THERE wasn’t an empty seat or a dry eye in the house on Saturday night, as a packed Mareel played host to the superb comedy pairing of Marjolein Robertson and Sara Pascoe.
Local comedian Marjolein opened the show, wandering on stage with a red tin in hand. Having only started working on stand-up comedy a few years ago, Marjolein has pursued the art with aplomb, having two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and a number of appearances at New Zealand comedy festivals under her belt already, and further festival bookings lined up for 2018.
Saturday night was the largest crowd she had ever played to, and she must have felt under extra pressure playing to locals (and her parents).
If she was, she didn’t show it. Her performance was easygoing, charming, and disarmingly frank, reducing the audience to quivering puddles of laughter constantly, with stories of romantic failures and drunken shenanigans.
Much of Marjolein’s material is Shetland-centric, and she was clearly relieved at not having to explain the context for stories, as she had to do at her Fringe shows: “I don’t have to spend 15 minutes explaining spaegie isn’t an STD,” she said.
It felt like the Mareel crowd appreciated this material in a different way to an audience down south – in Edinburgh, they would laugh at a joke about how Shetlanders would react to a murder, in a “those rural islanders are so funny” kind of way. In Shetland, they laughed because “oh God, that’s so true”.
Marjolein’s set felt too short, and the audience were clamouring for more as the interval started. They were not to be disappointed.
Once Sara got started, it became apparent how well-paired the two performers were. They touched on similar subjects from different angles, with Marjolein’s indefatigable optimism neatly complementing Sara’s hilariously dejected and self-deprecating take on life.
Sara brilliantly kicked off by dodging the cliche that knocks most visiting comedians down; talking to an isles audience about Shetland ponies and the lack of trees (as if we haven’t all heard that one before). In fact, her stark irritation at not seeing any of the ponies or sheep she was promised (because it was too dark) got the act off on the right foot, and instantly endeared her to the receptive audience.
Many of the audience will have known Sara from her work on TV programmes such as Mock the Week and Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, so her up front, outrageous and fast-paced style should have come as no surprise.
Still, it was a dizzying experience – the comedy came thick and fast, rapidly moving from story to story in a way that gave the audience no respite, leaving them breathless with laughter as gags linked into each other perfectly.
A story about her hellish spiritual yoga retreat in the Costa Rican jungle moved into having her thoughts on incest to unsuccessful attempts to conceive due to the price of sperm. The audience reeled, howling with laughter, as Sara laid bare her hot mess of a life story.
Sara quickly established herself as the Queen of the Call-Back, with a number of running jokes, such as her attraction to crying men, building up and up, getting better and more satisfying each time they recurred.
After a while it became apparent that almost every joke from the first half of her set was merely the set-up to multiple pay-offs down the line, culminating in a glorious flurry of call-backs and punchlines that floored the audience and left them convulsing with laughter as she took a bow and left the stage triumphant.
Unfortunately, this brilliant act was marred by hecklers, the first such interruption happening within the first minute (no exaggeration). Apparently having saved up their obnoxiousness through the entire opening act, one member of the audience decided to break the flow of Sara’s performance before it had barely gotten started.
While Sara managed to get back on track quickly, she was soon stopped once again: “Are you going to be a troublemaker?” she called out.
“Yes,” came the reply. A sigh went round the audience; nobody appreciated paying to see Sara Pascoe deliver an hour of well-honed stand-up comedy to have it stopped every ten minutes by some basket-case who’s had too many plastic cups of Sauvignon Blanc and thinks their insipid opinions deserve a public airing.
It was frustrating, because the interruptions left Sara visibly rattled, and it took a moment for her to find her flow again. One can only imagine how much better this already-great show would have been if Sara had been allowed to perform it as intended.
Nevertheless, the show was an absolute joy. It was a genuine delight to see such a seasoned pro as Sara, at the top of her game, along with Marjolein, who is just at the start of what will hopefully be a glittering career in comedy.
On balance, Marjolein’s act felt more enjoyable, possibly because of the local context or the familiarity with the audience, but that doesn’t really matter – it wasn’t a contest. If it was, then the audience surely won, hands-down.