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Review: She Grrrowls! Spoken Word Launch Party 11/09/13

In Performance Poetry on October 16, 2013 at 1:31 pm

– reviewed by Irina Jauhiainen

she grrrowls

She Grrrowls! Spoken Word launched on Wednesday 11th of September. The pilot night’s theme was Politics, which seemed a little scary in the context of a female spoken word event – but this poetry performance fan was happily surprised by the variety of performance as well as the excellent quality of the night.

A rather charming hipster-ish venue …

The show took place at The Gallery Café in Bethnal Green. It seems like a hipstery café that would be lovely to have lunch in, but needs quite an effort to transform into a performance venue. The café’s large tables make it a rather clumsy audience space. The best way to be comfortable is to get to the venue early, have some food (the menu looked fantastic) and sit at a table before the space gets crowded. There was a slightly late start for the show due to technical problems and organization issues, but since the number of open mic performers was relatively low (as you can expect on a pilot night), the show was not too badly delayed.

A political kind of poetry …

Host Joelle Taylor kicked off each half performing her own work. Out of all the performers that night, Taylor was probably the closest to what I expected from a politically themed female spoken word night, but definitely in a good way. It was a pleasant surprise that while this was advertised as a female spoken word event, there were still men in the open mic who were willing and able to contribute to the night’s themes. While the themes of politics and feminism were present in most of these performances, clichés were successfully avoided and a wide range of issues regarding equality and social justice were brought up. The great thing about events like this is that you’re bound to get like-minded people in the audience; the atmosphere was incredibly supportive. There was a feeling of ‘yes-I-want-to-change-the-world’ in the air and it’s hard to imagine anyone left feeling angry or depressed about social injustice, since the performers conveyed their social agenda with just the right amount of optimism and hopefulness.

A stunning blend of styles and subjects …

Poetry workshop organiser Momina Mela and winner of London Teenage Senior Slam Aisling Fahey featured in the second half. These brilliant poets provided a contrast for the slam-style of the open mic with beautifully crafted and literary poetry performance. While neither of the feature poets were overtly political, both had a feminine and feminist viewpoint behind the poems that engaged beautifully with the event’s focus. The night was structured so that the open mic took place in the first half and all of the features in the second, which worked so well particularly because there was such a clear distinction in style of performance. Especially in themed events it is rare to achieve such a variety of styles and subject matters – this night was definitely successful in keeping the audience interested and wanting to hear more.

And ending on a high note …

The night finished with a lovely, uplifting and not at all political music performance from Sunshine in Mae. Lead singer Sula Mae entertained the audience during set-up by telling cheese-related jokes. It must be said in the defence of the venue that with its complications in transforming into a performance venue, the Gallery Café has a stage big enough to accommodate a full band, which is a major bonus and not exactly easy to find, so it was a very nice and rare treat to hear a full band with double bass and all. Sunshine in Mae‘s happy lyrics were a perfect pick-me-up on a rainy autumn evening and ended the show in great spirits.

A wonderfully entertaining and inclusive event …

The next She Grrrowls! Spoken Word event will take place on Monday 18th of November, and follow each third Monday of the month. Entry fee is £5, but admission is free for those reading at the open mic. Next month’s featured acts will be Sophia Walker, Greta Bellamacina, Sarah Perry, Sarah Arnold and Hannah Rose Tristram. She Grrrowls! is certainly not only for female spoken word artists, as the brilliant launch night proved, and the organisers undoubtedly have a great taste in performers and the right contacts to put on more nights just as amazing as the first.


Review: Stand Up and Slam 17/09/13

In Performance Poetry on October 3, 2013 at 9:22 am

– reviewed by Lettie McKie

stand up and slam

Stand Up and Slam at The Comedy Café, Rivington Street

Poetry vs Comedy

At this inventive and energetic new monthly night Chatback Comedy Club and Canterbury’s Poet Laureate, Dan Simpson,  have teamed up to create a slam concept with a difference. Pitting the best of London’s Stand Up and Poetry performers against each other they hope to create a compelling hook to get audiences from both scenes involved.

