Some comics have extraordinary stories to tell about their lives. Katy Brand is among them – but perhaps she used hers up on last year’s offering, I Was a Teenage Christian. So she has to work a bit harder at this second show of her reborn career, as an ex-sketch and character actor turned autobiographical storyteller. I Could’ve Been an Astronaut asks why our lives turn out as they do. Was Brand bound to become an entertainer? Or – had her childhood interest in astronomy been encouraged – could she have worked in astrophysics instead?
Like Teenage Christian, the show leans heavily on Brand’s likable good nature, and is thinner on jokes or standup craft. It’s an unremarkable story – which is partly the point. From the evidence shared here, including an old Usborne Book of the Future (whose projections are amusingly out-of-whack) and tales of trips to the London Planetarium, the young Brand’s interest in outer space was not especially obsessive. We’re shown snaps of child Katy in different guises – all the different people she could have become! – and of her collection of owls. We read her school report cards, designed to show how bad she was at maths, but which equally demonstrate how normal she seems.
There is, in short, an excitement deficit, which Brand’s mild manner – she’s always engaging, but has no hard edges to her comedy whatsoever – does little to rectify. But what we lose in drama, we gain in relatability. We’ve all wondered about the roads not travelled; most of us (I’d guess) had childhood interests that weren’t cultivated. Just as Brand relates her teenage rivalry with school science geeks nicknamed Duracell and Cheesy Wotsit, we’ve all defined ourselves against others and evolved our personality – our likes and dislikes, abilities and otherwise – to some degree arbitrarily.
The strengths of Astronaut lie in this gentle rumination on fate and the factors that steer us up one path or another. There’s a good if familiar section on gender stereotyping too, as Brand questions why girls are invited to be unicorns and mermaids rather than interstellar adventurers. Latterly, the show can feel almost parodically low-stakes, as Brand hints at a recent major life decision (“I can’t believe I’m actually doing this…”) which, when revealed, lands with an anticlimactic whimper. “Thank you for listening to me ramble on,” she concludes, acknowledging the show’s mellow nature. But it’s a pleasant ramble, and a humane and thoughtful show.
- At Soho theatre, London, until 23 September. Box office: 020-7478 0100.