Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Dana Bubulj’

Review: London Dreamtime: The Snow City 24/11/12

In Performance Poetry on March 14, 2013 at 4:16 pm

– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj

2012-11-24 22.01.17

How do we make myths accessible to a new audience? Update Olympus to the modern melodrama or perhaps the opposite: tying the modern to the epic? Vanessa Woolf, the storyteller of London Dreamtime links myths to the city’s own geography, combining it with Nigel of Bermondsey‘s urban history turned ballads, making a rather enchanting evening in various locales appropriate to the event’s theme. ‘Snow City’, themed around the world of the dead, had us meet decked out with scarves and hurricane lamps near St Paul’s Cathedral and wander via small streets to churchyards, the river and the remains of London Wall itself on a crisp evening that complemented the mood well.

Vanessa has a great conversational tone with enough detail to lend colour to the familiar stories of Orpheus and Eurydice, and Hades and Persephone. The dialogue sounded natural, with some nice voice acting giving (Hades in particular) character. The conversation between Orpheus and the close-but-no-(Eury)dice had the right amount of familiarity coupled with unease to make for a heartbreaking scene, with Orpheus’ doubt so very understandable:
“You played that song when we met”
“I’ve just made it up…”
“Of course! It’s so easy to forget down here.”

The stories were well structured too, with foreshadowing working well with the familiarity of the tales. My favourite example of this was Apollo telling the grieving Orpheus to “stop looking back” and live the life ahead of him, a neat way to tie the myth to its themes.  While doing plot recaps after our party’s relocation did keep the thread going, and infrequent questions (such as names of Cerberus etc) helped bring us in and presumably helped Woolf gauge the knowledge of her audience, I personally could have done without the more panto-esque participation, but that said, it was kept to a minimum.

The interest in Hades is what ties these stories together, more so than any wider theme of voyages to the Underworld, of which there are a plethora of stories in most world mythologies. Without pulling punches, Woolf portrays him as a brooding, lonely figure who “knows what it means to be alone”, able to fashion works of great beauty to mirror the world above but without its life. Where rubies and sapphires are sustenance, he is almost sympathetic in Orpheus’ tale, allowing him to take Eurydice, despite mourning the loss of “the one thing [he] care[s] about, [his] precious shades”. That said, it is good to note that she pulls no punches in describing his motivation and behaviour in the abduction of Persephone: the somewhat chilling “I could get her” (rather than her more powerful mother), combined with the visceral image of him pouring the power of death into her – leaving her oozing a black cocktail as it reacted with her life – was appropriately menacing. This menace continues throughout the story as tension builds: we all know its end- she will eat the pomegranate seeds and Hermes (in this telling, Quicksilver, which did not need to be as lampshaded) will not reach her in time. It Cuts between Quicksilver’s frantic rush from Olympus to unfamiliar paths in the Underworld (that echoed the path Orpheus took in the earlier story) and Persephone being placated with creations of precious materials (from a clockwork bird to a pomegranate tree that blossoms emerald fruit, with juicy rubies). The self-satisfied “too late, sorry”, had such evil glee that the eventual compromise lacked some lustre, for the loss of tension.

And just how does London come into all this?

The walk itself was a nice backdrop to the Greek stories and yet more so to Nigel’s music, for whom the location was crucial. London served as inspiration to flights of fancy, putting ourselves in the shoes of Orpheus; for as he went down then so did we, but in our case down to the side of the Thames (who was at high tide, which probably saved us from death by wet marble). The search for Hades’ castle on the Hill with the pointed top that did not move became St Paul’s between buildings.  Olympus was the subtle heights of Bastion Highwalk over the remains of London Wall, and Hades’ silver mirror was an artificial body of water surrounded by office blocks.

Walks were punctuated with various information about the surroundings and the evening did not seem too fragmented for its changing locations. Nigel’s music played into these, taking in the rich history of the city and its past inhabitants, telling us of Victorian toshers with their legends of Queen Rat, Winchester Geese at Crossbones Graveyard and a ghost of Fleet Street.

It was interesting to hear of the Winchester Geese and their unconsecrated graves (a condition of allowing them to practice), and of ‘Crossbones’ Cemetery itself. The song, a plea to those like TFL who wish to redevelop the land (“progress has an ugly face”) on behalf of the “sleepers” “just like you” who “shouldn’t be disturbed”, was earnest, if perhaps using some unpleasant rhetoric (such as, essentially, someone will not-respect *your* grave also, should you do so).

The biggest issue I had with the night was the balance Nigel struck between his folk songs and the tales behind them – as interesting folktales with their own merit (which he clearly appreciated and managed to infect us with his enthusiasm for), the introductions worked. That said, in the songs which covered much the same ground of the story, it would perhaps be better to leave the lyrics to tell the story and perhaps give additional information after, rather than before. This was most keenly felt in the ballad of Sarah Whitehead, who haunts the Bank of England looking for her lost brother.