They have also bagged themselves a fab monthly venue in the heart of Shoreditch. The Comedy Café, tucked away on Rivington Street , is cosy and fairly unintimidating.  So far, so good. This event is definitely the sort of thing you can feel very cool inviting people to. Trendy bar. Tick. Plenty of folks in rolled up jeans and chunky knits. Tick. Overpriced beer. Tick.

But what about this Poetry vs Comedy idea? It sounded good enough to give it a go, but to be honest I was dubious as to how hosts Dan Simpson and Paul Sweeney were going to pull it off. My main reservation was how can you compare two art forms that on the surface are so different? Surely the audience will simply see the good in both performances and be unable to choose between them?

As the night got underway however it was clear that however successful or otherwise their slam concept proved to be in the end, Dan and Paul were definitely going to entertain us! Playing to a packed and enthusiastic crowd, Dan was the straight man to Paul’s quirky tongue in cheek character (a loveable prat). The two hosts were slick, well prepared and quickly built a witty rapport with the audience, playing off each other’s exaggerated onstage personas.

The Heats

The event was split into 3 rounds, each with a nicely timed bar break between them. Round 1 was between Canadian comic John Hastings and rapper/poet Charlie Dupré. John was charismatic with a relaxed storytelling style of comedy, he combined fresh capricious punch lines with effortless charm.  As I had predicted to myself all three poets decided to perform work with a comedic edge.  Charlie’s laid back performance allowed for the dry humour in the pieces he chose to come across naturally and the audience appreciated his clever pairing of comedic stories with pithy rhymes and metric wisecracks.

At the beginning of the evening a member of the front row had been picked out to decide a winner at the end of each round based on the audiences’ reaction. The hosts used this feature to ham up their links, competing with each other to impress her through gifts and well- timed compliments. However when it came to the  actual judging she was asked, in front of the whole crowd, to choose between each act and this felt uncomfortable. By the end of round 1 I already felt like there was little point to the slam element of the evening, with such good performances and a great atmosphere in the room why bother picking a winner based on such a flimsy judging idea?

As the evening progressed the quality of acts continued to be extremely high however. The line-up was carefully balanced and showcased a range of different styles across both art forms. Next up was poet Rob Auton and impressionist Anil Desai. Bang said the Gun poet Rob’s poetry is brilliant and he has a unique onstage persona; he’s naturally hilarious and never does what you’d expect.  If you have never seen him before, he’s quite simply wonderful.  Fresh from winning Best joke of the Fringe, Rob is quietly confident on stage and is a master of the well timed pause; the only downside to his sets is that if you have seen them before you are unlikely to encounter much new material. Rob was a great addition to the line- up because his work genuinely crosses the borders between the two art forms.

Anil  was totally different but equally talented and this was definitely the most inspired pairing of the night. Asking a member of the audience to read out names from a pack of cards he romped through his take on these different personas at an impressive rate. He was great to watch as he had the ability to make himself look like each character as well as speak like them. He combined this talent with witty material which was a little hit and miss but generally a great crowd pleaser.

After another break I noticed the audience had started to dwindle and this was a shame. I felt like this was another bad mark for the slam concept, because if they had not been confined to rounds the event could have been shorter, allowing Dan and Paul to distil the best elements of the night into a tighter format.

As it was, although I enjoyed comic Dan Schreiber’s engagingly geeky set and Keith Jay’s articulate, rhythmic poetry, I was quite glad when it ended a little before 11pm. Again, however, what made it worth staying for was the satisfying pairing of two completely different performers which was thought-provoking as well as entertaining.  Dan’s style was very relaxed and cerebral for a comic and Keith managed to successfully bridge the gap between making a few jokes and retaining the integrity of his own poetic style.

The Result

This event worked despite the slam element being, for my money, unnecessary. The pairings were interesting to compare and contrast each act, but to assume the audience needed a competition felt like dumbing it down, when the night was entertaining enough to move between the two genres, soaking up the enjoyment to be found in both.  The slam also meant that the poets had to compete with the comics for laughs and the line-up reflected this. The poets chosen were all very funny as well as good poets, but there are plenty of amazing poets out there who aren’t good at jokes and I’d love to see some of them on this stage!

This event was extremely good fun and succeeded because of the interesting mix of high quality performances which allowed the hosts to showcase  talent and variety across the two art forms.

