There are few more familiar standup comedy attitudes than: I feel like I’m getting old. It’s the one Jessica Fostekew leads with in Mettle, in which she addresses turning 40 and the approaching-geriatric behaviours that milestone has triggered. It’s a topic she sets about with the same gusto she brought to weightlifting (in 2019’s Hench), and to her midlife embrace of a broader sexuality (Wench, three years later). More gusto, indeed – perhaps because, lacking the thematic consistency of those earlier sets, Mettle needs a bit more elbow grease to make it fly.
The show isn’t really about “accelerated ageing”, in Fostekew’s phrase – even if the idea is returned to here and there to make Mettle cohere. Really, this is a looser offering, that revisits the territory of Hench, includes a hair-raising tale from our host’s TV career, and takes a late-stage turn towards eco-anxiety. The default mode is volcanic pretend-rage, always offset by Fostekew’s amusement at her own preposterousness. A great shrieking voice and eyebrows raised at every conceivable angle are duly deployed in the show’s uproarious howl of annoyance at litterers, Ulez refuseniks and a death-defying experience on a telly show about dangerous roads.
As in that instance, I sometimes felt Fostekew’s high theatrics – and her poor, tormented larynx – were being overworked to get so-so material over the line. Bringing the climate crisis into the mix – implying, indeed, that it’s what the show’s about – is achieved only with conspicuous grinding of gears. But you may well be laughing too hard to mind. From one routine to the next, there’s a lot of fun to be had as Fostekew describes her son’s journey from cute to concerning, her girlfriend’s misguided flirting technique, and the celebrity help (complete with excellent impression) she needed with her new fitness regime.
This is a comic, then, whose powers show no sign of waning with the onset of years. Mettle may be more of a ragbag than previous outings. But Fostekew’s front-foot performance skills, and her flair for comic escalation, are not so much mellowing with age as intensifying.
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