"Stand Soc looks set to quickly cement itself amongst the royalty of DST"
Stand Soc’s first performance of the year doubled as the debut of the society as a whole, founded by Ivo Pope, our charismatic MC, and Sascha LO. The anxiously-awaited headline act, ‘Opening Night’ represents a new direction within comedy at Durham. The relaxed atmosphere, and the ‘give it a go’ approach to its largely-inexperienced line-up, felt a far cry from the formal, regulated theatrical comedy provided by other societies – in the best way possible.
The venue was as important as the performers in establishing Stand Soc as one to watch on the Durham arts scene – casual, yet intimate, ‘The Holy GrAle’ provided the perfect atmosphere for the creatives to showcase themselves for the first time. And what an atmosphere it was – throngs being turned away from the door as comedy-lovers stood on the street, hanging through open windows to watch the gig, with rumours that the bar ran out of pint glasses before the end of the first act. Bar stools and thumb-tac tables scattered the space; the audience were able to relax with the performer like a conversation with a friend, whether sitting cross-legged on the floor or leaning on the bar. Stand Soc certainly created the ‘goldilocks’ environment to foster a new culture of organic and experimental comedy. Their set-up oozed a cool but underproduced professionalism, echoing the likes of Top Secret Comedy Club, London, from strikingly simple logo to ground-level staging. The performers’ sets developed naturally – with shorter sets from those less experienced, while the longer sets allowed those more experienced to give us a taste of what the Durham comedy scene could soon become.
Despite being largely outnumbered amongst the line-up, it was the women of the group who far outshone in both skill and strength of their sets. Both Millie Adams and Sascha LO showed an understanding of the difference between stand up as a theatrical art form, versus merely reciting jokes, as well as an intelligent sophistication to their humour. Another exceptional stand-out was Joe Skaria, who’s anecdotal yet conversational style had the audience in fits, while his intense likeability and unfaltering delivery showcased a level of skill far above that of the other beginners. I would, however, like to see him plant his feet more, allowing less of his energy to dissipate through his shuffling and channelling it instead into his performance, else he would perhaps work better seated, especially given his delivery style.
A mention must also be given to another debut performer, Thomas Page: having signed up to perform only hours before, he impressively navigated the pressure and unpredictability of live performance in bringing his performance back after ‘going up’. He also showed great potential in his story building and ability to keep the audience engaged over more drawn-out punchlines – an imperative skill for stand-up that few other performers had. Co-president Ivo ‘I’m Not That Posh’ Pope similarly showed some initial first-time nerves, understandable given the stress of organising an event of this scale, but soon settled into his role, quickly exuding a confident charm, particularly into the second half where he began to really successfully work the crowd. He wittily connected acts together, but I would have loved him to stay further from the cheap, lude humour, which seemed an easy scapegoat to some.
James Goff also deserves a mention for his devised audience-participation sketch – which almost acted as comic relief to the comic relief. Taking suggestions from the audience with ease, he adlibbed impressively to cover his own processing of their prompts, without waffling. I will never not be impressed by improvised comedy, but taking the risk in the context of this new event was especially admirable, easily earning himself one of the bigger cheers of the evening.
The better performers knew and understood their audience, bringing a cult-like sophistication to the event through the use of Durham-based humour. The exemplary final performance from co-president Sascha LO was a masterclass in comedic acting and performance, with an incredible maturity in both her stage presence and material. She had the striking ability to take you by surprise: tripping the audience up with cross-referencing punchlines when you least expected it, which brought a level of unpredictability to the humour which was lacking in some of the more inexperienced performers. Members of the audience compared her to Catherine Tate and Miranda Hart in demeanour.
With their impressive break though onto the scene, cheap door price, and a standard of performance which will only increase, Stand Soc looks set to quickly cement itself amongst the royalty of DST.
By Molly Kavanagh
Photo credits: The Stand Soc