My favourite song of the night was perhaps the first, as it worked on its own merit as well as to complement the story/history, without being subsumed by it. It told of Queen Rat, who would appear in the guise of a beautiful woman with heterochromic eyes and take to bed one of the drinking Toshers, who were essentially sewer mudlarks. Their evening would be pleasant, leave love bites and he would forever be blessed in his work, with rats pushing coins his way. The song was quiet, suiting the delicate banjolele, as he sung of a femme fatale from the point-of-view of an outside observer to the tosher (“will you breathe for her tonight?”). The power-balance is clearly in the Queen’s favour: the tosher is enthralled, and “it’s too late”: a step away from the original myth giving the song its own voice.

Evening as a whole

As an evening, I’d recommend it. Given the varied themes and locales, it’s an exciting evening that is a much-needed resurgence of the Oral tradition.


Review: Sage & Time’s 2nd Birthday 18/07/12

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on February 21, 2013 at 9:00 am

– reviewed by James Webster, Dana Bubulj and Koel Mukherjee –


The Birthday Boy, um, Girl, um, Evening.

Regular readers will know I’ve hardly been restrained in my love of Sage & Time. The brainchild of Anna Le and home of the Dirty Hands collective, it has been a welcome mainstay of my spoken word experience and that’s why it was so lovely to attend its 2nd birthday party back in July. The evening had an uplifting celebratory feel that was reinforced by the various poems from both the regular and newer performers and it was all totally lovely.

No party’s complete without an excellent host …

The evening was hosted by the confident and fiercely warm Kat Francois, who was always quick to quip and jest with the audience. She focused us into rapt silence before the performances, and provoked rapturous applause after them; you can really see how her experience as a stand-up comic has honed her crowd-handling skills. Francois kicked things off with a machine-gun rata-tat of words explaining why she performs. It was a storm of a poem, stressing the importance of poetry, claiming her place on the stage and asserting her ownership of words. And ‘I Love Being a Woman’ was amazing fun, full of sing-song joy, sensual language, silly orgasm noises, and a perceptive take on the give-and-take of relationships (though it was a bit odd that a poem with that title was all about her relationship with a man). Top stuff.

The party’s welcome guests – highlights of the Open Mic

  • Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson, S&T regular, kicked off the open mic with a quick and powerful flash of a poem on Usain Bolt, before giving us an incredibly sweet take on his youthful gawkish self’s inability to dance.
  • Elaine O’Neil then showed off her way with words with ‘Light Rail’. I really enjoyed how she penciled in the potential of the places railways can take you to, and she took us on a witty and intelligent journey from hope to capitalism.
  • The Wizard of Skill gave his usual madcap performance, full of amusing repetition and imaginative phrasing. Though, some might say that the repetition and disparate references that characterise his offbeat style sacrifices structure and progression.
  • Jazz Man John’s ‘Advice to Young Poets’ was a short piece on classic poets that was nicely witty (if a bit off-kilter).
  • Anna Em’s ‘Chain Letter’ was impressively haunting, had some good natural and supernatural imagery and some killer lines like “he counts his lost days on a calendar of broken dreams”.
  • Errol McGlashen’s ‘One Drop’ (inspired by Stephen Lawrence) was full of powerful rhythm, ranging across civil rights history to a brutal depiction of Lawrence’s death. It was powerful and chilling (and occasionally very funny).
  • Jill Abram performed ‘I have Forgotten my Father’, an endearingly nostalgic piece that was full of touchingly tiny remembered details that captured the miracle-magic that parents can make for their children.
  • Achilles read ‘My Finger’, an amusing take on technology making fingers obsolete that elicited ripples of laughter from the audience.
  • Richard Watkins had some wonderfully tinkly sing-song language in his piece that was a celebration of the mineral world and send-up of the material world. The point was a bit hackneyed, but it worked.
  • Tim Wells gave two poems, the first a witty ‘love poem to anger’, while the second was dedicated to girls his daughter’s age who date hipsters with “tight trousers, a weak moustache and pox” and was super-bleak, but much fun.
  • Koel Mukherjee’s ‘Love Poem to the Universe’ was a stunning mix of pure beauty and ultimate whimsy. Having started performing at S&T only recently, she had clearly grown massively in confidence to reinforce her heady talent with words.
  • Edward Unique’s piece ‘The Rainforests’ came together really well, mixing images together into a cohesive whole he sometimes struggles to achieve with his plurality of ideas.

