I'd never seen Steen Raskopoulos before, and after the first few scenes of You Know The Drill, I thought it was just another amusing one-man character sketch show. But I was confused, because the packed audience cheering and whooping at his arrival on stage indicated otherwise. What was I missing?
Raskopolous creates lots of different characters, who – while easily recognisable – are presented in an original way. Scenes containing standalone mini-stories are sandwiched together by lots of random micro-scenes, where he'll often speak directly to individuals in the audience with a bizarre and seemingly out-of-context bit of interaction. These sections are purposefully nonsensical and add a flavour of surrealism, working to balance the relative sense of the story sections.
His comic acting, improvisational skills and scripted sections are funny, but alone would not stand out on the Fringe as being particularly special. But Raskopolous, as I would discover, has a magic and potent secret ingredient.
Audience participation can be heaven or hell, but Raskopolous’ brand of it is something else altogether, and undoubtedly the jewel in this show's crown. From the outset, he tells us we'll be getting involved, but also reassures us it's going to be lots of fun – and he's not wrong. Not only does he reassure us verbally, but he has a warmth in his demeanour and eyes that lets whoever he's interacting with know it's going to be OK. There can be as many as four people on stage with him at any one time, and after the first few scenes, there's almost constantly someone up working alongside him (be it dancing, reading, miming or throwing things at him).
This gives Raskopolous plenty to riff on – the involvement of Joe Public inevitably brings the strange and the unexpected. His aim is not to humiliate, but rather provide a unique experience, as he sets up situations that enable his participants to garner lots of laughs. I wondered if he ‘reads’ people before dragging them on stage with him, as all seem willing and throw themselves into what can often be relatively extensive interaction with gusto.
As Raskopolous ended the show amid pumping music and bright lights, my feelings were very different from what they were at the start. I found it unique and genuinely hilarious – at one point even surprisingly moving. But why was the first little bit of the show less impressive to me? Was it because he started with weaker characters, or because he took a while to warm up, or because the real audience participation hadn't yet kicked in at that point? Perhaps a mixture of all three, but I suspect mainly the latter – because it’s the audience participation, and specifically Raskopolous’ way of doing it that makes You Know The Drill so brilliantly fun.