Reviews of the Ephemeral

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: Utter! Presents … Identity Mix-Up and We Are All Orange Ghosts

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm

– reviewed by Lettie McKie

As poetry is, like much writing, an essentially solo activity it is not surprising that many performance poets, after several year on the circuit, will eventually feel like the time is right to develop a one person show. Many careers have been launched after successful shows, Kate Tempest and Luke Wright being the most obvious recent examples.

This year several London poets who could all be described as ‘emerging’ are taking shows to the Edinburgh Fringe; Paula Varjack, Rob AutonDan Simpson and Keith Jarrett amongst others. I managed to catch Dan Simpson and Keith Jarrett’s shows which are both part of PBH’s free fringe 2013.



First up: We are All Orange Ghosts – by Dan Simpson

This show has recently finished its run after 16 consecutive shows. Putting the ‘One Man’ into the proverbial title Dan Simpson did everything himself from set up, costumes, props, music and welcoming guests. He was chatty and friendly as we arrived, efficiently organising himself whilst putting us at our ease. He started by introducing the premise of the show as a ‘lecture’ about Pac-Man interspersed with poetry and complete with the inevitable teaching aid, a flip chart!

Dan’s persona as the geeky Pac-Man lecturer was instantly likeable and warm, but not overdone. He started the performance with a neat, tongue in cheek delivery of his Pac-Man rap introducing the slightly pathetic character of Clyde the Orange Ghost. As the show developed he presented a parallel between this character and himself and with people in general, using Clyde as a representative for human vulnerability. Over an hour he delved into his own past using poetry largely inspired by his childhood, alongside a story written when he was a teenager, to illustrate his carefully considered points about growing up, finding yourself and happiness. His performance was earnest, heartfelt and had moments where it was very easy to relate to. The strengths of the piece lay in entertaining, image rich poetry which he used to tell his own story, picking out funny stories and giving us a sense of his character as well as how he has come to see the world and his place within it.

Although Dan was charming and very likeable, I felt the show could have benefited from less explanation and more direct engagement with his art form. He used the lecture format to express thoughts and feelings that could have been more deeply explored through the sort of poetic storytelling that he so effectively showcased at other times. By choosing not to use his poetic expertise more thoroughly the show floundered a little bit in places and occasionally lacked impact. We are All Orange Ghosts was undoubtedly a little unpolished, but showed great potential as an interesting exploration of identity and happiness.

Star rating: 3/5



Next up: Utter! Presents … Identity Mix Up – by Keith Jarrett

This show was a very interesting contrast to Dan’s piece. Delivered in an entirely different and less formal way, Keith’s show took a more straight forward format as a series of poems and linking sections. This meant that it was easy to focus on the poetry itself (which explored very similar themes to We are all Orange Ghosts) and although Keith did include costumes and props that I felt were largely unnecessary.

Keith chose to develop and deliver poems that focused on specific issues, all of which impact upon a person’s sense of identity e.g. name, gender, religion, nationality, sexuality, and disability. Like Dan, he drew heavily on his own personal experiences from childhood and adolescence, building up a rapport with the audience using no obvious persona other than a public version of himself. He delved into stories about his background and upbringing in lyrically rich poems, charged with emotion, passion and lots of humour. He played around with different characters, for example the differences in himself from weekday school boy rapper to smartly dressed Church goer on Sundays. He tackled controversial issues head on with tongue in cheek humour, I found his ‘gay’ poem was particularly clever: asked in the past why he didn’t have a ‘gay’ poem he wrote one in the guise of the poem itself being confused about its own sexuality. This is a great example of Keith’s ability to turn an interesting twist on a subject, making the audience see it from a different and unexpected perspective.

Star Rating 3/5

Both shows were a delight to watch for slightly different reasons. Identity Mix Up was less conceptual than We are All Orange Ghosts and benefited from this simplicity. Both poets are consummate storytellers and approached their subject matter with honesty.


Edinburgh Fringe Review: Around the World in Eight Mistakes by Sophia Walker

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 29, 2013 at 9:50 am

– reviewed by Lucy Ayrton

Around the World in Eight Mistakes is a powerhouse of a spoken word show from a phenom of a performer. Poet and performer Sophia Walker guides the audience through an hour of misadventures with skill and panache.

The style slips effortlessly between storytelling and poetry – the tone is so conversational, you can end up in a poem without realising how you got there. If it sounds like this might have been a bit confusing – it wasn’t. This informality of style was emphasised by the venue’s casual setting, as The Royal Oak’s bottom room is a tiny little pub space, where the audience sat all over the place with no discernible ‘audience zone’. And Walker roamed around the space, including everyone with her warm and accessible delivery, so the show felt, at times, like you were just having a really interesting chat with someone cool in a pub. Which, I suppose, is exactly what was happening.

There were some damn good jokes, some real wisdom and some genuinely shocking moments within this show. Walker‘s writing pops with amazing lines, while cliches were neatly subverted (“all grass looks greener in the shadows” was a favourite) and some images left the (obviously captivated) audience audibly gasping. The section on Uganda left me feeling shaken and a bit hollow. You know, in a good way.

This show closed on the 23rd, so if you didn’t manage to catch it, then watch out for Sophia Walker (her future gigs will hopefully be listed here). As well as performing this superb show, she also won the prestigious BBC Poetry Slam, so next time you are able to see her: you should grab a ticket with both hands.

Star Rating: 5/5

Edinburgh Fringe Review: Scroobius Pip – Words

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 20, 2013 at 9:50 am

– reviewed by Lucy Ayrton


(Lucy is one of the intrepid Sabotage reviewers covering the Edinburgh Fringe this year, look our for more reviews from her coming soon!)

Words is an hour of clever, engaging spoken word, delivered with verve. And a Duck Tales theme tune cover.

There were some great jokes in the intro sections, and the warmth of the audience was evident throughout. Scroobius is a charming and charismatic performer, with an endearing self awareness and a wicked wit – some of the reversals of expectations he pulled were properly surprising (In my notes I have written “hmm, this section is a bit … Haha, okay, boobs, nice twist!”). The delivery of the poems was faultlessly tight and most of the material was astute and clever as hell.

