One woman. One mic. A stage.
Not a typical scene you’d envision on the top floor of a bustling Liverpudlian restaurant.
Regardless, in the midst of Hope Street Ltd’s biannual On The Verge Festival, this is precisely what you should expect. Reaching out to fledgling local talent, the scheme aspires to serve as a catalyst for dramatic innovation. The objective of the festival is two-fold; to make the stage more accessible to talent on our local stage whilst drawing attention as to what we perceive a stage to be.
Steffi Sweeney’s Karaoke Tales, produced by Hope Street Limited, originally began as a Crowdfunding project. This first-time comic delivers of stories in the context of what she describes as ‘sticky floored, booze fragranced karaoke bar’. Here, a transformation from an ordinary space into a serenade of shimmering disco lights occurs – and it’s safe to say, it more than delivers.
As we enter the room, each spectator is given an opportunity to make a personal request. On a sheet of paper, we are encouraged to think long and hard about a life-changing decision: what to sing when we get up on stage.
Bolstered to “go for it”, I felt my pen scribble down three sets of answers. What’s our name? What’s our choice of song? And why have we chosen it?
April, I write for my name. Biting the bullet, I scribble my second line in cursive, hoping that it’s so untidy that no one else can read it – Stand by Me.
Finally, the reason as to why. A pressured albeit honest gulp. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, I write, which I love to sing when I think no one else is watching or listening. A treacherous declaration from a metal head.
Before I am beckoned to perform, however, Steffi is called to the stage. Engulfed with a flurry of excitement befitting a small child, she belts out an energetic variant of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.
Within the first opening lines of Karaoke Tales, we start to get a feel of who Steffi, our sole performer, actually is. A self-described “Huyton girl ventured”, her first comic routine concentrates on how apparently individual personalities approach the mic – and, in turn, how each of them approaches the stage.
Announcing that the show is all about “karaoke stories”, a sense of solidarity was shared by both performer and reviewer when she giddily admitted that she, too, enjoyed “making up songs in the bathroom.” Steffi does not hesitate to treat her audiences to her rendition of the event.
The routine progresses and, as we see Steffi age, she continually engages and interacts with members of the audience. Interestingly, the audience becomes self-aware, knowing that she is treating them as family. Another karaoke song performed, she recounts the tales of mums at routine football matches who, amongst their bellows to “jast boot ‘et in da net!”, evidently, have no clue about football – they’re just “there for the gossip, innit”.
This progresses to more hilarious, albeit relatable stories as time progresses. Who hasn’t sat in the opposite cubicle next to their aunties in the loos so that they can fire a series of questions, after all?
It is evident amidst the laughter and gaffs that one family member stands out as a particular role model – her granddad. Recounting his support and love for her over the years, she happily tells the audience how he would sing in the bag of his car without regret. As Steffi grows up in the story, she fondly recalls how he would continually encourage her to “proper go for it” and to take to the microphone.
His encouragement mattered. “Even when I was crap, he would say I were fantastic!”, she adds fondly.
Throughout all of Karaoke Tales’ bountiful jokes and witty references, there is one particularly powerful moment. At one point Steffi sits alongside an unsuspecting audience member, who is rapidly designated the role of granddad. Encouraging them to put a boxing glove on one hand and write with it, she rapidly switches to her much younger persona, who chides him for not being able to write very well: “oh heck granddad, that’s not very neat, is it?”
The audience is left to grapple with the struggle of empathising with her grandad’s struggle to write in his ageing years, in contrast to the oblivious commentary emanating from a young child.
The final segment of the routine accounts for a mellow contrast to events. Now a young university student at Newcastle, an inebriated rendition of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face performed by a Skiing club student prods Steffi into a moment of reflection. She reveals how she’s felt homesick ever since she’s arrived in the city and a big reason as to why she feels that way is that she lost her granddad the summer before.
She embraces the stage one final time. Her choice, as with all the others previous, serves as a reflection of how she personally values her memories of her family: she sings Unforgettable with soft rigour.
Karaoke Tales is a mirthful first piece that is daring and laden with Liverpudlian sass. Yielding definitive Scouse undertones from start to finish, it is an unconventional ode to the series of figures who have impacted Steffi throughout the years. A brave first piece, Karaoke Tales is inventive, sharp, and unafraid to venture beyond the fringe.
Although a regrettably short piece, Steffi’s charming performance delivers a feast of comedy which effortlessly connects to the audience, leaving them hungry for their next serving.