My opinion? Ditch the slam and continue to book great artists for this fresh, highly entertaining midweek event! And with the next Stand Up and Slam coming up tonight (Thursday 3rd October), why not give it a go?

Review: Landscape II by Melanie Wilson

In Performance Poetry on October 2, 2013 at 3:28 pm

– reviewed by James Webster

The thrum of deep base sound ebbs away, leaving only a ring of tinnitus. The lights retreat to a dim glimmer, the shivers stop running down my spine, and the audience audibly exhale. We’re about two thirds of the way through Melanie Wilson‘s haunting multimedia poem, and she’s holding us on a knife edge.

When we reach the end, spines thoroughly chilled and edges of our seats somewhat worn, the silence is palpable. There’s a distinct feeling that we’ve just been taken on a journey, carried away by the tides of Wilson’s story, submerged in her words and soundscapes. This mesmeric story merges together three different strands of narrative (a photographer, her great-great-grandmother and the woman she photographed in Afghanistan) that flow in and out of one another, all layered over a rich and discordant soundscapes and vividly absorbing video.

It’s a stunner of a show, overwhelmingly immersive, fascinatingly reflective and frightfully tense.

A variety of tools to shape a show …

Wilson uses some incredible technology to shape the show. Evocative images, in beautifully rendered video, are projected onto the massive screen that makes up the venue’s entire back wall, and they draw your gaze, showing you some key imagery, while also dancing round the edge of the story (we see feet, hands, the back of a neck, a cloaked figure, close-up of a spider’s web and the Devon landscape in first person). The electric cacophony of Wilson’s soundscape surrounds us, pulses under our skin and vibrates through our bones, as it plays with contrasting harmony and discord, noise and silence, thickening into an almost physical atmosphere around us. And the sounds of the story (a fox’s yelps, the click of a camera shutter, the bumps and groans of an old cottage, the sound of steps behind us) leap out at us at unexpected moments, provoking repeated shocks of static up the spine and surprised gasps of fear. The set, too, plays its part, with a hardwood floor, table full of letters, photos and technical equipment; it gives proceedings an intimate feel, as if you begin the show sitting in someone’s living room, with Melanie Wilson seated behind the desk, whispering to you through the microphone …

There’s an element of the puppet-master around Wilson’s performance …

As she sits behind the desk almost spider-like, visibly operating the sound and video, shooting out strands of story to ensnare us. All the aspects, the video, sounds and Wilson’s own voice, come together into one powerfully moving tale, each element blending with the others to enrich the sensory experience that presses in on us. It’s consummately done, Wilson’s carefully controlled voice always informing, but never overpowering the visuals and audio, instead it seems to drift out, directly into our brains, falling to a taut whisper and rising to fraught emotion.

It all streams very nicely around the narrative – and around us too – with moments of quiet reverie contrasting against the sudden bursts and threat that reaches into your gut and tugs at you. Together, the visuals and sounds merge with her voice, getting under our skin and leaving it tingling as we’re immersed in the story and the character.

It’s a story that you can lose yourself in …

The writing is clever and thoughtful, constructing a stirring and sparse language with a fragile kind of poetry to it. It’s kind of haunting and kind of gorgeous, leaving a lot of feeling unsaid behind the words, feelings that are fleshed out by the show’s multimedia elements. To use her own words, her turns of phrase “radiate their secrets like old gold”, trickling into our ears and then later building to a rushing surge for the piece’s finale.

The pacing and structure of the show is just right, each stream of the story has just enough meat on its bones to keep you involved. Wilson fills in the blanks of the three women’s backgrounds gradually, like a puzzle, letting them gradually build, before the different strands come together in a crashing crescendo.

And as they all come crashing over us, the sound builds into a rhythmic thump that comes up from the floor and vibrates through your bones into your chest, while the words wash over you and the video flashes with its interconnected imagery and it feels like we’re caught. As if we’re held in this intense moment and suspended in Landscape II’s narrative. But it passes, and the show ends on a quiet, contemplative note that leaves us with plenty to mull over.

Overall, this is an always involving and often scarily intense show …

It tells an intricate, otherworldly and profoundly moving story. While its high concept may not be to everyone’s taste, everyone will agree that the tech is phenomenally done, and it is definitely a hugely enjoyable and interesting way to spend an evening.

