Published: 31/08/2015 12:38 - Updated: 31/08/2015 13:00

Iceland's political jokers have a lesson for Scotland

Sandy Nelson as Jon Gnarr, Rebecca Elise as Heida Helgadottir, and Jamie Svoot Gordon as Ottarr Proppe in 'Hooray For All Kinds of Things'. Photo: Lesley Black.
Sandy Nelson as Jon Gnarr, Rebecca Elise as Heida Helgadottir, and Jamie Svoot Gordon as Ottarr Proppe in 'Hooray For All Kinds of Things'. Photo: Lesley Black.

WITH his two shows running on the Edinburgh Fringe, actor and writer Sandy Nelson offered a choice of two contentious subjects, religion and politics.

Yet in both, the former Moray resident uses humour to tackle important issues — just like the real life hero of his Inverness-bound play Hooray For All Kinds of Things, comedian and actor turned unexpected politician and Mayor of Reykjavík, Jón Gnarr.

While The Gospel Inquiry, first seen as part of the Play Pieces season of lunchtime theatre in Inverness, imagines a 1st Century Levenson Inquiry into the Gospel writers as a means of looking at both religion and the media, the newer play follows real events in the story of Gnarr and the Best Party.

This was the unlikely collection of comedians and musicians who initially came together as a joke, but struck a chord with voters in a country still reeling from the collapse of its banking sector and the resultant economic crisis.

The two stories might be 2000 years apart, but for Nelson there are some clear similarities.

"In The Gospel Inquiry, it was all about Jesus and his gang who came along to try and change the way that people live and dealt with each other and all for the good of joy. That’s what this is about as well," he said.

"It’s about a gang of people, under the guidance of one idiosyncratic man, who tried to bring joy and happiness to a troubled land. I wonder how Jón Gnarr would feel about me basically comparing him to Jesus?"

The real life Heida Helgadottir, the current leader of the Bright Future Party, and Jon Gnarr.
The real life Heida Helgadottir, the current leader of the Bright Future Party, and Jon Gnarr.

Gnarr’s gang of unlikely politicians included a former bandmate of Iceland’s best known pop star Bjork in The Sugarcubes, while another had been a member of provocatively titled punk band F*** The System.

"They were this odd bunch of people who went out to run for office to make people laugh," Nelson said.

"But there was an underlying political message with the Best Party. They were satirising real politicians, but making people think about things in a joyful way and laughing at this messed up economy."

Here in Scotland, the independence referendum also demonstrated to Nelson that the serious business of politics should not be free of fun and laughter.

"I held some debates in a cafe in Glasgow during that time and they were actually pretty good fun. We sat down and we were having a laugh about it all," Nelson said.

"There is actually a creative and joyful time to be had around politics. Scotland voted No and decided to stay in the United Kingdom, but we also decided to send a load of different politicians to Westminster. And when you see the image of them all tripping down there, it’s like a Gang Show. You could see a certain amount of creativity that the new MPs were bringing.

"That’s what good about this story. They weren’t just having a laugh. They were trying to change the way politicians are perceived. People just put up with the boring men in their blue suits and short hair cuts and the women in the box shoulder jackets — there’s no femininity withing the female MPs and there’s no individuality with the male MPs.

"And that works both ways — why can’t we accept a politician with long hair or dyed pink hair?"

For Nelson, the response to Labour leadership frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn — "this beardy man in a cheese-cloth shirt" — can be seen as a similar sign of dissatisfaction with the familiar old political types.

"Before he’s even read a policy, people look at him and say he looks like their dad or their uncle or the guy with the allotment. In this climate, where people are sick of party politics, they have warmed to someone who does look a bit ordinary and are more likely to listen to what is being said," Nelson suggested.

Although he has the blessing of Gnarr and his fellow Best Party members who appear in the play, Heida Helgadottir and Ottarr Proppe, none have yet been able to see the play either in Edinburgh or in its earlier appearance at Oran Mor in Glasgow.

Instead he could always take the play to them.

"I would love to take the play to Iceland," he admitted.

"There used to be a bit in the show where I talked about myself and how I had been in and out of apathy with voting and how the Best Party inspired me. I would possibly put that back in, just so it shows how we saw things across the water."

Hooray For All Kinds of Things by Sandy Nelson is at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness, at 7.30pm on Tuesday 1st September.

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