The guests of honour – Features

  • Anna Le performed two pieces herself, the first ‘What is it?’ was an evocative and endearing description of walking into an open mic for the first time and segueing on to sum up some of the lovely things about Sage & Time (“S&T loves the jokes, but doesn’t need the happy every after”). And her ‘All the While’ was especially heartfelt on the night, its verse reaching out to you, the cadences rising and dropping just as you think it’s going to peak.
  • Lettie McKie: Lettie’s first poem was a humorous take on getting groped on the tube, which hilariously summed up a familiar feeling, but didn’t seem to offer any new/interesting perspective. That said, her performance (complete with amped-up middle class voice) was top notch.
  • While her second was a poem of two halves, the first essentially a very well constructed list of minor annoyances and first world problems that combined to blow each other out of all proportion. While the over the top hatred of life was fun, it didn’t really speak to me and felt a bit trite. The second half, however, was a lovely, soft and tender piece on the joy of words, friends and people’s differences and segued charmingly into congratulations for Sage & Time’s 2nd Birthday.
  • Keith Jarrett is a charming performer. Coupling intense and lush poetry with a winning stage presence, he started with an awesome piece made entirely of references to the previous performer’s poems that was a lovely and inclusive way to start his set. He also performed a fun, lyrical and accessible poem that was great on how the young construct their sense of selves and sense of ‘cool’ and also turned into a surprisingly good sing-a-long. It was rich with nostalgia and warmth and it really invited the audience into his reminisces.
  • Amy Acre continued the trend of poems celebrating Sage & Time with an immensely fun rap to introduce herself to the stage. She followed up with ‘Run’, a poem apparently inspired by a woman she met travelling in Nepal. Now … I’m usually wary of this kind of introduction, as far too often it leads solely to a vacuous poem that either reduces the locations talked of to mere exoticism or exposes nothing but the poet’s own privilege. However, this piece was a beautifully simple and incredibly powerful poem on gender disparity and the dangers of tradition for tradition’s sake that actually acknowledged the speaker’s own privilege along the way. Gorgeous stuff.
  • James Webster performed “Flat-Pack Lover”, his contribution to the Penning Perfumes collection of poetry inspired by different scents. The imagery was a rich, sensual, slightly quirky jumble, describing a personified piece of furniture, a warm, inviting, pinewood-and-brass lover. This was followed by a lovely tribute rooted in the there-and-then – “The House of Sage and Time” imagined Sage & Time as a home, the walls made of words that you could spend a hundred years reading, the spice cupboard full of sage, and the doors only open to those with “words in their hearts and fire on their tongues” – an electrifying statement of welcome and intent for anybody who loves poetry.
  • Peter Hayhoe … how do I even describe the ridiculous genius of his poem? He performed a poem that was pretty much his entire life in poetry form (all the way up to that very moment) and it was spellbinding. It was filled with geeky nostalgia, teenage doubts and plenty of jokes; a disarmingly honest and adorable performance.
  • Maddy Carty finished the night off with an ice-cool set of songs that we both perceptive and entertaining; a real treat for the ears.

Overall this was a warm embrace of an event. An inclusive welcome for the new, a celebration for the regulars, and a damn good party for all involved. While there were some poets I enjoyed more than others, the joy of Sage & Time is how inclusive and supportive it is of everyone and that tells in the ever-improving and enjoyable poetry its regulars perform. And this was such a fun night I’m already excited about the 3rd birthday!

‘Treasure in the History of Things’ by Katherine McMahon

In Pamphlets on February 17, 2013 at 10:19 am


-Reviewed by Dana Bubulj


Published by Stewed Rhubarb Press, Treasure in the History of Things by Katherine McMahon (of the Inky Fingers collective) is a gorgeous pamphlet of twelve poems, complete with an audio CD of them performed accompanied with the occasional music and atmospheric sound-base. McMahon really impressed us when we caught her perform in Edinburgh this Summer, so that it seemed fitting to review how her words translate to the page. While the CD is a nice touch in principle, her engaging performance is slightly lost in the recording, a weak reminder of the real thing. Fortunately, the pamphlet itself holds up well to individual scrutiny.

The poems could be split into two categories: that of finding and developing a personal, poetic voice and using that voice to evoke memories of past relationships. Some of the strongest images are in the latter, firmly tied to weather and seasonality, with the warmth of beds like the “leaf litter in the summertime” (‘Afforestation’) and berries shared between lovers like “shared secrets” (‘Blackberries’).

‘Blackberries’, one of my favourites in the book, features a lovely line about giving blackberries to a small child who’d not seen them before: ‘wide-eyed, he put it in his pocket for safekeeping’. It’s fitting that this first poem in the collection echoes the idea of preserving memories for our delight. Another stand-out poem, ‘Gold’, expresses the lure of the past, like “pie-steam from an open window” without becoming maudlin. Instead, it acknowledges the changes in people and relationships: the ‘sticky stained glass’ of boiled sweets in the ‘gingerbread home’ past is too sickly to last for instance, leading McMahon to call for ‘something bitter / to make it stick. / Give me gin and lime… give me anger’. Similarly the line: “sometimes dealing with [struggle] / looks a lot like being a dick” grounds the poems in an accessible reality.

