Chronic illness is a recurring theme this Adelaide Fringe, and in The Illest Yasemin Sabuncu offers her unapologetic take. Part stand-up, part advocacy, part pop-culture subversion, this show had half the audience squirming while the other half nodded knowingly.
Sabuncu refuses to let stereotypes and misinformation leave the room and takes her role in unabashedly taking them down seriously. After being dismissed and ridiculed by doctors for so much of her life, she was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis (a chronic illness where tissue similar to uterine lining grows outside the uterus, causing chronic pain and abnormal menstruation, as well as potential fertility difficulties and organ dysfunction) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, a chronic mental health condition with behavioural, cognitive and mood symptoms).
The storyteller takes pause over these diagnoses: why are they so often dismissed? Why is there still so little known about them? Why does the government continue to treat disabled people with such abandon?
Advocacy and empathy-building underpin The Illest. Not only for the audience, but for Sabuncu herself. This is a show about chronic illness by a person with chronic illness. There is no ability to turn away – it’s time to whittle away at the societal imbalance while building self-acceptance, one highly graphic poo story after another.
There are plenty of anecdotes to be mined, but the key to maintaining the audience’s attention comes through the clever use of pop culture references. While some are stronger than others, Sabuncu shows enough to demonstrate her awareness of subversion: illness as a metaphor, but the metaphor always comes back to illness.
All this to say, The Illest is still a comedy. Dressed in a pink power suit, Sabuncu is a bold performer and her delivery carries easily. There are first-night nerves and audio mis-cues, but the audience is forgiving. Understanding, even, of the connection her conditions play here. More shows are needed to relax the nerves and to allow Sabuncu to go off script so her connection with the audience can soften, particularly early in the show.
The Illest announces an encouraging new comic performer, with some bloody good jokes to get us through the pain.
The Illest plays at Howling Owl until Saturday, March 13, at 6pm, then continues at Rhino Room’s Drama Llama from March 16 to 20.
Read more Adelaide Fringe reviews and previews here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.