Award-winning comedian Steen Raskopoulos’ return to the Fringe is nothing but triumphant. Born in Australia to a Greek Orthodox family, Raskopoulos draws influences from popular culture, his upbringing, and his experiences in adulthood to create a show which doesn’t fit neatly into any single category. His newest show, Stay, is a mixture of improvisation, scripted bits and slapstick, combining hilarity with sadness and absurdity with reality.
Raskopoulos’ performance centres around a prison interrogation room, in which he plays both jailer and prisoner. From here the audience enjoys several different sketches, some of which are related to the interrogation while others of which seem to bear no relevance. Raskopoulos’ sketches are sometimes funny and outlandish, and sometimes sobering and realistic.
Through immaculate use of staging Raskopoulos can differentiate between all of his characters, creating a collage of human experience. In his interrogation scenes, for example, one character sits while the other towards over him. Some characters will stay put on one side of the stage, while others seem more confident and even come out into the audience. By using the space on stage in this way Raskopoulos is able to create a variety of different characters, all of whom seem to have a different presence and way of moving.
He also uses voice-overs, music and blackouts to signify changes not just in character, but in mood. In doing so Raskopoulos demonstrates convincingly the diversity that is possible in solo-performance.
It would be untrue to claim that Raskopoulos does this entirely without aid. Audience participation has featured in his work previously and this is no exception. Although sometimes jarring and nerve-wracking, Raskopoulos’ interrogation of his audience members allows for improvised scenes which deliver some of the biggest laughs of the show. Raskopoulos’ scripted sections are also full of wit and imagination. From a vampire who loves the disco, to a little boy rapping about losing his mum in the supermarket, Raskopoulos’ comic timing and wacky imagination shines through.
While Raskopoulos’ show is certainly not lacking in comedic moments, the audience gets far more than this. This is a performance which is emotionally fulfilling and is both introspective and extrospective. In the finale a change in pace and atmosphere sees Raskopoulos shed the multitude of characters he has introduced. In the final minutes of the show the audience is confronted with an honest and heart-wrenching account of Raskopoulos’ own experiences and struggles.
Stay is an exemplification of the power of comedy when used in conjunction with truth, sadness and self-reflection. Not dissimilar to Hannah Gadsby’s Nannette which played at last year’s Fringe, this performance exemplifies the ability of comedy and comedians to not only make us laugh but to make us cry. By subverting the expectations and conventions of his own genre, Raskopoulos demonstrates his complete and unquestionable control over the mood of his audience. Raskopoulos has created a performance which typifies the very ethos of the Fringe. This is an original piece of work which challenges and expands traditional definitions of comedic performance, pushing the genre forward.
Underbelly, Cowgate – Belly Button
6-12 August, 14-26 August
Image: Rob Edinburgh via Flickr