The vignettes are strongly tied to the Scottish Coast, with namechecks of Bass Rock, Arthur’s Seat and Haar (coastal fog). Water is a strong presence, both as the familiar and comforting sea (‘Jetsam’) and as the lush storms that echo the characters (‘me and her, we were so full of weather’). McMahon does manage to engage with such familiar imagery without it becoming trite, and with a self-awareness (‘they call that ‘pathetic fallacy’ / and I think, oh really?’) coupled with wonder at nature that makes it rather charming. There should be more poets who can both marvel at anthropomorphised wind that ‘scrawls its name across my cheeks’ and discuss astronomers’ wavelengths. Or germination, come to that. It helps the poems stay away from the realms of the overdone sublime and stay fresh.

The nod to pathetic fallacy is a relevant one, as the emotional developments are closely linked to the workings of nature. Much like storms are ‘mirror[ed] in your own breath’, comfort in being a poet is likened to ‘sea-legs’ (‘Labyrinth’). And take this line from ‘Nautical Almanac’:

‘I want to reach out to the constellations
and be held by their far-flung fiery arms.’

The searching for a ‘polestar’, or a voice (a “warm heart and a steady rhythm / somewhere in that mechanism”) is given a response in the final poem, ‘Shine’, a fantastically jubilant statement (“this is my voice / take it how you will”) that urges for ‘solidarity’, acknowledges the importance of having someone ‘reaching across voids’ to help those lost, despite how difficult it may be. After the car journey of ‘Labyrinth’, with a scratchy John Cooper Clarke record and a friend’s confidence in them, it is a testament to paying it forward.

The title of the pamphlet comes from ‘Gold’, which we saw live & loved. An excerpt:

“They aggrandise the damage
by filling the cracks with gold,
because they believe that there is treasure
in the history of things.

She said that she thought that
culturally, that was a load of balls,
but she liked the idea.”

It’s a nice sentiment that sits well with the poems that deal with their relationship: a nod to the history wrought between them. The creation of the pot itself (before its mending), works as a good simile for their relationship (“maybe love is like wet clay”): borne of a myriad of reactions and processes and tested by heat and water. And on that note, what better way to aggrandise memories than with poetry?

Treasure in the History of Things, published by Stewed Rhubarb Press and can be bought at Bandcamp.

Review: Brand New Ancients – Kate Tempest

In Performance Poetry on October 11, 2012 at 9:00 am

19/09/12 @ The BAC

– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj

What is Brand New Ancients?

It is a modern poetic epic, written and performed by Kate Tempest (performed with backing musicians),  that follows the lives of several young people as they grow up, their paths crossing occasionally within a tight and heart-breakingly human narrative.

The band, whose music is similar to The Cinematic Orchestra, is illuminated on their stepped stage by light streaming in through small windows. They work well both as support for Tempest’s words and in their instrumentals. Only in the show’s refrains did they become a bit too loud for the vocal. Distress, frustration and hope were all straining through the instruments, with each character given their own clear musical voice that enhanced the storytelling.

Who are the Brand New Ancients?

“We are all still mythical”, Tempest starts, with the theme of the show. This is conveyed well, through her “epic narratives” of several, regular people whose characters are so familiar that they almost become archetypes. Perhaps, in less skilled hands, characters like Clive (whose abusive childhood taught him that violence was a way to get your point across) would have been undeveloped stereotypes, but in Tempest’s hands they are shaped into the modern, almost mythic, and oh so real characters that burst out of this piece. Periodically, Tempest weaves in Classical references (a Diana here, Pandora there), that help add to a sense of shared patterns of behaviour. “Your fears, your hopes are old”, she says, a comfort, perhaps, that the gods who “walked among us” (as well as, she acknowledges, periodically turning into animals and raping us), “fought for us” and were full of “imperfect”, human traits (“the gods can’t stop checking Facebook on their phone”).

It is the vividly drawn characters that makes this show so powerful. Tempest has a way with creating such believable people with humour and empathy (for example, Kevin, a “testament to the cavalry of men”), crafting conversations that sound authentic and paint the scenes as vividly as her narration (“prayers were not spoken in a silence like this”). Indeed, her words paint the awkwardness of youth with knowing brush-strokes, just as she also captures the flaws of their youthful reasoning (such as testing someone’s fireman skills with arson).

The “two man nation” of Clive and Spider, who “might have been warriors” in the olden days but now have nothing but each other to fight for, resigned to their fate as “the bad guys” and act accordingly, driving forward the plot’s violent climax with Gloria at her pub after last call. In a nice change from conventional narrative, Tommy, Gloria’s boyfriend, returns from his own crisis of faith (“by my love I am saved”) to see her rescue herself from Clive’s assault, buoyed by anger at a life of  past abuses.

What’s behind the Brand New Ancients?

Another facet to the narrative is that of the dangers of fame. Not a new concern, by any means, but Tempest takes it on well, panning out and tying the Cowell-led hunger for fame and fortune to her theme: “the gods are on their knees in front of false idols”. In almost a plea to return to the gods “among” rather than those “distant”, Tommy follows the convention of getting what he wishes (a job in the city as a graphic artist), to finally realise the unpleasant nature of his colleagues, all “overblown gestures like mime artists” and regret his decisions.

