Isy Suttie: Love Lost In The British Retail Industry
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2007
A show about shelf-stackers and checkout girls, dreams and heartbreak from Chortle Awards 2005 Best Newcomer nominee. Character comedy that's haunting and joyful, from a witty, wondrous world. Alan Bennett with an electric guitar. Will have you rolling in the biscuit aisles.
OK, let’s get the obvious comparison out of the way first. Every other review is going to mention it, so why not this one…
Isy Suttie is a modern-day Victoria Wood – and it’s a similarity that extends beyond the soft Northern twang, or the fact that they are both talented musicians as much as stand-ups. They also both find touching comedy in the world of the frustrated dreams of working folk, seeing art in the trials and tribulations of ordinary people, things that are mundane in the eyes of the world, but dramatic enough for them. It may be a romanticised view of life, but the affection makes for a feelgood hour.
Suttie’s show revolves around Lisa Marsden, a Somerfield checkout girl happy with her lot but nagged by ideas of what could have been. She wanted to be a singer, and find love rather than a succession of meaningless one-night stands. When Carl Butcher, the shelf stacker, starts work at her supermarket, she thinks it could be the solution to at least one of these desires, and tentatively makes her approach.
This modern romance is set in Matlock, the Derbyshire town from where Suttie hails, and which has a sleepy, unambitious atmosphere which she conjured up by repeating the inconsequential chit-chat with a neighbour that her mother feels a worth mentioning in a letter to her daughter.
Suttie tells the bumpy romance almost entirely in song, a one-woman musical in which she plays Lisa, Carl, a struggling American folk singer in the Alanis Morissette mould, an aging fairy godmother actress and a few others beside – even to the point where she duets with herself. The joy is that all the songs are proper ones; not wacky comedy tracks but the sort of thing you can imagine a whimsical indie band playing in an acoustic session. Only Suttie’s verses of yearning and confusion are infused with a wit as well as warmth.
This is comedy with heart and soul, and just enough bite to stop it sliding into sentimentality. Jokes haven’t been forgotten, either – not especially in clear punchlines, although there are a handful, but in Suttie’s skilfully evocative language. In just two examples of her literate, inventive turns of phrase, Avril Lavigne is described as ‘a skeleton dressed as a clown’ while Butcher ‘has the look of a middle-class man wanted for a minor crime’.
There are wry parodies of folk music and bad stand-up, and the peripheral characters provide a well-balanced level of comic relief, providing laughs without compromising the poignancy behind the yarn. Lovely stuff.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett