“I have no social skills,” says Shappi Khorsandi as she talks with the audience members in the front row. Maybe it’s false modesty or just being harsh on herself but Khorsandi certainly isn’t lacking in the performance skills department. Her self-described “loud, booming voice” carries well but the message of her show, Mistress and Misfit, is frustratingly meandering. The first twenty minutes are more reportage than narrative, as Khorsandi tells of her annoyance with being nominated as a BAME writer (Nina is Not OK was longlisted for the Jhalak prize before Khorsandi elected to withdraw from the running) for a book that is primarily about an alcoholic white London teen, without getting to the nugget of why the current discourse is lacking for her.
This topic is swiftly dropped and the main theme of the show, that of Emma, Lady Hamilton (love of Admiral Nelson’s life) and the parallels between roles of women then and now, as well as the similarities between Emma and Khorsandi’s experiences with work, marriage and children. The most resonant parts of the show are where Khorsandi stands up for herself, reading out horrific emails from the biological father of her child and her straightforward, dignified responses, which, rightly, get rounds of applause. However, there are still gags about hoping that your boyfriend’s exes are fat, which somewhat undermine the central premise that Emma was a defiant and awe-inspiring figure from the past, surviving amidst the continued trials and tribulations she experienced during her day.
Khorsandi’s admiration for Emma is evident but, despite a solid premise, the execution is left lacking. There’s a rushed, fraying at the edges feeling throughout the show. When Khorsandi opens up about her own experiences, particularly as a young woman on holiday in Amsterdam, she shows compassion and an awareness of sex work. Yet, she undermines herself again by using the term “prostitute” throughout, as well as feigning to point out that Emma was a destitute child in sex work until much later on in the show. She does do the important work of highlighting that the law protecting girls from child marriage in Iran has been dissolved and the age lowered once more, whilst sharing stories from her own family’s history of arranged marriage, but leaving this information so late on in the show feels more like using it as shock value instead of stating the facts from the out. I left having laughed only twice, gasped plenty and wanting more – but mostly because I’d not been satisfied in the first place.
Shappi Khorsandi’s Mistress and Misfit runs until 27th August at Assembly George Square Studios, 18:40.