The conclusion seems to fit the themes of the narrative: the possibility to dip into a plethora of individual stories. Moving to years later, in the skin-crawlingly awful voice of Clive’s father, an alcoholic, abusive man now emigrated to Thailand (“out here, pension is riches”) where he’s surrounded by “men like [him]”, left wondering about what had happened to the central characters, we are distant once more to these ‘gods’, and encouraged to find our own.

Brand New Ancients ran from 4-22nd September at the BAC. 

Poetry Olympics: Word Games 17/07/12

In Performance Poetry on September 21, 2012 at 1:59 pm

– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj

@ Theatre Delicatessen

It was rather difficult to miss the looming [Redacted] over London this season. What better way to respond to this is by appropriating it for poetry? In a pop up Theatre Delicatessen, housed innocuously in an old BBC building, Cat Brogan hosted an alternate [Redacted], with poets hailing (or having grandparents) from all across the globe. The venue itself was gorgeous, a very red Twin Peaks-esque draped basement with cushioned benches and low lamps. As an official slam, the poets had three minutes, but in the absence of score cards, audience judges (and increasingly their entire rows) called out scores. With only three judges, there were no discarded scores, so the standard biases (humour, acquaintances etc) were a visible and embraced part of the event. The prizes suited the ‘grandeur’ of the corporate-free occasion: homemade medals, fruit shoots, vegan cheese & toilet roll.

Cat Brogan was an effusive host, full of energy despite the sheer number of poets involved, many of whom were slam champions in their own right. She performed two pieces: first, a fantastically scathing comment on the rigmaroles of the [Redacted] and its shadier practices where “wetland marshes become marchés”; second, an abridged epic history of the Irish (accompanied by a bodhran) that was suitably mesmerising.

Sacrificial Poet was the “Usain Bolt of poetry” Harry Baker, whose tale of proper-pop-up-paper people (after which his Edinburgh show was titled) was sickeningly slick. His political alliteration was astounding, in his pop-up metropolis of paper people hurt by all the “paper cuts” of “paper thin policies”. The last third, about people as inspiration, was almost less powerful for giving us time to breathe. (25.5)

First Round Highlights

Esther Poyer (Guyana)’s ‘Fruitcake’ was a nicely paced story about moving to a Victorian-terraced-England of fine china and English tea carrying an awkward box of Caribbean fruitcake steeped in demerara sugar. “We in England now, we must leave behind silly things”, her characters say, reluctant to put it down. It was her first slam, and I hope to hear more. 22.75

Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson (Jamaica) is a familiar face, and his Cultural Chameleon was fabulously performed, discussing the possible concept of a cultural “mean, mode or median” between roots in Jamaica and London. 27.5

David Lee Morgan (USA) Another Sabotage regular, Morgan performed an impressive ode to giving in to primal natures (“when the tiger hunts me I become the tiger”) and the disassociation/coming to terms with thoughts (“outside tiger, inside tiger, outside me”). 22.3

Michael Wilson (Northern Ireland) ECT poem was powerful, and the use of BSL added an interesting element to the relearning of communication (“my mind struggles into the clothing of thought”). 24.7

Stephanie Dogfoot (Singapore)’s ‘Asian people eat a lot of weird crap’ was great, both comic (“we look into its eye and dig eye out”) and mouthwatering in its conjured smoke and blistering chilli. 24.5

Ingrid Andrew (Australia) created a quiet personification of trees after bushfires, a “charcoal woman” with a “broken back where light comes through”. The extended womb analogy, while not novel, was very atmospheric. 21

Rose Drew (USA) had two particularly cutting political poems, one on the Olympics as distracting pomp (“leap like Superman over trash they can’t afford to collect”) and the particularly prescient ‘Dead Republican Girls’, a comment on the current erosion of Roe vs Wade in contemporary America. 23

Also ran (First Round):

Young Dawkins performed ‘Streets’, a nicely ponderous take on having done their time protesting as a younger man, now supporting from the “window seat” rather than frontlines. (21)

Oskar Hanska (Sweden) gave an exhilarating sensory explosion, but might have done better without the screaming. 24.25

Trudy Howson (England), whose poem is being used by the BBC for the [redacted] themselves offered up ‘English’, a succession of hat-tips that certainly hit all the traditional jingoistic name-checks. 22

Dareka Daremo (France)’s ‘Nouveau Globe’ alternated languages throughout in a fluent rhythm, with talk of the “chaos of endless night” and “les yeux d’un fou”. The times in which he committed content to one language rather than repeating multi-lingually was much more effective. 24.5

Ian (Canada), while published, has never performed, and it was evident; Hs ‘Rhapsody for Minimum Standard’ was dry and while he stated it was “no pedantic tirade”, it was monotonous and lecture-like (despite good intentions to “emancipate” the mind and dethrone corporations). 20.5