After a while, the strong meter that carries so many of the poems started to sound a little bit samey – the emotional range of the show is massive, and it might have been nice to have some more range of style. I also found a couple of the poems a little preachy and patronising, especially The Magicians Assistant. This poem, addressed to someone who self harms, seemed less an honest attempt to understand and explore the issues around loving someone with depression and self harm and more of a guilt trip. Other sensitive issues in the show were tackled with grace and insight (I especially liked the material around domestic violence).

The most impressive thing about the show was its craftsmanship. The balance of incredible verbal dexterity and a total command of language with whole-hearted fun and some hard emotional kicks is irresistible. If you have a friend who “doesn’t like poetry”, take the, along to this and see if you can change their mind.

4/5 stars.

Words is on at the Pleasance Dome until 26 August at 21:40 every day. Book tickets here.

Top Spoken Word Moments of 2012

In Festival, Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on February 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

– listed by James Webster

As the year is (fairly) recently ended and a new one begun, it seems a reasonable (ok, fairly late) time to round up some of the Spoken Word events and reviews that have made this such a successful year for Sabotage.

Top 5 Most Viewed

1. Edinburgh Coverage – by far and away the most viewed Spoken Word reviews were from Sabotage’s coverage of the Edinburgh Fringe. You can find them here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 part 1, Day 4 part 2, Day 5, Day 6 part 1, Day 6 part 2, Day 7 part 1, Day 7 part 2. Phew, that was a lot of reviews: special mention should go to the most viewed day featuring: Ben Mellor’s ‘Anthropoetry’, Lucy Ayrton’s ‘Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry’ and Phill Jupitus’s ‘Porky the Poet – 27 Years On’

2. Hammer & Tongue National Slam Final!  – a wealth of poets competing from all over the UK with Adam Kammerling emerging as the worthy winner and UK National Slam Champion.

3. WASTED – by Kate Tempest – Tempest’s first play blended theatre and poetry into a heady intoxication of words.

4. The Stoke Newington Literary Festival – a bevy of events, speakers and performers all descending on Stoke Newington in a myriad of Literary goodness.

5. Edinburgh International Women’s Day All-Female Slam – a brilliant idea to promote female poets in the Spoken Word scene in a medium still dominated by men.

My Personal Top 5

On a more subjective note, here are a few of the events that I’ve most enjoyed this past year.

1. Nth Entities by Anna Le and Phil Manzanera – I’ve long been an Anna Le fan, and hearing her complexly evocative language soaring around Manzanera’s dizzying guitar created a unique duet of words and music.

2. Hammer & Tongue Oxford: Valentine’s Day Slam featuring Dizraeli and Superbard – Sabotage didn’t actually review this one, but it was a phenomenal evening of wordplay, love and gorgeousness. Dizraeli’s set was stupefying in its verbal ingenuity and poignancy, while Superbard’s interactive love story was a monument to his storytelling prowess and creativity.

3. Once Upon a Time in Space by the Mechanisms – an event of storytelling and music, twisting well-known fairytales into a dark sci-fi setting that frightened and delighted.

4. Dirty Great Love Story by Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna – full of memorable characters, hilarious wordplay, and all tied together by the charming performances of two outstanding poets.

5. Word Wrestling Federation Presents: Page Match 2 – bringing together my love of poetry and professional wrestling in a way I didn’t think possible. For all its flaws, this night was great fun; full of posturing, put-downs, poetry and larger-than-life performances.

Alderburgh Poetry Festival 2-4 November 2012

In Festival, Performance Poetry on November 21, 2012 at 11:38 pm

-Reviewed by Judi Sutherland

Aldeburgh – huddles of poetry lovers, but not very festive?

Arriving in this quiet Suffolk town on a Friday afternoon in November, you’d be forgiven for not realising there was a poetry festival going on at all. Where were the banners, the bunting and the buskers? I am more used to the Henley Festival, the Edinburgh Festival and Towersey Village Festival, where a range of sideshows, posters and children’s events create a joyful atmosphere of celebration.  The liveliest thing in Aldeburgh was the smoked mackerel stall on the shingly beach. Maybe I’m missing something, but for a festival, it wasn’t very… festive.

To be fair, the Aldeburgh Festival is mostly not in Aldeburgh at all. The audience outgrew the cramped Jubilee Hall, and in this 24th year the events moved to nearby Snape Maltings, where larger venues are available. Aldeburgh veterans told me the whole event felt more ‘corporate’. For the first time, a free shuttle bus took the huddles of poetry lovers off to the huge and well-appointed theatres six miles away; a logistics solution that worked pretty well. Poets of all ages, shapes and sizes mingled in the foyer of the Britten Studio, where books were on sale, and the TLS and the Poetry Paper were interesting, learned giveaways.

Before we got there, we knew we weren’t going to hear everything we wanted to hear.  I booked my tickets on line a month in advance but even so, many events were already sold out. Are the venues not yet big enough? Some other festivals offer festival tickets or day tickets, with which the punter can wander about and get in to any event where there is space.  I found that the Aldeburgh Festival system denied me the spontaneity of the impulse-buy. Nonetheless, I settled in for the Friday night main reading with eager anticipation.

Friday – Nancy Gaffield, Leland Bardwell and Christopher Reid (Olivia McCannon strangely absent …)

It was strange from the start.  The compere, Naomi Jaffa, first of all announced the winner of this year’s Fenton Aldeburgh prize for best first collection, who is Olivia McCannon.  Jaffa told us she hadn’t met McCannon, but believed she was somewhere in the theatre; she wouldn’t invite her down to receive a large cheque because the prize money was nowadays paid by direct bank transfer, and then she misquoted the name of McCannon’s collection, which is, for the record, Exactly my Own Length.  We were then treated to a reading by last year’s winner.  As a PR exercise, this is a disaster.  Imagine building up to the announcement of the winner of Strictly Come Dancing 2012, and then only showing us clips of Harry Judd’s 2011 performance?  Here was a winner, sitting in the audience, with a prizewinning collection to read from, and she was silenced for a full twelve months, allowing all the fizz of interest to dissipate like flat coke.

