Here’s Katerina Vrana, hair like an exploding volcano, to wrestle with Greek and English stereotypes. How does she get on …?
It all happens upstairs at the Camden Head in Angel. This is where Barry Ferns’ free Angel Comedy club has made itself one of London’s most popular comedy clubs, while making a few enemies along the way (ie the local paid comedy clubs).
But Monday nights at the club have recently belonged to Katerina Vrana and her debut one-woman show, which is primarily about her life as a Greek woman who has settled in the UK. It is not, she asserts, an in-depth analysis of the eurozone cries. Well thank god for that.
This show has had mainly glowing reviews, and I can see why, Vrana is a charismatic, instantly likeable stand-up, and her exploration of national identity and stereotypes (which this show amounts to) is very enjoyable. The strong Greek contingent in the audience are particularly enthusiastic for her Greek material, as you might expect, as she sends up the machismo, aggressive hospitality and eyebrows of her brethren.
Vrana does have her karydopita and eat it in this respect – reinforcing stereotypes is rightly regarded as a cheap shot in comedy, but if your show is about stereotypes and mocks them as well, you can sort of get away with perpetuating them too. But most importantly, while the observations may not be the most original, once they’ve been through the prism of Vrana’s comic skillset, they emerge colourful and full of life. She can sure tell a story (for example her flirtatious interaction with some builders that takes a nice twist), and has acting chops too – there are some lovely demonstrations of how Brits are emotionally repressed, romantically unforthcoming tea obsessives, and she does a mean impression of drizzle.
Although, now I mention it, “drizzle” is one of a few impressions and asides that begin very funny then last about 30 seconds too long; knowing when to be economical and let something linger on the audience’s palette is a difficult skill, but a powerful one to acquire. Likewise the show as a whole could do with a trim – 75 minutes is a long time to expect everyone to stay attentive and slack of bladder.
Speaking of economy, there is, as it happens, some (light) analysis of the eurozone crisis – yay! Or rather, how the media portrays it. Vrana tells us about ending up on BBC1’s This Week programme to talk about the reality of Greek life amid the crisis – and it’s a fascinating, funny diversion. It’s when Vrana moves away from the everyday observations that the show starts to acquire a little depth, and actually she gets the balance just right of inward-looking and outward-looking, and everyday and exceptional.
My experience of Greece extends to three days working in Athens about 10 years ago and eating my dad’s body weight in moussaka. So to have a friendly, versatile and funny comedian take me on a very personal journey through Greek identity is a pleasure – now Vrana has to prove she can move beyond stereotypes in her material. And Katerina if you are reading this – do NOT accept a Henning Wehn joke bailout.
Katerina Vrana, Feta With the Queen is at the Camden Head, Angel, on Monday October 28. Review by Paul Fleckney