When Yorkshire-born Kieran Hodgson joined the cast of BBC Scotland’s hit comedy series Two Doors Down, he decided to go “all in” and relocate with his partner to Glasgow.
The move north of the border inspired his current stage show, Big In Scotland. Following a sold-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe and in London, the show is now on tour including dates in Manchester, York, Liverpool and Bradford. With extra performances added in both capital cities, Hodgson is understandably delighted.
“I haven’t done a show for five years so I’m absolutely over the moon, surprised and relieved,” he admits. “I really felt the pressure of my previous reputation at the Fringe. I was also anxious performing to a potentially new audience who only knew me from Two Doors Down and might not have expected character comedy and storytelling.
“I had a nervous feeling I might be walking into disappointment but, within the first few dates in Edinburgh, it really came together. I was overwhelmed with the response and heartened by the ability of Scots to take a joke about themselves.”
Now that the show is touring, I wonder if Hodgson has tempered various elements for audiences south of the border.
“Aside from one joke about car retailer Arnold Clark, everything else has stayed the same,” he says. “I’ve found the laughter pattern is different outside Scotland but the response is equally positive. When writing the show I tried to work in that the perspective is always me, the Englishman, encountering the strange new thing and the audience can see the joke. I didn’t want it to feel like if you’re not Scots you won’t get it.”
As a Scot who has moved in the opposite direction to Hodgson and lived in Manchester for 12 years, I am still picked up on Scottish terms that don’t always register down here, such as putting ‘the big light’ on when it gets dark.
“There are lots of these tiny little things of no consequence whatsoever but we slowly learn,” Hodgson laughs. “In the main, Scottish English has the most poetic turns of phrase with one exception – you can’t ask for a jacket potato in Scotland. It’s always a baked potato, which is a shame because I love the image of a jacket potato.”
The Scottish/English divide
One unusual thing I’ve discovered as a Scot living down south is how many English people have never been to my country. Was there anything that surprised Hodgson about Scotland once he moved north?
“The history of Glasgow came as a great surprise. The variety and beauty of the city is one of the UK’s best-kept secrets. As a child absorbing mainstream culture in the 90s, my impression of Scotland and Glasgow in particular was Taggart. I never knew about the independence of the city’s culture and the whole repertoire of Glasgow song, literature, idiom and character that has long thrived. This doesn’t get communicated that much and I think that’s probably a sign of a city that has a confidence and sense of itself.”
If I ever hear another Scots-themed ‘joke’ about deep-fried Mars Bars or haggis hunting, I’m going to kick off. For Hodgson, it was a case of appreciating which stereotypes were acceptable to reference in his show.
“It was a tricky dance doing jokes about Scotland that were recognisable but, at the same time, not the usual clichés. Unavoidable parts of Scots life like shortbread and Irn Bru are name-checked but, at the same time, I really wanted to talk about the more broad ways that Scotland is perceived by English people.
“In the show, I’m always trying to become Scottish so there’s a version of me that sees Scotland as a very noble, dour, long-suffering, compassionate place. Then there’s another version of me who sees it as the UK’s rebellious centre, gleefully anti-establishment, progressive, left-wing and all the ways that England could never be. Neither of those impressions are fully correct, but I think there’s both good and bad ways in which the English perceive the Scots that go beyond the surface level of bagpipes, haggis and tartan. Scotland has a lot of aspects of itself that England would love to have.”
However irritating the stereotypes of Scotland can be, canny Scots have no issue reselling those notions to tourists. You can’t walk down the Royal Mile without being assaulted by an endless stream of Nessie toys, tartan tins and bagpipe music, something that Hodgson finds fascinating.
“It’s interesting to see the gulf between the reality of Scotland’s history and culture and the iconography that is used to sell Scotland overseas. There’s a point where this very urbanised, industrial, modern society ends up taking the tartan aspect on and counter intuitively it becomes something people in Scotland have a genuine attachment to.”
He adds: “As much as some Scots turn their noses up and scoff at traditional imagery, there’s just as many who love to serve the finest local shortbread to visitors or hang stag antlers on the wall, and good on them.”
Comedy on tour
Big In Scotland is a non-stop hour of rapid delivery. Hodgson never lets up for a moment. It must be knackering.
“I come off drenched in sweat, not helped by wearing a heavy tartan jacket,” he laughs. “My approach is always to start at 100 mph and keep going as I desperately want to give the audience value for money. I fear that if I let up for a moment I’ll lose momentum, the energy will go out of the room and people will stop paying attention. They’ve paid good money to see a show so I want them to see I’m working hard up there. If I’m only doing one hour a day I need to put eight hours of energy into it.”
Two Doors Down has been a slow-burn sitcom success for BBC2. The upcoming seventh series is being promoted to BBC1. Hodgson has a theory about why the show remains popular.
“It’s in the execution and the intention. If you look at it from a distance, it’s not a bright, shiny object but something built on little reactions and lovely, very Scottish turns of phrase. Those micro aggressions and their micro reactions build up into something that is gleefully recognisable as well as outrageous at the same time. Each episode feels like a short play.
“Nothing massively interesting happens in the series. It’s about the little things and finding the extraordinary depths within the mundane that connect with people and makes them take it to heart.”
He adds: “Co-writer Simon Carlyle, who sadly passed away in the summer, was all about attention to detail and getting the rhythm just right in the edit and between the ensemble.”
A right royal do
Last Christmas, Hodgson wrote and starred in Prince Andrew: The Musical on Channel 4. Unsurprisingly, the show received quite a response from all sides of the establishment.
“It got mixed but noisy reactions that kept Channel 4 happy and the viewing figures were good,” Hodgson says. “I went into a Twitter bunker for three weeks at the time but I was informed by honest sources that the response was positive and people enjoyed the musical numbers. Of course, certain sections of the media said that we should all go to prison for being so mean about the royals. One said that we tried to make The Producers but created Springtime For Hitler, but you take it on the chin.
“I was more concerned by accusations that we were trivialising things Andrew has been accused of which I don’t think we were. It’s important to have an alternative view of an institution that is so diligently revered by a great amount of the media. We had to deal with certain legal realities when discussing a senior member of the royals but, within those confines, we just tried to be as cheeky and satirical as possible.
“My main aim was to write a convincing musical featuring songs with decent melodies and rhyme schemes that were funny. I’d never done that before, but I had an absolute ball making it and remain very proud of it. I’d love to do another one but about something a little less icky.”
Hodgson suggests another public figure ripe for a musical mockumentary.
“Maybe Liz Truss The Musical should be my next project?”
Outlasted by a lettuce, How To Tank The Economy In Ten Days sounds like it’s begging to be written. Neither of us is entirely sure why Truss is still a thing.
“She’s refusing to go quietly and insisting she was right all along,” says Hodgson. “If she is intent on remaining in the public eye, the public eye should remain sceptical of her. Her month and a half as PM is a comic story that deserves the Broadway treatment. You couldn’t make it up. It’s a wonderful fable.”
All images courtesy of Kieran Hodgson
Big In Scotland is at The Lowry, Salford on October 1, 2023. For more information, click here.
Tour details are here.
Two Doors Down returns to BBC1 this autumn