Nancy Gaffield – last year’s winner – did read beautifully. Her spare and thoughtful collection Tokaido Road was based on a series of woodcuts she encountered when living in Japan. But, for a selection of ekphrastic poems, could we not have seen the inspirational artwork?  I know there was a screen and overhead projector in the studio, because it was used on Saturday.  Wouldn’t some visuals with Gaffield’s poetry have transformed our experience of the work?

Leland Bardwell, the 90-year-old Irish poet, was our second reader.  The aptly-named Bardwell suffered a stroke three years ago, which has left her unable to read, but she recited some of the poems she has from memory. Her son Nicholas read her other poems, and they colluded memorably on the introductions.  This woman has very definitely been A Character.  In an aside to the audience, Nicholas Bardwell wryly commented ‘I’ve been around the block with this one’.  After a fervent round of applause, Bardwell fairly danced back to her seat.

Christopher Reid, who is currently championing the long narrative poem, topped the bill on Friday night. In Nonsense, he thinly disguises himself as the ‘lately widowed and chronically befuddled’ Professor Winterthorn, off to an academic conference on the pursuit of futility. Reid tends to over explain the extracts in advance; the audience can pick up the narrative more easily than he expects.  To my ear, Reid, who reads his poetry with a minimal emphasis on the rhyme and rhythm, sounds very like David Lodge or Tom Sharpe, whose bewildered academics inhabit the world of prose.  I preferred Reid’s shorter pieces, which seemed more meaningful and less self-indulgent.

Saturday part 1 – John Stammers, David Wheatley and Julia Copus

The beauty of a festival like Aldeburgh is the chance to hear poets you know little about.  Being a relative newcomer to poetry, I had heard of all three of the poets reading on Saturday morning, but knew very little about their work.

John Stammers was our first reader, whose low-key style was immediately likeable.  I love the way some poets can take on popular culture as a basis for poetry.  Stammers’ poem ‘The Other Dozier’ wonders about a forgotten Tamla Motown songwriter:

Turns out he had a tin ear
for everything except irony,
so his lyrics all emerged as modern verse

David Wheatley, followed, his poetry sailing close to the coast of zany.  Several of his poems were shorter than their titles.  There were many poems about birds and birdwatching, a popular subject for the introspective nature poet. My favourite, though, was a magnificently mad piece about the mediaeval habit of putting animals on trial. I’ve got to find that poem again.

After a comic first half, we regrouped for a change of atmosphere from Julia Copus, who apologised for not being so cheerful, reading from The World’s Two Smallest Humans. Most striking among these poems are Copus’ account of IVF treatment, in the sequence Ghost. It was not the most comfortable material to hear, but it faithfully charts an important modern human experience and it needs to be told. Lightening the atmosphere was the vibrant ‘L’Esprit de l’Escalier’ – a poem about the perfect putdown.

Saturday part 2 – The Song of Lunch (stealth-poetry?)

Time to grab something to eat – a difficult exercise, as Snape is somewhat under-catered at peak times – before The Song of Lunch, the BBC film of Christopher Reid’s poem.  A middle aged publisher, played by Alan Rickman (Reid in another thin disguise), arranges to meet an old flame in a Soho Italian restaurant.  First, Greg Wise, who wrote the screenplay, and Reid, discussed the making of the film in 2010.  How depressing it was to hear that the BBC had to be cajoled and implored to film some poetry.  ‘It isn’t a genre piece’, said Wise, ‘so the commissioning departments didn’t know what to do with it.  We felt strongly that it shouldn’t have to be good for you, like broccoli or cod liver oil. The audience should not realise what it is watching’.  So there.  The only way to make an audience, or a broadcaster, like poetry is to smuggle it past them unawares.  How utterly depressing. Despite the fact that the Aldeburgh festival is now too popular for Aldeburgh, it will be a while before poetry is the new rock and roll for our public service broadcaster.

Saturday part 3 – Anthony Thwaite, Ghassan Zaqtan and Jackie Kay

Anthony Thwaite, whom, we are told, is in his 83rd year, showed himself to be completely up to date with a poem called ‘Predictive Text’.  I’d noticed that sometimes ‘good’ comes out as ‘home’, but Thwaite made a thoughtful poem from it. His poems were charming and witty. Thwaite told us, jovially: ‘I used to be studied in schools.  Now they think I’m dead’.

The second poet, Ghassan Zaqtan, is Palestinian, and read in Arabic, with translations from Fady Joudah. Zaqtan speaks for his displaced nation, eloquently charting their suffering. ‘Pillow’ is an example:

good evening,
I’ve come back
with a bullet in my heart
There is my pillow
I want to lie down
and rest.

Jackie Kay came after that harrowing reading, her warm personality illustrating the other end of the poetic range.  There were of course some very moving moments in her reading; the eighty year friendship between two Scottish ladies charted in ‘My Fierie’, and the tender poem about her four year old son waking after an epileptic fit. But Kay reduced the audience to near hysteria with ‘Ma Broon’s Vagina Monologue’.  As I grew up with the Sunday Post, I got the references straight away, but this poem is really about many women of a certain age, women of our mothers’ generation, and their ignorance of sex.  At one point, Ma Broon cries: ‘But I haven’t got a vagina! I’m a cartoon!’ which made the Britten Studio shriek. It was so good to remember that poetry, although often serious, does not have to taste like cod liver oil.

Sunday – the collections of Sam Willetts, Fady Joudah and Andrea Porter

My last event of the weekend featured three first poets presenting their first collections.  I was overjoyed to see that they were all over forty, therefore there is hope for those of us who come to poetry a little later in life.

Sam Willetts is ‘famous’ for the ten years he spent as a heroin addict. He quoted Beckett in the preface to his reading from New Light For the Old Dark: ‘It passed the time, but the time would have passed anyway’. His poems were indirectly about drugs, charting lost relationships and dead-end jobs, such as his time working with a rag and bone man.  The poem about piles of salvaged furs in a freezing warehouse appealed to me -I’ve got a thing about work poems that allow us into unusual occupations, and this was vicarious labour par excellence.

