Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone


I did my apprenticeship on the comedy circuit around London and then decided to turn it into a one woman show to take to the Edinburgh Festival. I did not want to continue on the circuit as it is lonely and not welcoming to an older, female- a bit of a freak- because I ticked the diversity boxes. As there was and is, a shortage of women on the comedy circuit female comedians get little opportunity to meet and support each other women. There is often only a token female in the line up at comedy club nights. I did gig with Caroline Aherne when she was Sister Mary Immaculate at Up the Creek and with Jo Brand. I don’t think that things have much improved in the twenty years since I was gigging despite the efforts of FUNNY WOMEN who have some great female comedy acts in their shows leading up to their awards. So, many of those funny women participants won’t go near the comedy circuit ghetto as they don’t want to be shoehorned into the narrow confines of it as there is little room for variety and subtlety in it. We still need more variety but burlesque is not the answer.

The nicest comedian I encountered on the circuit was Harry Hill and the nastiest Ian Cognito.

After the first few days in Edinburgh I was also cured of the idea of being a solo performer and didn’t enjoy hanging around all day for an evening performance.

Then I thought that working with an ensemble might be the solution. I had performed on an all women bill at the Tom Allen Arts Centre and suggested to Viv Stevens and Lucy Bagley, an actress who performed as Miss Jessop that we set up as a group as  TWO WIVES AND A SPINSTER. We did a few gigs – Cheltenham and Bath Fringe Festivals and Luton Arts Centre. At the same time I suggested the same to three Irish guys on the circuit  Harvey O’Leary Kevin Hayes and Jerry Kennedy as MC and myself as THE CRACK PACK.  Again, the coordinating of calendars and the promotional work became too tedious. I just didn’t have the fire in my belly/need to perform strong enough. I didn’t have the passion or commitment but I enjoyed the whole experience and glad I tried it. I appreciated getting the reviews from the Edinburgh festival and the 4 stars ****  it’s something to tell the grandchildren and, of course, the review that compared me to the oddfather of alternative comedy Dave Allen whose funeral I conducted when I had become a humanist celebrant.

Sheela-na-Gig. “The Irish female Rab C. Nesbitt.” Scotland on Sunday.

Sheela-na-Gig. “Carnal comedy as the hilarious Irish comic lures you into her erogenous zone”.

Sheela-na-Gig. “Bawdy, very funny and hard-hitting”  The Galway Advertiser.


Sheela-na-Gig  (Calton Centre)

Comedy ****

The title of this ribald one-woman show refers to the masturbating female figures found on cornerstones on castles and churches all over Ireland, medieval assaults on male conceit and prudery.

Jeanne Egan is their modern-day counterpart. Her hour-long monologue explores vanity and hypocrisy in a fiercely funny way. Egan, originally from the west of Ireland now based in London, is an alcohol counsellor by day. She has a perceptive eye and attuned ear for the ridiculous.

Minimal props, a penis-shaped false nose and some Playboy pin-ups are used to devastating effect. If male virility is your thing, you had better avoid this show, though it could be exactly what you need.

Hayden Murphy. THE SCOTSMAN


“Sheela-na-Gig, an ancient female, masturbating stone carving is the starting point and role model for a menopausal Irishwoman who is an alcohol counsellor by day.

Exuding a certain laid-back confidence, she takes the sit-down, Dave Allen approach to comedy, but her show packs as much punch as the strutting style of most male stand-ups.

The hypocrisy and arrogance of the Catholic Church, sex education, D.H. Lawrence and the Bible are targeted and shown no mercy as she illustrates her arguments with a novelty penis, a pair of high heels and some gloriously technicolour male pin-ups.”  Gill Roth THE LIST.


SHORT  BAC AND SIDES- At BAC they call this the ‘definitive’ preview of Edinburgh comedy and it’s the biggest and oldest.

“Sheela-na-Gig (Jeanne Rathbone) is an acquired taste, but certainly different: a loud, lewd, middle-aged Irish woman who takes her name from pagan figures found across Ireland depicting masturbating women. Ireland, booze and sex are her themes” EVENING STANDARD.


“A Norwegian film crew, rain drumming off the marquee and rivulets running underfoot set the bizarre scene for Jeanne Egan’s opening performance of “Sheela-na-Gig’ at Taylors Bar.

Perhaps none other than a Scandanavian TV crew could dwell upon the incongruities of two millenia of western development as brought out here . They just happended to be exploring the Sheela-na-Gig phenomenon after discovering some figures in their home country.

P.S. Wearing ties not recommended.

Connaught Tribune.


Sheela-na-Gig:”Dwi’n ganol oed, yn ferch ac yn Wyddeles…

Dwi’n teimlo fel freak.

GOLWOG- a Welsh Magazine.

We did a gig at the Cheltenham Fringe Festival. Cheltenham has a reputation as a sedate, middle-England, provincial town ( except when the Irish invade for the horse racing ). We did very much appreciate the letter from the festival booker.  It was, of course, Sheela-na-Gig who delivered the ‘pretty uncompromising material’.

LUTON 1993

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: