Review: Jonny Pelham - Off Limits at Just the Tonic
5★★★★★

When a sudden and spectacular waterfall plummeting from the venue’s ceiling isn’t the biggest shock of the evening, then you know you’ve seen an incredibly special show.

It starts routinely enough with an everyday story of an urban mugging, as Jonny explains how his girlfriend’s fondness for her phone earns him an unexpected punch in the face. So far, so anecdotal. Five minutes later, it’s the audience who are left reeling as the 27-year-old Bradford-born comic pulls off a sudden gear change. He reveals that, at the age of eight, he was repeatedly sexually abused by a family friend.

It’s an incredibly powerful moment made all the more remarkable by the fact that he manages to craft this confession into a consistently funny, laugh-out-loud set. The long-term effects of that abuse and the psychological and emotional work that he’s been required to put in ever since is the subject matter for the rest of the show.

Diagnosed with maladaptive daydreaming, Jonny used fantasies to distract him from reality and those awful childhood memories. Mainly, he imagined himself as a pirate. Not a captain, you understand – just a midshipman who’d been press-ganged at an early age. This is a lyrical, carefully-crafted and expertly-delivered exploration of a fractured childhood. Truthful without ever being trite, it’s a celebration for survivors everywhere.

His first, clunky attempts at dating at the age of 25 offer up some of the set’s funniest moments, whilst his description of his girlfriend – the woman he credits with helping him through this – as, ‘the first thing I loved more than my fantasies’ melts every heart in the room. It was whilst sitting in The Meadows during last year’s Edinburgh Fringe that Jonny finally accepted that the childhood abuse wasn’t his fault. He’s returned to the city this year with a truly remarkable show.

Jonny Pelham: Off Limits, Just the Tonic at the Caves, 11-25 Aug (not 12), 3.20pm

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