Fady Joudah read his own work from The Earth in the Attic. Joudah is a Palestinian-American who works as an ER physician in Houston, Texas. He has also worked in Africa for Doctors Without Borders, and his poems describe operating theatres, refugee camps, and soldiers committing sex attacks.  I listened, wondering about Western poets who attend workshops and take part in writing exercises in order to tempt a jaded muse. Joudah’s poetry is fuelled by an insistence that we should see what he has seen. For him, as for Zaqtan, poetry is an imperative.

If I was close to deciding that Western poets often write about trivia, Andrea Porter made me reassess that assumption. In A Season of Small Insanities, Porter addresses brutal aspects of modern life.  In ‘Night Shift at the Petrol Station’ she records her daughter’s job, which included putting black modesty wrappers on porn magazines. ‘Haike With Her Dictionaries’ portrays a friend who worked as a simultaneous translator for the War Crimes Commission:

They brought six soldiers here. They dragged six boys here.
They executed them here. They shot them here.
Gesture left to speak.
They buried them here. They hid them here.
Gesture left to speak.
Pause. Rewind. Play Kosovo.

Her most personal series of poems was about a fatal car crash, caused by a drunk driver, in which Porter lost her partner and her unborn twins. If there is grief to be charted in Africa and Palestine, Willetts and Porter show that there is also grief in England.

I wasn’t able to attend a conversational exchange between Reid and Anthony Thwaite, but I am told they spent some time listing out their favourite bedtime reading.  A canon of international poets from Eastern Europe to South America was mentioned, but not one single woman poet counted among their influences.  I’m afraid that preoccupation with the usual suspects shows in their work.

Coming back next year?

The three of us who shared a seaside cottage for the weekend were all Aldeburgh newbies, and we all want to go back next year. It was exhilarating to spend so much time listening to very high quality poetry.  There were lots of events I missed; the fifteen minute close readings, for example, that I’d like to make more of next year.  I hope the festival takes over the enormous Snape Concert Hall with even more poetry.  I was left reflecting on the atmosphere of the event.  There was nothing much for children, there were none of the fun poetic sideshows that livened up last summer’s Poetry Parnassus. There were no collaborations with visual artists or musicians.  The formats of the events I attended were unremittingly similar – three mainstream poets and a lectern.  There was no slam, not enough workshops, and no bandstand for open mic busking.  There is so much more the Poetry Trust could do with this, the largest poetry festival of the annual calendar, to showcase the whole world of spoken word.

Review: Wantage Poetry Slam – Wantage Betjeman Poetry Festival 28/10/12

In Festival, Performance Poetry on November 6, 2012 at 9:00 am

– reviewed by James Webster and special guest reviewer Lucy Ayrton

@ Shush

The Event

Last Sunday, I attended the Wantage Slam was part of the wider Wantage (not just) Betjeman Poetry Festival, which featured a slew of interesting readings, performances and workshops (often Betjeman themed due to his long association with Wantage).

The Slam billed itself as ‘a fast and furious, X Factor- style, spoken word stand-off ‘ and for the most part lived up to that description admirably. Featuring 12 different poets, with a variety of different lyrical styles, we were served up some excellent rapid-fire rhyme and thoughtful storytelling as the poets battled it out for first place.

The Slam Style

Splitting the 12 performers into four heats of three (brackets selected randomly from a hat), with the winners going on to the final round, poets were judged on three categories: quality of writing, quality of performance, and audience reaction. It was my first experience of the ‘bracketed’ slam system, and I had to say I enjoyed it, and while scoring by three distinct categories is not always the most popular of judging styles, it does ensure poets are encouraged to give rounded performances.

Where it fell down is that, while billed as ‘X Factor-style’, it actually wasn’t enough like X-Factor … which is a statement I should probably qualify as soon as possible. Allow me to rephrase: where the show fell down, for me, was that while judging on the three different categories is not such a problem, the lack of transparency in scoring is. I found myself really wanting to know the breakdown in scores if only so I knew which judge to cheer/boo when I agreed/disagreed with a score. Plus, it’d be nice for the poets to know where their performance has potential room for improvement.

The Poets

Heat 1: Lucy Ayrton, James Dolton and Graham Eccles

Lucy Ayrton: a Sabotage favourite (we gave her Edinburgh show 5 stars twice), Lucy performed ‘Little China Figures’, a brittle and adorable piece, buoyed by waves of smooth rhyme, the poem told a powerfully realised and bittersweet story. But it suffered slightly from an unusually stilted performance. 17

James Dolton: his poem ‘Reading Too Fast’ was cleverly self-referential to his writing and delivery, with excellent use of performance and slick cadences. It did tend to repeat itself, which may have been the point, but made it somewhat dull towards the end. 24

Graham Eccles: also performed a piece on writing poetry, which had some pretty good gags (especially a cat setting his poem on fire) and amusingly clunky rhyme, but didn’t come to a head nearly soon enough. 20

Heat 2 (points not announced): Kieran King, Nick Short and Brenda Read Brown

Kieran King: performed two pieces, the first ‘Whatever Happened to the Heroes’ had quick-fire delivery and a relatable subject (all the heroes have sold out, let us down or died), but seemed simplistic and perhaps undercut itself (saying ‘I can think for myself’ while bemoaning the dearth of heroes to look up to). His poem on sticking out at metal gigs was a strong, rat-a-tat, one-note joke on metal being in your heart, not your clothes. 2nd

Nick Short: announcing his poem as ‘for anyone who works in an office’, he had decent timing, but it was ultimately comic grumpiness with little real insight and a hint of sexism (deriding colleagues for being excited about their children with a ‘congratulations, you spread your legs’ comment). 3rd

Brenda Read Brown: was ridiculously likeable. Her poem on creating a new ‘old-age’ political party was full of wit and wordplay (‘kids drunk on WKD-40’ and the idea of a ‘drive-by grumbling’) and just about transgressed into being genuinely political. The litany of fears and loss that it built to was also pretty powerful. 1st

Heat 3: Helen Harvey, Joel Denno and Tina Sederholm

Helen Harvey: the third poet to deliver a meta-writing poem, her personification of poetry was reasonably original, with some vivid imagery (‘I carved quills from my fingernails’) in her search for a muse. But some of her delivery was disjointed and her performance fell a bit flat.

