Reviews of the Ephemeral

Superbard and Harry Baker, Edinburgh Previews @ the Brockley Jack Theatre

In Performance Poetry on July 28, 2011 at 12:53 am

-Reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

Harry Baker (‘s Super-Amazing Mega-Awesome Gap Year Adventures: Birth of a Champion)

He started out as a rapper, rapping about maths and geekery he didn’t quite fit into the ‘gangster’ mould, and he began his transformation into slam poet upon attending his first performance poetry event at the Edinburgh Festival. Soon after he entered his first poetry slam competition and won.

Since then he’s won more slams, been crowned slam champion of the UK and of Europe (slightly aided by the votes of his facebook friends) and saved up during his gap year in order to take a tour of the poetry hubs of America.

His show has a lot to live up to just in its title. And it does. Mostly. First: the awesome.

His style:

His transformation from rapper to poet has left him with a phenomenal grasp of rhythm, rhyme and repetition. You can see it in his rap ‘I’ve got 99 Problems, but Maths ain’t One’ where his verbal dexterity dances around a plethora of mathematics puns. Or ‘I’m a Man’ his poem on manhood: ‘Real men cry, that’s why they make man sized tissues for those man-sized eyes’, a catchy refrain that never seems out of place.

His simplicity:

Is deceptive. His language is never needlessly complex and never seems like he’s trying too hard. This belies the fact that his structures and rhymes are often very complex. His subjects also seem simple, simple ideas expressed with a basic elegance, but his light touch goes surprisingly deep, always seeking to distill some truth or message from his themes. Take ’59’ his love poem for odd numbers; packed with clever turns of phrase and jokes about numbers: accessible and witty.

His cleverness:

Harry Baker is very clever. I think. At least his writing is. It’s packed with puns, plays on meanings, witticisms and occasional factoids. His poem about a scientist proving that bees can’t fly is a good example. Linking the scientific theory behind bees supposed inability to fly into a heart-warming tale of self-belief. ‘Takeover’, his rap that segues seamlessly into a poem, is another example of his skill and intelligence.

His jokes:

Are often hilarious. And sometimes awful. His haiku (and he admits to using the term loosely) are most often a series of absurd puns (There’s a new origami channel on Sky: It’s Paper View). While in poems like ‘Dinosaur Loves’ and ‘Moon’ show a very deft comic touch (‘I wanna love you like a T-Rex, with a tiny brain, but a massive heart’). It never seems out of place; when he tells us that while he may not be able to say ‘I love you’ as it’s too scary, but instead ‘I’ll be able to look you in the eyes and say RRRRRRRROARRRRRRRR!’ it’s both funny and horribly endearing.

His problems:

Aren’t many. I doubt he really has 99. He has a tendency towards being too simplistic, sometimes letting himself down by trying to sum up broad ranging themes in one simple statement. He also may benefit from more variety; his style’s excellent, but some more changes to the fast-flowing rhyme and more breaking up of the rhythms now and again might bring a little more variety to his poetry.

It’s a hugely entertaining, often profound, frequently funny, and absurdly sweet show. With haiku-puns. Go see it, if you can.

Superbard (and the Sexy Quantum Stories)

Was vastly entertaining.

Superbard (one of the founders of Tea Fuelled Art and the man behind the excellent Flea Circus) is the resident storyteller at the Brockley Jack Theatre. He is also from the future.

The multimedia:

An innovative performer, using multimedia to aid his storytelling, he’s been featured on Newsnight, Radio 4 and The Jeremy Vine Show. His brand of immersive tale-weaving is innovative and involving, somewhere between spoken word, musical (yes, he bursts into song) and some kind of live film. The stop motion video-music sequence and song especially was incredibly filmed, a great climax to the show. If he really is from the future and this is where storytelling’s going, then I’m ok with it.

The plot:

His stories all centered on a guy called Steve, played on the screen behind him by, um, Superbard. It abounds with supporting characters (pre-recordings from actors or sometimes himself) with which he interacts. The premise: Steve’s life could have gone in two different directions, the story itself exists in a state of quantum flux, the events of which we’re told (thematically, rather than chronologically) may never happen to Steve, it all depends on his choice. It’s got quite a range as a show, touching on Steve’s varied youth, going all the way to his old age, taking in one particularly surreal encounter with an alien sex-jellyfish. The turns the tales take are often surreal and very funny, in a mad-genius kind of a way, but all weave together into a very cohesive whole. Oh, then he throws some incredibly poignant heartbreak in there. Just to mess with you I imagine. In the end we see that Steve, while deeply funny, also inspires a deep pathos.

The performance:

The surrounding cast of voices and projections make it seem like more than just a one-man show, however, adding depth and variety to Superbard’s already excellent performance. His timing, it has to be said, was something to behold. With only some minor hiccups he managed to keep in time with the music and the recorded actors; any mistakes were glibly set aside, his engaging manner helping to keep the audience with him through the few pauses while he waited for the soundtrack to catch up. His delivery also strikes just the right pitch with his material, catching the rhythms of the music and the tones of the writing (suitably animated and quirky in places, deathly serious and subdued in others) with aplomb.

It’s a great show. Perhaps neither truly spoken word, musical, film, theatre nor storytelling, but it has elements of all of them, and uses them all to craft one weird, amusing and (sometimes) deeply upsetting piece. I recommend you go see it if you’re in Edinburgh. If you’re not in Edinburgh, then go to Edinburgh and see it.

Oh, also, together the two of them made a film! Watch it!

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  1. […] Harry Baker and Keith Jarrett also deserve honourable mentions, and I direct you to their previous reviews. […]

  2. […] excited- immediately, this made me draw comparisons to Superbard‘s multimedia storytelling (reviewed), but, ultimately, they do different things. Superbard’s multimedia is integrated into the […]

  3. […] We’ve reviewed Superbard before, so I was looking forward to this show. While I was expecting rehearsed media interaction, I had not expected how much the show relied upon the audience. Or more specifically: two members of the audience whose new-found love might save the world. They are given scripts in envelopes (a neat take on audience interaction) that carefully don’t give away the plot, which has some interesting twists so that they are able to enjoy the night despite being called on periodically.  My one sticking point with the show, in that it does rely upon the goodwill of the chosen actors, also that they’ll play along should they not be heterosexual. But Superbard also does a good job improvising when things do not go to plan, so it isn’t all lost if don’t play along. […]

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