Landscape II is on at the Burton Taylor Studio tonight as part of its ongoing tour (presented by Fuel) that also takes in Exeter, Crewe, Brighton, Coventry and more. I strongly advise you to catch it if you can.

Sage and Time’s 3rd Birthday 24/07/13

In Performance Poetry on September 18, 2013 at 2:09 pm

– Reviewed by Lettie McKie

sage & time 1

Why you should celebrate Sage and Time …

Three years ago I wrote a review (here) of the first time I ever when to London performance poetry event Sage and Time at the Charterhouse Bar next to Smithfield market.  Masters of the warm welcome hosts Amy Acre and Anna Le put everybody at their ease. At the time of my first visit I remember being amazed that such an open friendly atmosphere could be found in a faceless city bar and ever since I’ve been a regular open mic performer at this monthly night.

After a hiatus of three months since their last show Anna and Amy hosted Sage and Time’s 3rd Birthday with a specially extended night of open mic performances and featured slots. With a generously low £3 entry fee this night is extremely accessible and this time there was also birthday cake and whisky shots on offer!

As performance poetry veteran John Paul O’Neil pointed out on the night, anybody who can set up and sustain an event for this amount of time has done extremely well.  Through their dedication Anna and Amy have developed a poetic community, where poets can share their work, swap stories of their various attempts to get noticed and generally chat about their favourite subject into the small hours!

The hosting that makes it such a warm event …

The team were joined by fellow performance poet Richard Marsh in their hosting efforts, and together they worked (as they always do) tirelessly and efficiently to make sure everybody has a good time.

Richard Marsh hosted the first third of this evening and kicked off with his own poem celebrating performance poetry in general as well as Sage and Time in particular! The night got off to a hilarious start with Richard cajoling us into “Shaking that Assonance” and reminding us that “Spoken word by definition is not dumb, so we come”.

Constantly welcoming to newcomers the open mic (which was generously dispersed throughout the evening) included several Sage and Time ‘Virgins’ as well as more regular performers.  With approximately 20 poets performing there was an enormous mix of styles and experience levels. As a listener this eclectic hodgepodge means there is something for everybody to enjoy even though there are inevitably some poets whose work is not to your taste.

My open mic highlights …

Wizard of Skill: a passionate and heartfelt performer who has a unique perspective on pretty much everything. He combines a softly spoken delivery style with wild poetic streams of consciousness.

Richard Watkins: His considered and thought provoking poem about the human heart (asserting “the human heart is not a bone”) was a delight to listen to, taking a common metaphor and focusing in on its inadequacy explaining “the words we use to describe things are important”.  His second poem about growing apart from somebody was my favourite of the night, the line “these days we aren’t together, we’re adjacent” was particularly touching.

James Bunting: Delivered another thought-provoking poem, which was an exploration into how human life tries to understand itself. Although I felt it was slightly condescending in parts, in general I found its searching tone and imagery compelling.

Chris Kraken: Announced that he had found the perfect metaphor for love “it’s like being captured by aliens”. Although the pedant in me longed to shout out  ‘I’ll think you’ll find that’s technically a simile’, the poem itself was nicely delivered, light hearted and tongue in cheek.

Mark “Mr T” Thompson: A great performer and crowd pleaser, experienced poet Mark showed us how it is done with a hilarious poem about learning how to dance just for the fun of it, even if you’re shit!

And the special guests at this birthday party …

There were two featured slots of the night which were an absolute delight. Poet Paula Varjack, who took her show ‘The Anti Social Network’ to Edinburgh this summer and singer/songwriter Maddy Carty.

Paula is a consummate performer with charismatic stage presence. I found her poems powerful and hilarious. My favourite of her pieces was ‘His Perfect Ex-Girlfriend’ in which she described a sickeningly beautiful, intelligent and successful girl in great detail, wittily playing on her own sense of inadequacy and jealousy. Her excerpt from the Edinburgh piece was also brilliant describing the awkward moment of bumping into somebody in the street who she slept with three years before.

Singer Maddy Carty’s performance was the perfect end to the evening. Her soulful voice and down to earth lyrics were upbeat, heartfelt and charming.  She quickly developed a rapport with the audience with a chilled out style and absolutely beautiful music.

Anna and Amy rounded off the night with a performance of ‘The Thing’, an interactive poem that grows with the night incorporating lines from every performer.