Joel Denno: taking the form of a homework assignment for school-children, this poem was disjointed, with various sections that didn’t form a coherent whole, leaving a kind of bifurcated and pointless poem (with bonus gothic gore that, while decent, didn’t lend any more of a point). 22

Tina Sederholm: performed her piece on cupcakes (from her show Evie and the Perfect Cupcake, rated 4 stars by Sabotage) in all its voyeuristic and frosted glory. Her repeated cries of ‘lick me’ build very amusingly, while her sugar-sweet language of hunger and hollow fulfilment pulled the audience in admirably. 22

Heat 4: James Webster, Dan Holloway and Guy Williams.

(Special Guest Reviewer Lucy Ayrton taking over here, so Webster doesn’t have to review himself)

James Webster: came to the stage after a truly ridiculous intro, and his piece ‘MCWASPSM’ had a good tempo and rhythm and his flawed take on socialism was a great section. The piece had a coherent structure and clarity and the line ‘I don’t mean to complain, I don’t mean anything at all’ was a brilliant line that probably would have been a better ending than the unnecessary verses that followed. 22

(Thanks, Lucy, I’ll tag you out now)

Dan Holloway: Dan’s poem ‘Making Fairytales’ contained a plethora of verdant and gorgeous language (‘folded poems into paper planes’), full of magical and dirty imagery, with a thoughtful and assured delivery that was a breath of fresh air. 21

Guy Williams: of his two pieces the better was a dull poem on how he solved problems DIY style by chopping them in half. The worse was a creepy piece best summed up as ‘breasts are nice to look at, which isn’t really sexism is it? Oh, it is? Well don’t worry I’ve checked my sexism at the door after my daughter started growing boobs’. I’m sure it was intended as satire, which it kind of worked as, but it needed more thought and self-awareness to work.

Final: James Webster, James Dolton, Brenda Read Brown, Joel Denno and Tina Sederholm.

(I once again pass over to Lucy Ayrton for reviewing duties, Lucy?)

James Webster’s ‘What Are You Thinking’ had a strong voice, good opening and some amusing back and forth between its different voices. The shift into more resonant imagery was satisfying and Webster nimbly flitted between funny and touching lines, with a lovely lyrical voice. I’ve heard this poem before and it’s improved: very good.

(Thanks again, Lucy, your cheque’s in the post)

James Dolton’s poem was pleasantly abstract, seeming to use different strands/images to chart the course of a life/forming of a mind. The excellent use of on and off mic sections worked well to draw the audience in and delineate different ideas, mixing some cool word-association and plays with meaning together into an effective performance.

Brenda Read Brown cast herself as an appropriately fallible/human God in ‘In the Beginning’, a rollicking ride through Her attempts at creating life, going through some amusing missteps before finally creating evolution and leaving them to it. Funny, clever, and in the end a moving elegy to the excellence that is a God-like humanity.

Joel Denno continued his theme of ‘poems that seem entirely pointless’ with a piece about orchards going on strike. Not weird enough to work as surrealism, yet not biting enough to work as satire or allegory, I was left admiring some of his technique, but wondering ‘why’.

Tina Sederholm’s ‘Love Tokens’ is a heartfelt and humorous piece, with a consummate performance. Reimagining her husband’s messes as ‘love tokens, signs of your devotion’, she utilises a lovely refrain to subtly build a layered performance where her metaphor defeats her own frustrations. Simply excellent.

The Winners and Prizes

  1. Brenda Read Brown – £100 and slots at future festivals
  2. James Dolton – £70
  3. Tina Sederholm – £30
  4. Joel Denno – Wine
  5. James Webster – comedy tickets


A fun slam, which was well hosted by Anna Saunders with energy and good humour (poets who went overtime were threatened with nebulous punishments to be meted out in the back room). As with all slams there were some mixed performances, but the majority was entertaining, with special praise going to the top three of Tina, Dolton and Brenda who all wowed me.

The Long and the Short of It – Richard Purnell and Gary from Leeds

In Festival, Performance Poetry on September 5, 2012 at 3:53 pm

– reviewed by Anna Hobson –

Anna Hobson kindly reviews one of the Spoken Word shows from the Edinburgh Fringe that James Webster and his winsome sidekick Dana Bubulj didn’t manage to catch.

There was a good crowd in the slope-ceilinged, chilled yet moist underbelly of the Banshee Labyrinth that afternoon (no mean feat when the weather outside was delectable). Chairs scraped on the flag stones, and the wet air clung to our skin as The Long and the Short of It prepared to deliver a poetry consultation to a willing and eager audience.

The pair’s asymmetrical dynamic set the scene at first glance, and as soon as the accents were thrown in this became a comedy duo to anticipate with relish. They introduced each other (affectionately, melodramatically) and began with a couple of poems, delivered with a tragi-pathetic whinge, with their subtle acting skills highlighting the humour in the poetry.

The entire performance was riddled with dichotomy: their significant height difference, the North/South divide, the subject matter and length of poems; and yet they worked seamlessly brilliantly together.

We were taken on a linguistic journey, a lyrical adventure; subject matters such as allergies, maladies, justice, death and public transport slapped us in the face immediately, and we were taught that these themes underpin all decent poetry. Richard Purnell began with a theatrical lament about celebrities, and hinted at the hypocrisy of grieving for these false idols. This was swiftly followed by a poetic burst from Gary from Leeds, making me laugh out loud with Freud’s Knock Knock joke. This was one example of the tumultuous ricochet between solemnity and brevity from our Consultants, who consistently delivered a satisfying mix with their comedic rapport.

There was a lightness of touch and a deft dexterity woven into a sharp script that sustained the verbal tour upon which we had embarked. I did appreciate the social and political commentary that rumbled beneath; it added a bit of meaty flesh to the proceedings.