Matt Cummins (Canada) performed ‘I was a teacher’s pet’, an ‘it gets better‘ poem on being “kicked out of the closet” but lucky in having his friends’ support, urging people to turn the cross your bear into “wooden wings”. 26.5

Sophia Walker (Malaysia) performed a satirical take on ‘desirable’ laddish stereotypes. The seductive tone of “oh baby, I will separate your whites” made it, though the reveal that she is bereft of bad examples of men in her life could have been more incorporated. 29

José Anjos (Portugal) performed ‘I’m Walking’, a somewhat scattered succession of images of “one million worlds in one glance”, trapped in a search for both meaning and a place share or call his own. 22.9

Mel Jones (Wales) performed ‘Mmm’, an alliterative poem on bestiality (a pub challenge, apparently) with a relish suited to riotous filth. Like the acts described between Mandy and her mog, the poem was “magnetic, messy, moreish”, though often mildly disconcerting. 25.

Ant Smith (Rep. Ireland) was asked for raucous, and certainly delivered with a kinky rhythmic song that might have done better with less repetition of its chorus. As such, it dragged a little despite its sexual energy. 19.7

Chuquai Billy (First Nations: Lakota/Choctaw) spoke of gatherings and the ceremony of family and traditions to a rising soundtrack, but he also kept the piece rooted in the modern and quietly scathing of the outsiders with binoculars “convinced sage is a narcotic”. Unprepared for a second round, he later performed stand-up. 25.4

Alain English (Scotland) asked us about the “losers” of history, during this time of podiums, whose “endurance should inspire”. It was a rallying cry to the “survivors” of “overworked mothers”, the “lonely” or “caught-in-between” left “without a future”. 24.4

Final Round: Matt Cummins, Mel Jones, Mark Thompson, Chuquai Billy, Michael Wilson, Sophia Walker

Sophia Walker‘s ‘To the Man Who Punched Me’ was a fantastic piece: taking the “dyke” thrown at her, and reclaiming it with its original meaning (“please accuse me of holding back the sea”). 28.1

Matt Cummins‘ Valentines poem was a sweet stand against the overblown theatrics of the movies, with fireworks and orchestra-soundtracked declarations in favour of quieter affections. 25

Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson had a nice poem on respecting people and learning the “true value” of love and those around you. While it did advocate a particular type of relationship, it boiled down to “don’t be a superficial arse”, which we can get behind. 23.8

Mel Jones performed ‘Family’, a lovely domestic scene in a child’s memory, with a “wall full of eggs, tipping tapping shells” to the adventures of “invincible youth” and feeling the “Welshness in bones”. 25.3

Michael Wilson‘s poem to an old friend who committed suicide (an endemic problem in NI) definitely marked him as my favourite poet of the night. The quiet grief of looking through his room, seeing a “half pack of gum – he collects them, sorry, collected” was palpable, as was tying it to the greater context: “they say it’s the Troubles, but we always had troubles”. 27.5

1st Place: Sophia Walker
2nd Place: Michael Wilson
3rd Place: Matt Cummins (after Mel Jones’ disappearance disqualified her)

Verdict: Chaotic but enjoyable night. The sheer amount of poets dragged on a little, but it was a friendly atmosphere that made it fun, with some real gems to make it shine.

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.

Edinburgh Reviews Day 6 part 1 (06/08/12): Harry Baker: Proper Pop-up Purple Paper People, Letter to the Man (from the Boy), The Man Who

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 8, 2012 at 6:31 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)

Harry Baker: Proper Pop-up Purple Paper People

This show was effectively an account of Harry Baker (UK Slam Champion, International Slam Champion) in his first year at Uni in Bristol. There were a fair amount of familiar stories about awkward first conversations and strange experiences with societies (his piece on going to a Pole Dancing Society taster is appropriately awkward), but all with Baker’s off-beat personality stamped all over them.

He had a good mix of poetry, including some that were purest fun frivolity, messing mischievously with language; like the German presentation he did in rap form (in both German and English) with a minor striptease involved, or his ridiculously silly haiku-one-liners that garnered equal numbers of laughs and groans from the audience. His univocalism (using only one vowel, namely ‘u’) was also fun, but while these pieces entertained with excellent comedy manner and physicality, it’s when he has a little more to say that Harry really shines.

He’s perhaps at his best when mixing his intricate rap-style rhymes and tongue-bending delivery with a mixture of comedy and commentary. An old favourite ‘I am a Man’ has some funny lines (‘real men cry, that’s why they make man-sized tissues for man-sized eyes’) and also explores the concept of what masculinity means to our generation of giant man-children, while also touching on acts of amazing bravery (like Jordan Rice who gave his life to save his brother). And his poem about being the only guy at Pole-soc (to impress a girl) really captures youthful social awkwardness and also has some interesting (if light) commentary on gender roles.

But he’s at his very brilliantly world-beating (literally, this poem won him the international slam) lyrical and comic best with his penultimate piece, the eponymous ‘Proper Pop-up Purple Paper People’. It’s full of killer wordplay, insightful allegorical political commentary (with the idea of ‘paper cuts’ and ‘origami armies’) and ends with a powerful and blissfully hopeful message ‘people have the potential to be powerful’. This poem alone lifts this to a 4-star show.