Sage and Time is not an ordinary poetry event. It’s uniquely friendly with a buzzing and creative atmosphere. Roll on 3 more fantastic years!

Sage and Time‘s next event is tonight at the Charterhouse Bar at 7.30pm. Featuring the amazing poets Sophia Walker and Raymond Antrobus, we advise you to be there or … no, just be there!

Review – SPOKEN: A Night of Poetry and Spoken Word

In Performance Poetry on September 10, 2013 at 10:18 am

– reviewed by Hayden Westfield-Bell –


Feat. Michael Pedersen | Jenny Lindsay | Colin McGuire | Lach (Steve Rogers)

The venue, the atmosphere …

Tucked away just off from the Water of Leith, Sofi’s Bar is a cosy collection of hard stools and cushy sofas. Candles flicker on tabletops and textiles twitch in the fresh wind that blows in from the open door. The mic is set, amps buzz with anticipation, the stools arranged in solid lines slowly fill with readers and writers. Lach takes centre stage.

Lach: rich in voice and rhyme …

He ambles up and reverbs his way through his first poem. Settings are adjusted, but he’s got a voice that carries and feels more comfortable closer to the bar. He scrolls through his poetry on his phone and picks out a poesy rich in rhythm and rhyme, his voice rich with USA beat culture and references to New York bars and clubs. He stands how he reads; a kind of swagger, kicking in comments about other gigs and how he feels out of place without his guitar (some of his music can be found here). A few non-poetry folk walk out of his set: ‘I’ll teach them to leave’ he says, he flicks wildly through his phone and reads an appropriate poem about a place exploding into action after an unnamed character leaves. He throws his weight behind his poetry, slipping in colloquialisms and adding bass beats. And he’s easy with his humour too, one piece wrestles with a familiar topic in ‘Poster War’, eliciting giggles from an audience well-versed in the papery particulars of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Colin McGuire: an intense, live wire performance …

We pause for pints. The sky darkens a little, then Colin McGuire steps up and launches into an energetic set of Glaswegian incidents, gesturing at the crowd dramatically and pulling at the mic; spitting sex and alcohol across the audience. He’s all voice, and the mic can barely hold him on stage. Twisting, shouting, arms flailing, like electricity’s shifting through his body and lighting up his eyes. He’s a fire of rhyme and rhythm with a great sense of humour. His poetry engages and explores the world of drink and sex, rich with vivid (and disturbing) imagery that thickens in the imagination, testing the boundaries of the audience. He delivers lists of lines that pile onto one another; surreal photos on an unmade bed.

Jenny Lindsay: a dark kind of magic …

A break. The crowd thickens. More candles are lit and the flickering lights behind the mic begin to produce effective light. Jenny Lindsay shuns the stage for a more casual bar-lean, sipping her pint and selecting her poetry. She starts with the dark and cynical and forages through the difficult folds of love and loss. She gestures delicately with her hands, as if plucking the words from the air about her. There’s a round of applause, she flicks through her poems and muses as to whether she has anything positive. She paws the air like a cat, pauses for dramatic effect and brings delicate situations to life with a tilt of the head and a flick of the wrist. She finishes with ‘The Truth’, a touching poem exploring the leftover memories of a lost relationship, moving from socks to Battlestar Galactica and back again, always exploring familiar details, sharpening the magic of a delicate moment, Jenny’s poems feel both intensely personal and intimately familiar; approachable, memorable and heartbreaking.

Michael Pedersen: a man with a mic, a message and a great sense of rhythm …

A last break then Michael Pedersen wanders on stage. He takes the mic (because he likes the sound of his own voice) and launches into ‘Jobseeker’. The pace builds through alliteration and assonance and he keeps hold of a strong rhythm through good use of brief pauses between words. His hand clutches the microphone as he muses on walking into the Job Centre and meeting Neil; ‘thinning silver hair and evocative paunch cast a hostile shadow.’ Michael finds a vivid magic in this most mundane of all environments, describing in detail the psychology of the environment and the defeatist nature of JSA, whilst remaining light and humorous. He gestures, swings the mic about himself and uses the stage confidently, moving swiftly through his set and provoking smiles all round.