I felt that although the tongue-in-cheek seminar structure of the show could have been emphasised more, the experience was thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable. Happiness Graphs, Poetic Sweet Spots and creative audience participation were sure-fire ways of ensuring I left with a smile on my face.

Edinburgh Reviews Day 7 (07/08/12) part 2: The Girl with No Heart, Evie and the Perfect Cupcake, Ash Dickinson @ the Inky Fingers Minifest

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 10, 2012 at 11:05 pm

– reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj –

These are the last of the Edinburgh reviews from Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster and his stalwart reviewer Dana Bubulj. We had a great time in Edinburgh, saw some amazing spoken word artists and reviewed 35 shows. And although this means we mightn’t  have new bumper-reviews every day, we’ve got some people on the ground at the Fringe, ready to catch the things we’ve missed (although, still no competitive crop dusting).

If you haven’t checked out the previous reviews then you can find them here: Day 1,Day 2Day 3Day 4 part 1Day 4 part 2Day 5Day 6 part 1Day 6 part 2, Day 7 part 1.

Evie and the Perfect Cupcake

Tina Sederholm’s vision of an alternate reality, the ‘Calorie Galaxy’, where the world is ruled by ‘The Thinners’ and weight is obsessively monitored and obsessed over, is a near flawless depiction of a world that is all-too familiar.

As mentioned in the review of the preview, the world-building is creative and gorgeous, full of clever devices and inventive ideas (the ‘warlocks of extreme pastry’ who create desserts to be admired as art and never eaten are my favourite) that highlight the way the damaging food-dystopia of the ‘Calorie Galaxy’.

What had changed from the previous review was that the show was far more smoothly performed and had been cut, stitched and streamlined (now coming in at a very manageable 45 mins) and this more focused performance made for a stronger show. And while there were still moments that were judgemental of the deliberately flawed characters, they came across as brainwashed mouthpieces for the ‘Thinners’ (rather than 2-dimensional straw men/women), which made for a better and more coherent show. I warn you though: it still carries a trigger warning for anyone sensitive to the subject of weight/calorie-counting or casual rape jokes.

The show’s message about the damage of societal obsession with weight and size instead of health came across strongly, with Tina’s language fluctuating from luscious to fragile and perceptive, it made for a heady mixture and a very powerful show.

Star Rating: 4/5

Evie and the Perfect Cupcake was on at 5pm at The Banshee Labyrinth and the last show was on the 9th August. If you can see this show in another venue in the future we heartily recommend it.


The Girl with no Heart

The Girl With No Heart, from Sparkle and Dark’s Travelling Players, combines live action with puppetry to create a heartbreaking story of a paper world ravaged by war where children’s hearts power nuclear blasts as they are torn in two. The puppet characters were stunning, and they were moved and spoke very expressively. The idea of the paper-hearts, which the children kept on their person but hidden, say on their sleeve, was reminiscent of Pullman’s daemons, particularly in the energy from their violent severing.

World building is introduced through the eyes of our protagonist, an ingénue from a parallel Eden-like world. As such, her wide-eyed wonder at the bleakness of war and its fallout made for a played-out dynamic, but it was rescued by the use of story-telling as a mechanic for escapism and as a way to properly compare the ‘reality’ of the ash-world with her own. There is a great use of origami cranes, both as a means of transport and potential escape and their relation to the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima.

It is a powerful and enjoyable play, but make sure you get a view of the front of the stage, because much of the story-telling is set there, and it is easy to miss a lot of detail.

 Star Rating: 4/5

The Girl with no Heart is on at 5pm at Bedlam Theatre, from 9th-25th August (not 13th)


Ash Dickinson @ the Inky Fingers Minifest

The Inky Fingers Minifest is running alongside the Fringe festival in Edinburgh until tomorrow (the 11th) with a plethora of interesting literary and performance events. On Tuesday Sabotage saw multi-slam winner Ash Dickinson, supported by Graeme Hawley, at Pulp Fiction Books.

Graeme Hawley gave a thoughtful and occasionally angry set; ‘Ambition’ explored his fascination with the people who place 6th or 7th and was a sweet tale on those athletes who train as hard, but don’t win, whose ‘fireworks went off in daylight’, ‘Additives’ was a brilliantly phrased poem using mayonnaise as a metaphor for all the things we mess things up and try to fix (instead of not messing up), and ‘Mosaic’ was an ace piece railing against debt culture, accompanied by an actual mosaic made of chopped up credit cards. That said, I feel with a better performance and more interesting language, he could be even better.

Ash himself (runner-up of the UK All-Star competition) performed an entertaining set filled with short punchy comedy pieces, including some great haikus, while his poem on ‘Shoes’ explored one of the few areas where men suffer more than women: lack of interesting clothes (though he may have overlooked the fact that heels can be somewhat painful). He does redress the balance with a nice, if simplistic, piece on women’s magazines, expressing a simple message of confidence and inner beauty that wasn’t too preachy.

A few of his other pieces were also a little simplistic, such as the funny ‘The Boy Who Ate Only Butter’ or the well put, but slightly prosaic ‘Status Update’. It’s not that that’s inherently bad, it just seems like he could have done more with them.

Where he excelled were his more speculative pieces, ‘Daytrip From Your Heart’ was a brilliantly realised journey through a loved one’s body, taking it in as if it were a tourist attraction, with an amusingly downbeat ending. And his poem on doing a life swap with the ocean was phenomenally imagined, with some lovely lilting language, great comedy and a brilliantly wistful ending.

Star Rating: 3/5

Inky Fingers’ Minifest continues tomorrow with guerrilla street performance at 2.30pm at a surprise location, then Poetry Polaroids (a great project of collaborative poetry artwork) at 6.30pm and the closing party at 8pm, both at Pulp Fiction Books.

Edinburgh Reviews Day 7 (07/08/12) part 1: Oddlie, Charlie Dupré Presents the Tales of Shakey P, Perle, Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 10, 2012 at 10:51 pm

– reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

These are the last of the Edinburgh reviews from Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster and his stalwart reviewer Dana Bubulj. We had a great time in Edinburgh, saw some amazing spoken word artists and reviewed 35 shows. And although this means we mightn’t  have new bumper-reviews every day, we’ve got some people on the ground at the Fringe, ready to catch the things we’ve missed (although, still no competitive crop dusting).

