@ The Dogstar
– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj –
Tea Fuelled are sending their performers up to the Edinburgh Fringe. I got to see their previews, double-billed over three nights at the Dogstar in Brixton. They varied in finish, but with polish some should be some fantastic (and free!) shows to see if you’re up there.
Where to start with this show? His premise is to lightly mock his middle-class Guardian-reading sensibilities by listening to “the other view”. While he’s worried about being “preachy”, I’d be more worried that I’d not stuck to my point. While some of his juxtapositions (asylum seekers dying horribly as seen as preferable to children sharing schools) highlight the absurdity and callousness of some Daily Mail standpoints, and he touches upon ideas of shifting beliefs from youth to old age, it’s just not sufficiently developed to give the show any political bite.
He mentions, in his closing, that he’s “a bit of a twat trying to be good”, and that’s half right. He starts the show by ‘calibrating’ the audience by quoting stats and offensive jokes, and this would work if he took the right conclusions from audience noises and if he sounded less gleeful about the potential offence caused. Coupled with the smugness of his liberal views (such as his Greer-inspired explanation of why he uses ‘cunt’ over ‘vagina’), he doesn’t come across as that likeable.
His irrevent and laddish style does lend itself to discussing sex (“cheating is bad, flipside, orgasms are great”), politics and Christianity, but he needs to either better connect his material to his theme (or write some new themed material) or just let his material develop and not force it into a structure he never truly develops.
Star Rating: 1/5
This show, at its heart, is a fourth-wall breaking campfire-horror story that takes the literal nature of his words to the limit like some kind of event horizon of Chekhov’s Gun.
Opening with a ‘solitary figure walking through tautology street alone’, Heal narrates a story from a diary ‘found’ when researching his upcoming show about trains that rapidly descends into a madcap and rather violent escapade where not even Heal himself is safe from his character, Giles Rowntree.
Without spoiling the plot, I can say it was an enjoyable hour, although the running brothel gags got a little tiresome. Each line is intricately crafted, constantly subverting and playing with its meaning, leaving you almost trying to guess them beforehand, groaning with amusement as you do (particularly at his “with aplomb…I ate the plum with relish – it was a great relish…”).
With magic (or is it?) axes and “no reason to doubt a creepy voice of ambiguous origin”, the protagonist (or is he?) breaks his resolution of not killing anyone, having received a letter (or did he?) (enough of this – Ed) that threatened his life and that of our narrator Jack Heal, at the Dogstar. Incorporating the show’s location and its date keeps the audience on their toes, particularly in the show’s second half.
More clarity in the final narration would be helpful: near the end it was sometimes tricky to tell whether he was narrating Giles’ actions or his own as the story got too ‘meta’ for its own good. Similarly, I could do without the cheaper laughs and “slaggy” girls. That said, it was a tightly woven set that was a joy to watch, and I’d definitely recommend you catch it at The Banshee Labyrinth from 4-14th August.
Star Rating: 3/5
Mark Grist – Rogue Teacher
In case you weren’t aware, Mark Grist is a teacher, turned professional poet, turned grime battle MC, who became a bit of an internet sensation this year by demolishing teen rapper Blizzard in a rap battle that now has over 2 million views on youtube.
We’ve reviewed him before, and those comments still stand. This show, I think, is perhaps his way to dismantle the hype that comes from going viral for something he now feels somewhat sheepish about. His famous poems are there (previously reviewed), with others wrapped up in friendly chatter and a heartfelt apology directed to Blizzard’s mum (bit awkward).
He is passionate about his school, and his set is littered with anecdotes about working with the kids and his colleagues. His poems also touch on these: one dedicated to his fellow staff, (including ones whose contempt of children should probably have them in another profession) and another has scathing words to say about examiners who dismiss children responding to poetry laterally. He uses a slideshow in a particularly teacherly way, with screencaps and photos to illustrate scenes or, during his sabbatical, his increasing debt and points on his licence in between surreal gigs.
His “Dear Me, age 13”, a dialogue, epitomised the show for me: in it, Grist asserts his own independence with humour and a visible desire to be seen as more than an internet sensation. Grist talks about life as a teacher and a performing poet in an eminently likable and unstructured way, as if down the pub, but while the result is enjoyable and likeable, it’s also a tad forgettable.
Star Rating: 3/5
The conceit: a “corporate presentation” of a new start-up assassin agency inspired by watching Leon. There’s some nice satire of business jargon, with a “global vision” of the “mortality market”, with demographic charts and marketing lingo as the characters attempt to convince potential investors of their business model. They also amusingly offer the audience a free murder, as a taster.
They’ve a gloriously awful logo (the Vitruvian man WITH A GUN), a purposefully failed video promo, which has them kill a (feline) target, and the convoluted application forms (where you don’t want to mix up boxes but can specify death preferences) are a great idea. The intricacies and hyper-legal terms and conditions make for an amusing premise when taken to their extremes.
They continuously (and amusingly) undercut their professionalism with their pitch, interrupting each other with enthusiastic “Top FIVE” countdowns, but the show falls flat as the interruptions become more personal. The characters become increasingly separate from their pitch, degenerating into standard stereotypes of the straight man and the somewhat unstable woman. And you can’t help but feel that the script would have more punch if they got to the climax of the show a bit earlier. Instead you’re stuck in the uncomfortable territory of watching a couple have a blazing row (complete with exes). Awkward.
The twist in the show’s climax is appropriately dramatic and it does partially resurrect the show’s momentum, but the earlier awkwardness still drags it down a little.
It’s an interesting show, with potential. At the time of the preview they were still in early stages, with lines to be learnt and technical problems to solve, so there was definitely time for them to rehearse and revise (so if you’re free, do catch it at The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh at 12.05 from the 4th til the 14th of August.)
Star Rating: 2/5 (though a more polished version could get 3 or 4).
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.
The premise that Superbard is a time-traveller from the Future is mined richly, using several set pieces that are both moving and amusing. There’s a school talk by the embittered office-bound time police agent disabusing us of the glamour of the job (“it’s mainly spreadsheets”… “I studied history! I just wanna see a witch drown!”) and a drunken night in the future, featuring some excellent world-building with subtle nods to the fantastical (being beaten up by super-soldiers “silhouetted by the fake moon”).
What is also particularly fun is the playful take on the act of storytelling, deconstructing it through having actors whose actions he both narrates (“it’s ok, it’s just a script, he thinks”) and sometimes instructs, with a fantastic exploration of fate (Pirandello, anyone?). The impending doom is the “slowburn apocalypse”, where we know each other “less and less” and become strangers. Intimacy and love will carry the day, it seems, which should warm the heart of even the bitterest cynics like myself.
Very enjoyable, and do catch it if you can.
Star Rating: 4/5 (5 stars with the right audience members)