Star Rating: 4/5

Harry Baker: Proper Pop-up Purple Paper People is on at 12.00pm at the Royal Oak, 6th-24th August (no Sundays).

Letters to the Man (from the Boy)

Henry Raby’s show is a thoughtful and intelligent concept, skilfully executed, asking questions of his own life and the lives and experiences of his audience with warm audience interaction, making for an ice-cool show.

It takes the form of a letter that Raby is writing to his future self, reminiscing on his life so far, reminding his future self of past victories and failures, and asking questions about the man he has become. But where the show really succeeds is in the way he also encourages the audience to write their future selves a letter, using fun randomised prompts from the ‘mystery box’ and encouraging the audience to share their answers. The result is a lovely atmosphere of shared confidences and mutual trust between Henry and his audience: after all, he’s sharing so much with us that it seems only fair for us to share a little with him. He also cleverly uses audience comments as links to his next letter or poem, which was a very nice touch.

The letter itself has some choice lines and interesting nostalgic wisdom (‘don’t listen to any advice that doesn’t come from Yoda’), while his poems are fun and accessible; his poem on children’s TV shows taking over his childhood world nicely highlights the slightly twisted weirdness of some of those shows and elicits lots of laughs from those who get the references (as a child of the 80’s I found it hilarious); his piece on adolescent house parties is appropriately chaotic and full of youthful bravado; and his poem on leaving town to go to Uni was quite touching.

The only flaw is that the poetry, while good, is often almost too accessible, lacking the entertaining artifice that can lift a poem and make it great, but the accessible style blends very well with the show’s format and informal interactive style, which makes the show such a nostalgic and involving joy.

Star Rating: 4/5

Letter to the Man (from the Boy) is on at 1.10pm at the Underbelly, 2nd-26th (not the 13th)

The Man Who

This was a fun and well written piece of theatre about romantic and professional rivalry between two of the first inventors. While the love triangle and the idea of the first wheel were fairly standard, what it excelled in was an interesting take on the importance of roles and names, and if they can be interchangeable. The three characters all have name changes: The Younger Man becomes The Man Who Invented the Wheel and then Brendan, The Man becomes The New Man Who Invented the Wheel and The Woman becomes, um, Matthew (in a slightly obvious joke).

Perhaps a comparison to ‘The Man Who Sold the World‘ is apt: much of the tale deals with the consequences of fame and fortune weighed against Love itself and the balance shifts throughout the play as The Woman alternates between the two men, preoccupied with ideas of settling on “having a The Baby”. As such, some of the potential of playful semiotics is lost, to the show’s detriment. It was an enjoyable, if ultimately played-out story.

Star Rating: 3/5

The Man Who was on at 2.55 from 2-6th August at the Underbelly.

Edinburgh Reviews Day 5 (05/08/12): Jack and Nikki: Killing Machines, Love in the Key of Britpop, Once Upon a Time in Space, Alternative Sex Education and Jack Heal: Murderthon

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 8, 2012 at 2:01 am

– reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

Last week we reviewed a selection of Edinburgh Previews from Tea Fuelled Arts. We enjoyed them so much that this week Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster, and trusty 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. no tax evasion acrobatics)

Jack and Nikki: Killing Machines

We’ve reviewed this show already at preview stage, and it seems that it’s come on in leaps and bounds since then (in a relatively short time). This comedy double act is very sleek, smooth and confidently performed; Jack proving an effectively funny ‘straight man’ to Nikki’s well rendered off-the-wall-osity.

The conceit that the whole thing’s a business presentation for a new contract killing start-up is well put together, with lots of ridiculous business jargon, a terrible jingle on the glockenspiel and a hilariously bad logo. And the transferable skills they have accrued in their various dead-end jobs are both funny (a high score on Modern Warfare proves marksmanship), and capture the truth-bending reality of presentations and job interviews.

Some highlights are the dance number, some fun audience interaction and a really awkwardly funny (and somewhat sad) video of the two proving their assassination skills (on a cat), while the finale provides a great payoff and is surprisingly sweet.

Some of the humour aims for awkwardly funny, but just hits awkward, and some jokes are repeated to the point they’re not amusingly self-referencing, but just a bit tired. While the portrayal of Nikki as a mentally unstable woman who just wants love (and killing) may make some uncomfortable, and the show still flags a little before the end, the strength of the pair’s comic timing, sense of character, and strong absurdly silly writing carry off an intensely enjoyable hour.

Star Rating: 3/5 (but if it keeps improving at this rate, who knows?)

Jack and Nikki: Killing Machines is on at 12.05pm at The Voodoo Rooms, 4th-14th August, FREE


Love in the Key of Britpop

Emily Andersen’s tale of anglophilia, Britpop and doomed transcontinental love has some lovely lines and is slickly performed, but fails to engage either the audience or its themes in any depth.