If you haven’t checked out the previous reviews then you can find them here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 part 1, Day 4 part 2, Day 5, Day 6 part 1, Day 6 part 2.


From Bag of Beans Productions, this was a stunning piece of one woman (with occasional instrumentation as background) spoken word/poetry/theatre, narrated, sung and performed by Aleshea HarrisSet in a “city of garbage heaps”, we follow a quiet girl grown up an outsider compelled by seeing some particularly great oration in the town centre very reminiscent of the civil rights rhetoric to find her own voice/magic. She does this with the help of another outcast, Sasha, an old woman suffering from the “disappearing disease” (an AIDS analogy) who used to be a Griot herself (“I was a tsarina of rhyme, a princess of powerful plosives”). The characters are compelling, with fantastic and distinct voices and mannerisms and the acting is brilliant, not to mention a wonderfully lyrical script.

It had some fantastic commentary on the process of finding a poetic voice, a process not for the faint-hearted, and the cathartic finding of expression that evolves from finding the “imperative” in life (rather than the simply “important”), writing and performing as separate steps does not make this piece a simple poetry version of training montage: it does not come easily, and the resolutions are painful but right and beautiful. The characters served as good contrasts to each other, particularly as the play progresses. Oddlie’s final soliloquy is a thing of beauty, dedicated to life, to poetry and to her friend that mustn’t be missed.

Star Rating: 5/5

Oddlie is on at 11.45 at Venue 13 from 9-18th August (not 13th). GO SEE IT.  

Charlie Dupré Presents: The Stories of Shakey P

Rap is just a form of poetry, right?

Well, yeah, but there’s often reluctance on both sides of the Spoken Word/Hip-Hop divide who see poetry as stuffy or who look down on rap as ‘not proper art’, so it’s refreshing to hear Charlie Dupré point out the similarities between the forms (highlighting the similarity between 5-beat bars in rap and iambic pentameter) in this rap-infused poetic history lesson.

Dupré’s lyrically inventive re-imaginings of Shakespearean plays (and one Marlowe play) are really well done; his spitfire rhymes and rhythms make the theatre of the pieces come alive and give them a modern relevance. He teases out parallels between the subject matter of ‘Shakey P’ and modern hip-hop with a light touch, especially effective in his take on Othello (covering Eminem’s ‘Stan’), the classic tale of obsession, rivalry and sexual jealousy transferring very well to a hip-hop context.

There are some dips though: his takes on Much Ado and Macbeth are still good fun, but compared to his other pieces come across as a little prosaic, mainly just recounting the plot, albeit with excellent lyrics and interesting framing devices (Much Ado is done as a wedding speech, while Macbeth recalls all the decisions that led to his death in a clever take on causality).

But the rest of his material really lifts the show, from the amazing rap-battle between Shakespeare and Marlowe that is incredibly effective and hilarious in the way it recreates them as rival school MC’s, with amazing Shakespearean insults and theatre jokes (‘hate to break it to you mate, but no-one really rates The Jew of Malta), to his awe-inspiring take on Hamlet (where Hamlet’s madness is personified in an aggressive and cocky rapper-style voice, pouring lyrical fire into Hamlet’s ear), the show breathes life into these timeless tales.

Star Rating: 4/5

Charlie Dupré presents: The Stories of Shakey P is on at 12.30pm at The Banshee Labyrinth, 4th-25th August



Dancing Brick’s ‘live comic book’ was part mime, part play, part comic book, part interactive theatre and a truly touching tale of loss and grief. Myself, I think of it as an ‘Unspoken Word’ show.

A slightly oblique take on the medieval poem of the same name by the Gawain Poet, the tale was told entirely by a silent character using narration, sound and cartoon from chunkily retro television set to tell his fractured narrative. He uses some really inventive and well timed physicality, hands disappearing behind the TV to be shown on screen, and an incredibly fun scene where he makes a sandwich on the screen.

He also used effective written instruction to lure the audience onstage, using them as characters in the narrative, and even converses with an audience member using dialogue on the screen (hilariously mismatched).

This funny and forlorn show may not be for everyone, the oddball silent character and disparate narrative could put a few off, but the audience on the day found it enchanting and heartbreaking and I couldn’t agree more.

Star Rating: 5/5

Perle is on at 1.45 at the Assembly Roxy, 2nd-25th August (not the 13th)


Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word Cabaret

Today’s Other Voices had:

Fay Roberts in her absolute element with a gorgeously sensuous poem to a mermaid lover, for whom she’d “turn sailor”. It had some lovely imagery, such as casting nets to “catch the moonlight” and the rhythm of the sea that throws itself again and again; this was a delight. Her later poem ‘Thanatos and Eros’ was a fabulous short lesson in the difficulties of various insults to carve into a car in runes and her last, ‘Dedication’, on struggling with queer stereotypes and finding her “own colours” was a nice way to address lesbian culture.

Sarah Thomasin had a great take on David Starkey’s racist comments on the riots with ‘Mind Your Language’, with some nice commentary on the evolution of spoken word (“language RIP as we RP”). ‘Going Nowhere’ was another nice take on community dialect (cab drivers using transport metaphors) that sadly fell for easy jokes (“friends all had ride [on bus/girlfriend]”). Her ‘Stand off at Cashpoint’, with yells of “Withdraw!” was a cute modern Western. ‘Normal’ was another similarly simplistic subversion: where the dysfunctional families were not as “strange” as families where people could be trusted. She ended on a battle rap response to defend her fondness for poetic structure, in a witty reminder that raps are forms too, despite people’s aversion to learning at school as it wasn’t cool.