SPOKEN was full of talented poets, with real atmosphere, and was the first of (they hope) a number of performance poetry and open mic events at Sofi’s Bar, Leith.

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: Charlie Dupré – The Stories of Shakey P

In Performance Poetry on August 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm

– reviewed by Lettie McKie


The Stories of Shakey P – Shakespeare Remixed

The first piece in this hour long Shakespearean remix see’s Charlie Dupré present the world’s most famous Elizabethan playwright as a rapper. Leaping onto the stage with characteristic energy, Charlie goes straight into his first story with very little preamble. He presents Shakespeare as the underdog in a playground rap battle against an older bully, Marlowe. Shakey P ultimately triumphs because of better insults, tighter plot lines and more enduring posthumous popularity.

Thus begins an intense hour’s retelling of some of the bards most famous plays including Othello, Richard III, Macbeth and Hamlet.

A Cerebral Approach

It is a well-known fact that much of Shakespeare’s verse is written in iambic pentameter. The five beats to the bar rhythms were develop by early writers because they closely mirror the natural pace of speech and this form of metre is one of the most popular forms for verse to take; period.

In this fast paced poetic romp Charlie uses this fact to his advantage by cleverly contrasting the iambic pentameter with its four beats to a bar alternative the iambic tetrameter, commonly used as a basis for much rap music.

The result is an immediately accessible performance. Intersecting his stories with helpful explanations and insightful asides the show feels, at times, like a GCSE English class, albeit the coolest one you’ve ever had.

Multiple Characters

Charlie slips effortlessly between multiple characters and voices to tell his stories. He hooks each retelling on a different premise, Richard III is told through his ‘counselling sessions’, Othello compared to Eminem’s stalker hit ‘Stan’ and so on. Some poems are more polished than others but all command attention for the original way they tackle very familiar storylines. Reminiscent of the comedic Reduced Shakespeare Company, these poems distill the key themes and plotlines of the plays into witty vignettes.

The Music

In another interesting twist Charlie is accompanied by Oliver Willems and Oktawia Petronella on strings. The double base and violin are used throughout the piece to create a soundtrack to the pieces, the contrasting tones of the two instruments used to differentiate character and mood. This both helps Charlie to build on the drama of his performances and also takes the idea of Shakespearean rap that one step further, imagining what sort of instruments available in the 16th Century could create the right backdrop for spitting rhymes like a modern day MC.

The Verdict

Teachers all over the country should know about Shakey P! A fantastically entertaining, energetic and fresh account of Shakespeare’s oeuvre, not to be missed! So if you did miss it at the Edinburgh Fringe this August, keep track of his website, Facebook or Twitter for future gigs.

Star Rating: 4/5

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.

Review: Poems After Frida, 6th July 2013

In Pamphlets, Performance Poetry on August 14, 2013 at 12:50 pm

– event background by Jo Colley, review by Rosi Thornton-


Event organiser, Jo Colley, explains how the event came to be:

The idea for an event celebrating the life and work of Frida Kahlo began to take shape one evening in the bar of the Voodoo Café in Darlington, over a couple of Mojitos with my daughter. I’m a writer, and I’ve organized a lot of events in the town over the last ten years, but until recently, with the back up of Arts Council funding, and using the town’s art centre as a venue. Now the arts centre is no more, and funding has become harder to access. But still the urge to present great work refuses to lie down.

By the end of the evening, a shape had formed in my head: Frida’s birthday, the poems of Pascale Petit, which I knew and loved, and the café (which specializes in Mexican food and has a wonderful Mexican ambience) as a possible venue. I had also decided to try a different way of funding the event, via crowdsourcing.  And somehow this was enough to make me really want to put on a fantastic event that would include poetry, art and music and blow people away.

So I did some groundwork on possibility: would the venue be up for it? They were. Would the poet agree to come? She did. How much would it all cost? I did some quick sums and reckoned I needed about £400. I also needed to think about support for Pascale from local poets. I looked for people who would provide high quality work, which would chime with my vision of the event, and who would be inspired to produce new work: not only poetry, but also Frida inspired sounds and artwork. I chose a sound artist partly because I love his work and also because I wanted a powerful effect, a happening!

