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Reviews / Marj at Mareel: a ‘sensational rollercoaster that tickled like a feather and hit like a sledgehammer

Marjolein Robertson at Mareel: 'This show has been years in the making.' Photos: Dave Donaldson

MARJ IS the best thing Marjolein Robertson has ever done. Normally the pithy one-line summary comes at the end of a review, but it deserves to be upfront because a) it’s very true, and b) Marj was anything but normal, writes Alex Garrick-Wright.

Friday saw the highly anticipated final night of Marjolein’s first major UK tour. So highly anticipated, in fact, that a second (earlier) date had to be arranged to cope with demand. Mareel was packed with locals, friends, and three generations of her family who probably thought they knew what they were in for.

They were wrong.

Opening the show was Glaswegian comic Susan Riddell, a strong writer and performer whose quick delivery, effortless crowd work and yodeling had the audience eating out the palm of her hand and champing at the bit for Marjolein.

For some inexplicable reason, an interval took place immediately afterwards, so the warmed-up crowd had 20 minutes to cool down again before the main event.

This might explain the reticence of the audience to engage; at times a well-crafted joke went under-appreciated, or a clever line ignored. It felt like she had to warm the audience up all over again, although that may not be the whole reason for the subdued reception. Most of the audience will have seen the home-grown comedian before, probably in the same venue, and it’s tantalising to think how differently Marj would be for an audience in Edinburgh or Brighton.

A lot of the Mareel audience expected the comedian they had seen before, and that wasn’t what they got. What they got was Marjolein having turned a corner, as a professional and an artist.

The first half was very, well, Marjolein – a blend of silliness, folklore, crofting, and sexual positivity. Technically, the show surpassed all her previous work.

Gone was the free-wheeling feel of a show composed on an envelope and with a red tin; this was a masterful and precise web of call backs, connective storytelling, and absurdism delivered with panache and a new level of confidence. A trap in an alley baited with a plate of lentils, babies stealing baths, and ill-thought-out hook-ups were funny on their own, but became more than the sum of their parts.

Even parts that retread ground from older routines did so with more flair and sophistication. Her constant parking-and-returning-to stories was reminiscent of Billy Connolly, both in execution and ease, and a folk tale about a selkie became a hub for many other mini-routines that all began to tie together.

Having seen Marjolein perform many times over the years, it was a clear refinement. Nothing was wasted; even the strangest little off-hand gag was, in fact, an immaculately laid foundation for something later down the line.

The second half, however, will have rattled a lot of the audience, especially those expecting ‘normal’ Marjolein.

And frankly, it was a masterpiece. A sharp turn to the raw and deeply personal saw the selkie story become allegory, then confession, then emancipation. Marj may have debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe 2023 (where it was rightly nominated for an award and criminally denied one) but its roots go much deeper.

This show has been years in the making, a crescendo of hurt underpinned with brutal honesty. Fiery as well as funny, Marjolein took control of her trauma as she took control of the stage. Even at its most unflinching, there was still room for jokes.

Marj wasn’t just funny, or honest, or shocking; it was important. It was the culmination of her journey as a comedian and a person, and by taking control of her story she has found the confidence to truly master her art.

To reiterate: Marj was the best thing Marjolein Robertson has ever done. A sensational rollercoaster of moon-eating, love, and selkies that tickled like a feather duster and hit like sledgehammer. If there was ever any doubt that she was going to be a superstar, that doubt must surely be gone.


See also:

Marjolein Robertson – ‘My comedy has taken a step up after my ADHD diagnosis’

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