Telling the story of a relationship formed quickly and intensely in Melbourne between the narrator and a British lad over on a tourist visa, the two decide ‘after the second beer that from now on [their] fates bleed together’ and so their relationship begins (in the best part of the show) amidst boozed-up hopes and Britpop idols.

The problem is this: the continued description of their misadventures, drunken bohemian antics and markedly and too-deliberately-quirky lifestyles go on too long and are too repetitive. There’s also a definite feeling that Andersen could have done more with her themes: for a poem so heavily invested in a certain kind of music, the feel of said music, its rhythms, atmosphere and quirks feel noticeably absent. There are lots of references to bands and some quoted lyrics, but she barely even attempts to capture the spirit and ridiculous joy of Britpop, and as such the poem has to rely on the ups and downs of a fairly standard-sounding relationship for its limited entertainment.

With a more animated performance, more of her occasionally superbly imaginative phraseology and more engagement with its own themes, this could have been a really good piece. Instead it’s just ok.

Star Rating: 2/5

Love in the Key of Britpop is on at 3.10pm at Fingers Piano Bar, 4th-26th August (no Mondays), FREE


Once Upon a Time (in Space)

Performed by The Mechanisms, a character-band of lovable space-pirate-misfit-immortals mixing steam and cyberpunk, this dark and twisted take on familiar fairytales was performed through rocked-up folk songs with jovial energy and bone-rattling showmanship.

Throwing King Cole, Snow White, Rose Red, Cinderella and a host of other recognisable fairytales into space, they recreate their narratives into an epic space opera through story and song, where there are ‘no happy endings’. This is hard-hitting and emotional storytelling, with phenomenal world-building on a grand scale, all reported by the immortal crew of the Aurora, who watch the unfolding war with morbid glee (and inject the show with its few moments of comedy).

While the crew of the Aurora are a little too resonant of the cast of Firefly (in costume, irreverence and plot), and this kind of fairytale reimagining has been done many times before, the sheer rip-roaring fun that The Mechanisms bring to it, and the grimly epic war-torn worlds they create, make for an entertaining hour of bloody dictators, plucky doomed rebels and doomed love.

Star Rating: 4/5

Once Upon a Time (in Space) is on at 5.30pm at Whynot?, 4th-25th August (no Tuesdays), FREE


Alternative Sex Education

Lashings of Ginger Beer Time, if you didn’t know, are a queer feminist burlesque troupe. In this, their latest show, they tackle the importance of good sex education, and the potential damage bad or nonexistent sex ed can do, with a mixture of hilarious sketches, songs and stand-up.

Some highlights are the sketch on female role models in pop culture (pointing out the successes and failings in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars amongst others), a Twilight themed version of Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ and a brilliant and educational ‘kink scouts’ skit. Plus Sally Outen’s stand-up on the distribution of snails by ‘overzealous gender warriors’ was hilarious. The show’s genuinely full of clever parody and funny lines.

There are some issues though, mainly with the show’s format and structure; it’s set up as a lesson in alternative sex education, but the show’s more pop-culture material isn’t as clearly linked into this mission statement as it could be. While a later tribute to young queer people makes it clear why inclusive and liberal sex ed and positive cultural role models are so vital, it comes a little too late to make all the material make sense.

There are also a few weaker numbers, some songs that aren’t as inspired (such as the opening ‘2012’ set to ‘America’ from Westside Story) and a couple of songs that were a little out of time or off-key.

But overall it’s a very good, very funny, and well-performed show that provides a real queer and kinky education and the information and message that it conveys make this a fundamentally important show if our society’s going to continue to progress.

Star Rating: 3/5 

Alternative Sex Education is on at 8.30pm at The Bongo Club, 3rd-17th August.


Jack Heal: Murderthon

Former Student Comedian of the Year (2008) Jack Heal’s show is a kind of stand-up storytelling, full of intricately written jokes and plays on language, amusing mime, and some groaningly good puns.

Presented as a kind of ‘found’ show, it revolves around a diary that Jack supposedly found on the train to Edinburgh and suddenly finds himself in. The plot is appropriately meta, with lots of nods to the diary’s written format, gags about storytelling, and the collision of fiction and reality. The jokes come fast and, well, not furious, but impressively ridiculously, and Jack has a very practiced and accessible manner that helps keep the audience engaged at all times.

Heal seems to have made the more confusing aspects of the plot more clear, and also made an effort to make the female characters less of a punch line than in previous incarnations of the show (but there are still several jokes about prostitutes and loose women).

It’s very strong, very clever, and I really liked the way the final twist was worked into the show throughout (and even made it into his request for donations).

The ending could have been a little bolder and more defined, but that doesn’t really detract from this superbly funny tale of meta-theatrical-murder.

Star Rating: 4/5

Jack Heal: Murderthon is on at 9.50pm, at the Banshee Labyrinth, 4th-14th August, FREE.