Alison Brumfitt had some comic poems that could have been a bit more fluid. She had an exuberantly filthy take on chocolate vs sex (where she’d “rather have a shag”) and a serious point on the absurdity of sex-ed classes both coming too late and with no focus on mental health, coupled with the useless analogy of condoms on brooms (whose constant rigidity make poor stand-ins). Unfortunately, the point of emotional wellbeing/healthy relationships was lost in the advice on having “shagged a nutter” (sigh). Her other poem had the strongest content, although was a bit stumbly. It took on gender stereotypes and their use solely as creating insecurity and thus markets for advertisers, calling on us to truly own our own body.

Mika Coco argued that any music/poetry was effective (be it “Dylan or Bieber”) if it reached people and elicited emotions. That said, his introduction was somewhat offensive (and against the event’s raison-d’etre) and as such, didn’t endear himself to me (or the audience).

Chella Quint finished the night with a Sesame Street style sex ed song on menstruation, with a trip through the cycle that included “they float on your vagina on a RIVER OF BLOOD” in the chorus. Just a bit cheering.

And some familiar voices:

For the occasion, Harry Baker performed his Man Poem on traditional masculinity and James Webster‘s somewhat primal love story ‘Long Ago’ suited the catacomb venue. Lucy Ayrton‘s ‘Fuck You Corporate Land’ was appropriately full of repressed frustration, ‘Al is not really a Vegetarian’ was sad about nice mackerel being dead and Tarquin (from her show) is still a great set piece.

Performers Star Rating: 3/5 for a mixed bag, but certainly a fun event.

Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word Cabaret is on at 2.50pm at the Banshee Labyrinth from 9th-25th August (not Wednesdays)

Edinburgh Reviews Day 6 part 2 (06/08/12): Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart, Flea Circus Open Slam

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 8, 2012 at 6:53 pm

– reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

This week Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster, and contrary reviewer Dana Bubulj, are up in Edinburgh taking in the Fringe Festival. While they’re there, they are trying to review as much Spoken Word as they possibly can, as well as a few other things that catch their eye (and fall vaguely within our purview, e.g. stand-up-orienteering)

Midsummer Night’s Dream

This Drunk Tank production set the play in a Post-apocalypse, where the characters come from Athens Bunker and music, clothing and technology seems to have stagnated in the Forties. This as a concept drew us in, and it’s a shame that a lot of its potential was wasted.

Titania’s rendition of ‘Summertime’ was delightfully decadent and the old-style film-competition of the Mechanicals was a nice nod to the era, but the setting wasn’t fully utilised. Oberon’s court were decked as soldiers, using sleep gas at the end, and the ‘lover’s remedy’ was clearly radioactive, but more could have been done to incorporate the theme.

The acting was great and the direction showed some deft touches, really managing to hit all the humour of the play; Helena in particular was fantastic. The Jazz Age wasted fairies of Titania’s court were also a nice take on the otherworldliness of Faerie, and the truculence of Puck was hilarious. As such, it was great fun, if missing some tricks.

Star Rating: 3/5

Midsummer Night’s Dream is on at 5.45 at Paradise in St Augustine’s from 4th-27th Aug (not 13th or 20th)

Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart

Richard Tyrone Jones has been a driving force behind the burgeoning Spoken Word scene at the Fringe this year, and his own offering chronicles his problems with heart failure. From the unexpected beginnings just after his 30th birthday to his near-death experience (spoiler: he didn’t die), the show gives us all the fascinating (and sometimes disgusting) details.

And it is fascinating. The show is like a ventricle clogged with interesting facts and gobbets of medical information and NHS anecdotes (some flattering, some not). You come away with a much enlightened view of how the heart works (or more specifically, doesn’t work) and possibly a sudden sense of paranoia at how badly and suddenly your body can go wrong (encouraged by RTJ’s song detailing all the genetic problems you could inherit, to the tune of Tom Lehrer’s Elements song, which is very well done).

There’s not a lot of poetry in the show, but what there is, is well done and Jones’s prose-poem style means some of the poetry goes unnoticed, but certainly enriches the show. And Richard’s illness, hospitalisation and eventual slow recovery is a powerful and inspiring narrative, with a great structure. The show’s use of whimsical drawings that are projected over Jones, creating characters and sets is also really well used and draw the audience into the action.

There’s a lot of black comedy, which may not be to everyone’s taste, and some gross-out humour (that wasn’t really to mine), but it’s well done and fits the show, which ends of a touching piece appreciating life and a final tribute to those with heart problems who won’t recover.

Star Rating: 4/5

Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart is on at 6pm at the Banshee Labyrinth, 4th-25th Aug (Not 13th or 19th)

Flea Circus Open Slam

This night’s slam had good mix of subjects, each allowed 5min with some grace period and called-out scores that often leaves scores higher than needed.

Winning poets (and feature):

The highlight of the night was Katherine McMahon (whose chapbook will soon be reviewed on Sabotage) with a lovely poem about a good break-up turning to friendship. It had some lovely imagery, particularly feelings that “filigreed our veins with time”. With a score of 28, she goes through to the final on 14th August.

Fay Roberts’ ‘Credit where it’s Due’ had a nice thread of money as a debilitating addiction, with a cry to arms against banks full of “electronic mockeries of life”. It was quite quiet, however, and a little stumbly. (27.1)

Harry Giles‘ jazzy Love Poem was also good, with a nice use of rhythm matching frantic feelings and compulsion that only briefly became indistinct. (27)

Feature Jack Heal performed ‘The Relationship’, an origin story of his show’s character (Murderthon reviewed here). It was a bawdy story replete with relentless puns (“she was shrieking like a virgin or some other Madonna song”) that went down well.


James Webster’s ‘What are you thinking’ (reviewed often) had a nice touch of updating its political content to be more topical, and Lucy Ayrton’s ‘I don’t hate men, I just hate you’ was a fantastic put-down to dismissive men with “big, hard, throbbing degrees in economics”. David Duff’s school disco piece was sweet, with conversation mishaps and first kisses. Least favourite had to be Alec Beattie’s played for laugh poem about squirrels raping pigeons (sigh).

Performance Star Rating: 3/5 (a nice enough mixed bag)
The Night:
4/5 (less formal than most slams and slickly hosted; chaotic fun)

Flea Circus Open Slam is on in the Banshee Labyrinth at 7.30 from 4-14th August.