Glasgow Comedy Festival: The Stockholm Syndrome

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Jay Richardson

An amorphous, regular late-night showcase in which acts are encouraged to be experimental, Stockholm Syndrome is intrinsically bound up with its location on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, the city’s main drag of bars, clubs and nocturnal mayhem. The hormonally-charged, booze-soaked atmosphere provides twin comperes Davey Connor and Ste Callaghan with their tales of disturbing but successful chat-up lines they’ve heard outside. And it’s the likeliest reason for the audience member who gropes Matthew Winning, in the guise of his Steph E. Graph character, beneath the skirt when he steals the man’s pint. Though of course, Stockholm Syndrome is the phenomenon whereby hostages develop positive feelings towards their captors ...

Rather than simply chatting with the audience between sets, Connor and Callaghan mainly perform sketches, aided by Winning and Elaine Malcolmson. A risky strategy, it can dampen the mood for the next act if the preceding sketch falls flat, as it does with a teach-yourself-acting routine that’s amusing enough but fades away without a strong punchline.

The quality of the sketches is decidedly varied. There’s a brilliant double-hander in which Malcolmson becomes a fey, rather witchy Cash Convertors employee throwing a fortune at Winning for possessions indelibly stained with his regrets and self-loathing. But the recurring adult call-in show, Blokestation, in which a vest-sporting Connor responds blokeishly to male and female callers alike is only sporadically funny and tends to make the implicit too explicit. The breakdown of a marriage between a dentist and his assistant is nicely captured at the vulnerable patient’s expense, but it’s insufficiently dissimilar to Armstrong and Miller’s more polished take on the treatment entrapment scenario.

Connor and Callaghan are a likeable duo, their conversational back and forth fostering an impression of casual, ‘anything goes’ inclusion. This can be a drawback though. Cunt or Drunk?, an audience participation game that confesses its debt to Shooting Stars’ Dove From Above, is a charmless imitation and only emboldens the first category amongst the crowd.

One such character quizzed by Callaghan is the source of the boorish heckle that greets Carla Rhodes at the start of her set, though she slaps him down with uncompromising New York sass. The American has some original, self-deprecating gags about her striking appearance but the bulk of her performance is given over to a ventriloquism act with a creepy, old-fashioned dummy named Cecil St Clair.

Rhodes’ conceit, and it’s a wonderfully effective one, is that Cecil has been trapped in his box since the 1920s, with his politically incorrect views preserved as if in amber. Off-handedly at first, yet increasingly violently, the dummy reveals his racism and misogyny, a psychopathic streak bursting forth in increasingly demented song. After blurting the unpalatable old line of ‘What do you say to a woman who has two black eyes?’, Cecil breaks character for an anachronistic 9/11 gag. In the main though, it’s an entertaining performance, Rhodes peeling back the layers of the little monster with subtle skill.

Steph E. Graph, who earned Winning a place in the semi-final of Chortle’s Student Comedy Award, fills the Stockholm Syndrome’s Suicide Spot, in which comics are invited to try out an extreme character or shift in style. A bearded young man in a blonde wig barking as many German, tennis and graph related puns and correspondences as he can in the course of an autobiographical flipchart lecture, the character probably has little life beyond this bizarre five minutes. Yet Graph is considerably more than the sum of her disparate parts, with the impromptu audience participation only confirming the risks Winning is taking.

The bonus headliner tonight was Canadian pocket dynamo Phil Nichol, ingratiating himself with tried and tested routines on his Scottish heritage, before showcasing some impressive new material on the Incredible Hulk’s full range of emotions and delivering a bad taste song dedicated to an aging relative. Nichol’s performances are never so explosive that you can overlook the invention of the writing, whether it's his pitch-perfect encapsulation of Irish drinking songs or the countless dubious variations he contrives on a slogan like ‘let’s stamp out bullying!’

Lively and unpredictable, The Stockholm Syndrome is undoubtedly a better way to spend a couple of hours than chained to a radiator with a hessian sack over your head as diplomats negotiate your release.

Review date: 21 Mar 2011
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Glasgow Capitol

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