THE MAIN problem with the Edinburgh Fringe is the sheer volume of events, shows and performances that are available – but if you’re going to be in Edinburgh over the next couple of weeks, you should make seeing Shetland comedian Marjolein Robertson your top priority, writes Alex-Garrick Wright.
The west-side comic’s new show, Da Shetland Spree, is a hilarious, warm-hearted and surreal love letter to the isles. After a couple of years of performing pay-what-you-want shows at the Edinburgh Free Fringe to high acclaim, Marjolein has this year graduated to the big leagues; a properly ticketed show in the Stand, Edinburgh’s most prestigious comedy venue.
Marjolein has built a name for herself as a rising star of the Scottish comedy circuit in recent years, with numerous shows and appearances on the BBC (both online and TV), and the large crowd filling the small, sweltering room was testament to this. Only one seat was empty in the place, and even with windows open and four electric fans going full-tilt, the audience were wilting like old lettuce before Marjolein even stepped onto stage, resplendent in a mustard, Fair Isle yoke ganzie.
She started strong with an attempt at ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response – basically young ladies talking softly to make people’s skin tingle) which went off the rails fast, hard and hilariously. Three minutes in and Marjolein is standing, dying of heatstroke in a wool ganzie, screaming like a seabird over the sound of the audience’s laughter – you won’t get that at a Sara Pascoe gig.
Marjolein’s style is well-established by now; frank, honest, often bizarre and occasionally filthy. Her comic identity shines through in every line and beat – this is a performer who knows who they are, and what they’re about. Having spent the last several months living in Glasgow, honing her skills at innumerable stand-up nights, Marjolein has worked hard at her craft, and it shows.
Stories of a disastrous love life, crofting mishaps and Jimmy Perez mixed seamlessly with much stranger fare, like a metaphysical guide to fishing, and a mimed account of meeting a man at a gig. Marjolein has the confidence and charisma to make even her most bizarre material into something magical; in the hands of other comics it would be disastrous.
The word ‘Shetland’ runs through Marjolein’s material, as if her show was a stick of seaside rock. Her portrayal of the isles oscillates between Last of the Summer Wine and The Wicker Man. It was at once a great advert and a brutal warning about heading north of Orkney; the Shetlanders in the audience (because of course there were a few) lapped it up; the rest loved the absurdity of it. At one point, a flabbergasted Marjolein explained how a lady from London had asked her after a previous show how she had made up such a strange island. Truth, it seems, really is stranger than fiction.
The audience were a much older crowd than Marjolein usually attracts, and surprisingly reticent to actually laugh. At one point Marjolein embarked on a long, winding anecdote that – on any other day – would have had the audience in stitches. Rather than laugh at a genuinely clever and funny routine, the room broke into a sudden and vigorous applause at the end, as if she’d been playing a piano concerto rather than making incest jokes. It was terribly odd.
If the reticent crowd were in any way off-putting to Marjolein, she didn’t show it. In fact some of her strongest moments were when confronted with the unexpected, with Marjolein’s years of improv comedy performance giving her a fast and witty response to blaring sirens going past, or realising she’d done the first 15 minutes with an unzipped fly.
So much of Marjolein’s comedy success over the last few years is down to her personality. Intensely likeable, and a little bit weird, what you see on stage is clearly not a character or an exaggerated persona – it’s just Marjolein being herself. The audience can’t help but like her, and trust her to take them down the strange rabbit-hole of her mind. They are never disappointed.
Looking at the Stand’s Fringe programme – where Marjolein shares a page with the household names such as Omid Djalili and Limmy – it’s clear that Da Shetland Spree is the start of bigger and brighter things for a young comedian who has worked tremendously hard, and been tremendously funny, to get to this point.
With three weeks of performances remaining, any trip going to, through or near Edinburgh should factor in a hot afternoon watching a ganzie-clad, west side girl tell jokes about crofting to a room full of heat-stroked Londoners who think she’s making it all up. It really is an experience you’ll never forget.
Da Shetland Spree runs until 25 August at Edinburgh’s The Stand 2. Tickets are available online.