Susan Macbeth

Wed 15th – Sun 26th August 2018


Thomas Goodyer

at 18:53 on 15th Aug 2018



“Poignant and hilarious” are the superlatives Jamie Webb jokingly imagines an ideal Guardian article would use to describe his one-man comedy show. ‘Susan Macbeth' is a portrait of the artist as a young, under-qualified secondary school teacher. It variously flirts with justifying both adjectives, but falters before doing so.

Webb draws on his time teaching to pick apart the bureaucratic enigma of the post-Gove education system. It is well observed too – the inevitable hypocrisies of teachers who have to juggle being a perfect human in the classroom and an actual human out of it; the pitying Oxbridge graduates at underfunded state schools; marking. This, and when he draws on the bountiful comedic resource of teenagers, all pubic beards and insecure arrogance, is when the show is at its best. Anecdotes about the illogical reasoning of the half-interested student body, the snotty, the impetuous, the bored, are delivered with love, resentment and enthusiasm.

Where the show deviates from this is also where it stumbles. We get a few over-long digressions into parody: the jargon of educational officers, and the teacher who can’t be bothered to follow educational procedure becomes a maverick, New York detective. They’re not terrible, but they lack the depth of the other material and ring unconvincing in comparison to it. We get half-realised nods to current affairs – “fake news,” “alternative facts” – which Webb doesn’t really do anything with, beyond using them as things that are half-current and half-funny by themselves, to fill out the show. We also get a predictable joke about comic sans.

It is clear that Webb has a lot of respect for the profession, which comes across in the way he talks about the less well-off students. However, the transition between the lighter material and the more serious is clunky. There was a hulking uncertainty in the room, trembling on the anticipation of a punch line, to a bit which turned out to be about girl whose foster-parents banned her from watching her favourite TV show. Webb oddly conflates this with the abuse she suffered from her real parents. Ernest, jarring, but maybe not poignant. Or at least, the poignancy was lost somewhere.

Maybe Polly Toynbee will show up tomorrow and give Webb the review he hopes for, and will potentially get, if he irons out some of his show’s flaws. Until then, he can have my clunky summary: "Relatively enjoyable, with a couple of weird emotional interjections."


Ella Kemp

at 02:46 on 16th Aug 2018



Jamie Webb tempers the chatty audience members of 'Susan Macbeth' ahead of its very first performance, who are trying to make conversation with the actor as he prepares for the opening show. He’s used to this: he has to put on a similar act with 32 kids. School teacher-cum-solo performer, Webb is taking a leap of faith to unleash the torrential insights of the classroom in his one-man comedy tirade - a firecracker of good intentions and short tempers. Researching, teaching, marking, powerpointing and always worrying; Webb wants the best for his kids but also can’t help how much he just needs to free himself of it all.

It’s surprising that 'Susan Macbeth' is a brand new show, making Webb some kind of Fringe virgin before the performance we see. He is buzzing with a nervous confidence, keeping the show engaging and entertaining for the most part. A few knowing laughs in the audience testify to the accuracy of the confessions of a school teacher - jokes that might not land as well with an untrained viewer.

Anecdotes of classroom terrors and anxieties of the trade can draw out tangents that lose momentum at times, but Webb’s energy as a performer always brings the intrigue up to speed. There’s clear passion in every word, inviting an audience to feel just a slice of what his mind is whirring over every single day. In the modest downstairs room of a bar in Tollcross, 'Susan Macbeth' isn’t afraid to go all out, with scattered props, homemade slideshows and detailed sound effects. It’s not just a train of thought or an observational skit - this is the rich fruit of someone’s educational and emotional labour, which definitely pays off.

By unravelling the seemingly mundane with an easy, enjoyable flair to make things funny, Webb looks at home onstage. He jokes about the rave reviews he dreams of, and gives a nod to other artists who inspire him. But hopefully this is only the beginning for Jamie Webb the comedian, to grow and learn from his own experience and skill as Jamie Webb the teacher. After all, it’s no small feat to mould the minds of so many.


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