Up-Helly-A’ comedy night


Shetland’s first ever Up-Helly-A’-themed stand-up comedy night will take place at the Garrison Theatre on the night of the fire festival later this month.

The hour-long show Stand Up Helly A’, still in the process of being written and put together by Glaswegian comedian, actor and writer Sandy Nelson, will include visuals and archive footage of Up-Helly-A’ and is being billed as “in honour of” the festival while also attempting a satirical outsider’s take on what goes on on the last Tuesday in January every year.

Arguably the key driving force behind the first stirrings of a stand-up comedy scene in the isles, Nelson, 38, who moved to Unst six months ago, is into his 11th year of performing on stage and has also been an actor for some 19 years. During that time he has appeared as John Wallace in the now-infamous film Braveheart, as Chris the postie in each series of well-known Scottish comedy Still Game and, more fleetingly, in Rab C Nesbitt and Channel Four’s critically-acclaimed 2002 sitcom The Book Group.

When he first moved here last summer, Nelson’s intention was to concentrate on writing but he quickly realised that you “couldn’t throw a brick without hitting a writer” and so decided to focus on stand-up, not something for which these parts have ever been renowned. He helped stage a stand-up comedy night at Sound Hall back in November, which sold out 10 days in advance, and having been approached by Shetland Arts to put together a themed night, he is intrigued ahead of his first ever experience of the festival.

“It’s my first Up-Helly-A’ and I’m looking forward to finding out what it’s all about,” said Nelson. “From what I’ve seen it looks hell of a bizarre and quite exciting. I will be talking about my impressions of having lived in Shetland for six months, as a Glaswegian in Shet­land, sharing the bill with three Shetlandic comedians doing a stint each.”

While keen to keep the exact nature of his act fairly close to his chest, Nelson says he will take on the character of a “puzzled and bewildered” man looking in from the outside and trying to get his head around the fire festival. The trio joining him are Clint Watt, Catriona Anderson (who has the strongest native accent Nelson has heard to date) and Les Sinclair. Going on stage at 9pm on the night, with the galley still ablaze just a few hundred yards away in the King George V playing field, Nelson’s material will “never have been more topical” but he stresses that he does not plan to pull any punches and it is an evening’s entertainment which will not be to everyone’s taste.

“It’s a stand-up comedy show, it’s not a seaside show, it’s over 16s, a show using modern language – a frank-speaking, open platform, lots of satire, lots of laughs.”

Shetland Arts’ music develop­ment officer Bryan Peterson said the show would give those who are not going out in a squad or to a hall this year an alternative form of entertainment. “For people that aren’t going out at Up-Helly-A’, there isn’t a lot to do, so it’s some­thing for people who appreciate a wry look at the festival.”

  • Tickets for the over-16 Stand Up Helly A’ at the Garrison Theatre on Tuesday 27th January are on sale, priced £8, from the box office at Isleburgh Community Centre from today, telephone (01595) 745555.

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