Liverpool’s Writing on the Wall events, part of a month long annual festival celebrating writing and literature, deservedly have a good reputation. This year’s 20th incarnation has the theme of ‘Where Are We Now?’. Tonight, the Philharmonic Hall hosts JO BRAND in conversation discussing, among other things, her newest book, Born Lippy.
In Conversation With is an odd format. A conversation should be at least two sided and hopefully equal, but the issue is people have paid their (considerable) ticket price to hear Jo Brand and not so much the stories of Eithne Browne, the Liverpool actress interviewing her. They’ve obviously both lived lives rich in experiences and adventures but it becomes slightly tiresome as Browne’s excitement and exuberance means she doesn’t always let Brand finish before interrupting with another topic she wants to enquire about cursorily.
Brand is an unflappable, warm speaker who engages easily with the audience. The frustration comes as the areas of interest are skimmed over: her previous incarnation as a psychiatric nurse in London; her views on the link between class, wealth and mental health; the abuse, often threatening violence, always misogynistic, which comes as a result of being a female comic with a particular look; the vitriol directed at women with any public voice, in this case Labour MP Jess Phillips; her well-written, beautifully observed sitcom Getting On. These are all rich seams that could be mined by Browne to greater effect.
The most frustrating part comes in a question and answer session, which takes the form of a slew of sycophantic comments and rambling anecdotes from the audience: that some concern Brand’s advice column in Saga magazine and the ubiquitous one about Bake Off gives an indication of the demographic present. Brand responds with grace but really we all know it’s time to get out of here.
Whether or not Brand is a comic you’d go out of your way to see, you come away with the impression she is someone you’d like to have a chat with over a couple of pints and find out about the parts of her life that resonate with contemporary society – and which are unfortunately not given a sufficient airing tonight.
At best the event is a pleasant chat between the two women but it has the potential to be so much more. While it doesn’t have to be overly political, considering the country’s current trajectory, a more in depth look at the various injustices of society that Brand has witnessed would be welcomed. Maybe then it could answer the question Where Are We Now?