By Aimee Smith
The main drawing me to go and see This is Steve is curiosity, pure and simple. The blurb I find describing the Spade Face Productions show pitches it as standup comedy, with a twist – “Steve…tells his story any way he can, except through speech.” Silent stand-up comedy, you say? Please, tell me more…or should I say, show me more. It’s a challenging premise, and Steve definitely delivers.
This is Steve hits me in the same way an album by the Ramones does. The shows format follows a series of punchy, anarchistic gags, nothing running over a few minutes. Each scene is totally unrelated to it’s predecessor, which could, in other circumstances, feel messy. However, in Steve’s case, the show’s success hinges on its unpredictability. Shock-factor is core here, but as it’s used for laughs, we can enjoy the rollercoaster instead of feeling manipulated as we can when watching a show trying to push a didactic message. Steve is not afraid to get messy, and he lets us know it from the get-go. The gross, bodily humour continues (which does, of course, make sense for silent stand-up) and Steve successfully tamps up each gag to new heights.
What I enjoyed most from the show, and what really makes or breaks the work, is Steve’s connection with his audience. It’s not quite a friendly, loving relationship, shall we say. In fact, Steve has mastered the art of the wide-eyed, challenging stare. But this Nelsonian audience was ready to rise up to the challenges the show posed. Steve’s gag’s require heavy audience interaction. Audience-wrangling is a difficult enough feat when you remove words from the equation, but with the kinds of gag’s Steve is pulling, getting your audience to co-operate becomes all the more tough (playing a game of Kiss Cam with the crowd? Somehow, Steve manages it).
Steve openly mocks the audience, and whilst at first I see many shocked hands clapped over mouths, we quickly ease into a more equal relationship. The audience starts rising to Steve’s challenges, talking back, trying to mess with Steve much like he messes with us. It’s a feat I have rarely, if ever, experienced in the theatre before, which speaks to the confidence and skill of the performer. I wonder if it’s easy for us to feel comfortable with Steve because he is asking nothing of us that he wouldn’t do himself. I don’t want to ruin what is undoubtedly the peak of the show (anyone who has seen it already will know exactly the moment I mean), but let’s just say, the personal commitment of the performer is something astounding. Absurd, daring, and absolutely hilarious – it’s a hard show not to give back to.