Having decided not to go the arts council route (it just felt too onerous, bureaucratic and probably doomed to failure) I approached local arts organizations and a couple of councillors, but although they were supportive there was no cash. So a friend and I got to grips with the Crowdfunder site. It was fairly straightforward and would be more so now as there have been some recent improvements. We needed to find the right balance in describing the event to attract a wide range of possible donors. For rewards, we thought we would produce a zine and give a main reward of an altered book, which a local artist offered to make and donate. We limited the time period to a month thinking this would be enough as we were not seeking the moon on a stick. We also created a Facebook page as back up, so people could ask questions or get a bit of extra info, and an eventbrite page for tickets.

The site went live after a few false starts and I sent the link out to a lot of people. In the first week or two we raised about two thirds then things kinda stuck. So I sent out a begging letter to some chosen people and more came in. In the last week we had a hundred pounds to go and Facebook and Twitter proved very effective: in fact the event would not have worked without social media. It’s the 21st century way of getting patronage, a kind of self help method side stepping big organizations (but also to some extent letting them off the hook, which makes me slightly uncomfortable).

There were some last minute hitches setting up technical equipment in a venue, which had only done music and not spoken word before, but it all came together, and the venue were never less than enthusiastic and committed to making things work. A group of us decorated the venue with Mexican style fabrics, paper cut outs and cacti on the table,  and even the weather joined in for a hot and steamy night. People turned up, looking beautiful, dressed for the occasion. One of the poets made amazing zines with poems and art work. Another local artist produced a Frida image which we used in slide form as a backdrop to the event. Pascale read beautifully and brought images of Frida’s paintings to accompany her poems. The soundscapes were mind-blowing and the poetry was wonderful.  It was just what I had imagined: a happening with art, poetry music and beautifully crafted artefacts.

Lessons learned would include spending a bit more time on prepping the venue, and I might also try to raise more money and have an even more spectacular event. But really, the essential element here was the generosity and creativity of people who gave their time and talent to make all the elements of a great evening blend so beautifully.


And Rosi Thornton gives us a short review of the finished event:

This wonderful event to honour the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, was organised and hosted by poet Jo Colley, from locally based Poetry Parlour, and took place on a suitably warm evening at the Voodoo Cafe in Skinnergate.  Hosted as part of the annual Tyneside VAMOS! Festival, the evening was the only Latin American festival event in Darlington and offered a fitting celebration of Frida Kahlo on her birth date.

The evening was built around the work of acclaimed French-Welsh poet Pascale Petit and her anthology of poetry about the artist  – Poems After Frida – which also became the title of the event. Interspersing music from Michael Hann, projected images of Frida’s paintings and searing, shimmering poems from Pascale Petit, the line up included both old and new work followed by  a selection of poems and accompanying images from poets Jo ColleyJoanne Clement, Kate Fox, Lisa Matthews and Ellen Phethean.

Pascale Petit’s poems offered a rich and fascinating flavour of Frida Kahlo and the  different stages of her life as an artist in Mexico. From her early beginnings as a young woman learning to live and work independently, to the accident which changed her life forever, Pascale’s words reached under the skin and made the experience clear and vivid. The accompanying slides of Frida’s paintings running alongside the poetry allowed the audience a glimpse into the graphic depiction of Frida’s world and her uncompromising, direct, outward gaze.

As with the paintings, the poems left nothing hidden. Each of the poets following Pascale, used their words and rhythm to celebrate Frida and raised a complex web of emotion and images within the audience, not easily forgotten. For anyone unfamiliar with the work of Frida Kahlo, the combination of poets and their spare, beautiful words was an invitation to explore further.

Mention must be made of the accompanying Zine by artist and poet Joanne Clement for the evening, which was both beautifully produced with information about the event itself as well as being embellished with imagery and words to treasure afterwards. Many audience members came dressed in their finery to celebrate the artist and her birthday, and these small details and the care and attention behind the hosting of the event were evident to everyone attending the evening.

The setting in the Voodoo Cafe offered an intimate Latin American atmosphere of small, richly decorated tables, fiesta bunting, margaritas and Mexican food. Together with haunting music from Michael Hann, stirring images and a stellar line up of poets, the  evening created an opportunity to view the world through other eyes and other lives. I left the Poems After Frida event with different words in my mouth, new blood in my veins and somehow all the richer for it.