends.

At the end of her act, White reminds those of us in any doubt that people with disabilities deserve better and that carers are underrated. This didactic finale symptomises a tendency within the performance to state the obvious rather then let the material speak for itself. ‘I was depressed,’ White says (and not for the first time).

The effect is to turn the show into a talk slash travel narrative about her two challenging years living in London that elicits concern but not always laughs. Yes, it is difficult moving to a big new city. Yes, it is difficult making your way in a competitive profession. Yet White seems unable to exploit these circumstances for comic purposes, almost as if she is still personally suffering or recovering from a traumatic time. Furthermore, the disjunction between advertised subject matter and emerging content serves to undermine the value of the material insofar as expectations are suspended and not fully met. 

Despite these issues, White has a pleasant, occasionally charming, stage presence. She inclines slightly towards apologetic tones whereas she might be happier with a stronger, more aggressive approach. While she makes herself comfortable with her material, it seems less comfortable with her. As a result, her improvisational skills and engagement with the audience provide the most levity of the night. Pop culture, everyday amusements and social behaviour are all handled with a deft and easy touch. Perhaps White is funnier when talking about things she likes, rather then things she doesn’t like.

Structurally, White’s act emits promising signs for the future. There are indications of an ability, or at least a desire, to nest scenes within scenes within scenes and therefore engage with the craft of comedy at its highest level. This is a young performer who has many of the building blocks in reach but it still in the throes of an evolving self-knowledge. With more experience, Nellie White might one day become a really good shitty carer.  

Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 stars

Nellie White is the Shitty Carer
The Imperial Hotel, corner Burke and Swanston Sts
26 March - 20 April 

Melbourne International Comedy Festival
26 March - 20 April

Peta Mayer

Friday 28 March, 2014

About the author

Peta Mayer has a PhD in English Literature from University of Melbourne