FRINGE 2019: Why you need to see… Sophie Duker
Who: Sophie Duker
"I am what is known as a triple threat minority, because I make white people uncomfortable when I sing, act or dance..."
Sophie Duker bursts onto stage to the infectious strains of Venus. Dancing joyfully along to the disco-pop beat, she asks the audience whether they can identify the artist. A middle-aged white man confidently mansplains to her that it's the backing singers from Fun Boy Three - a smart-arsed way of saying Bananarama. Duker playfully calls him Wikipedia before revealing it's actually helium-voiced rodents the Chipettes. The audience bursts into laughter.
It's a beautifully apt interaction that tells you so much about Duker and her thrilling show. There are a number of themes running through Venus, but one is the perennial confidence of privileged white males. Duker could so easily have skewered Mr Wikipedia for being so emphatically wrong; instead she sweetly corrects him, which makes it even funnier. His knowledge of 80s music trivia being pricked an animated trio of anthropomorphic chipmunks is perfect.
Duker's Edinburgh debut intertwines two main narratives. One is about Duker and how she got where she is today - both in terms of an emotionally taxing Uber ride, and what particular set of circumstances led her to do something as uniquely warped as stand-up comedy. The other centres around an African woman who was enslaved and renamed Sarah Baartman - or 'Hottentot Venus' - and exhibited around 19th century Europe due to the size of her buttocks.
If that sounds like heavy going, it's not. As per her treatment of Mr Wikipedia, Duker has a beautiful way of taking something undeniably serious and complex, and making it engaging, raucous, accessible, and yet still hugely impactful. For instance, she is acutely aware that various elements of her show will cause a largely white liberal Fringe audience to squirm in their seats, and she constantly plays with that and has white guilt on strings in the most deliciously way.
The parallel threads of Sophie Duker and 'Sarah Baartman' converge on the subject of identity. How black women were - and still are - perceived, objectified and regularly fetishised. There are certain things that Duker is not prepared to be, including your goddess, your Edinburgh 'tick', your self-important alibi, or your Venus. What she is, is a 'triple threat minority' - a pansexual black woman. She is also an outstandingly talented young comedian who is both pin sharp and wonderfully silly.
Her last act on stage is both breathtaking and poignant. It is funny, sexy, liberating and cool, as well as being a beautiful sort of acknowledgment and reappropriation of an enslaved woman's objectification.
You can buy tickets for Venus here.