Reviews of the Ephemeral

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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.

Oddlie

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

 

Perle

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)

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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.

The Farrago Zoo Awards and New Year Slam 27/01/2012

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on March 8, 2012 at 2:20 am

@ The Rada Foyer Bar

– reviewed by Issy McKenzie –

This thing called ‘Slam’

When Sabotage asked me if I’d like to review a poetry slam, I had some reservations. My taste in literature runs out at around 1918, so I only had the vaguest idea what slam poetry was.

I had images of being put on the spot by people who knew ten times more about the subject than I did, or being exposed as a fraud and frogmarched out of the RADA foyer bar by beret-wearing bouncers who understood postmodernism. I even took notes on a few articles about performance poetry, presumably in case there was some sort of test.

When I reached the venue, though, I was very quickly put at my ease. People were friendly (even before I mentioned I was here as a reviewer) and more than happy to explain how things worked. There was definitely a real sense of community here; one that seemed happy to welcome newcomers into the fold.

Overview and a loving tribute

The first half of the show started with a tribute to Fran Landesman, nominated posthumously for Best Overall Performance/Reading, and I would encourage readers to look up the work of this highly talented lyricist. A smooth and uplifting performance from Sarah Moore, with Miles Davis Landesman accompanying.

Throughout the awards, which had been decided by online ballot, we were also treated to a number of non-competitive performances by nominees and winners. Highlights included Nia Barges highly charismatic deconstruction of the beauty myth, and Kemi Taiwo‘s flawless verbal barrage of anti-war protest, but these were by far not the only strong performances of the evening. I only wish I had the time and space to talk about them all.

The Awards

  • Best Performance by a UK Poet: Mark Niel from Milton Keynes, who encouraged the audience to “live every day like you just had your first kiss”, a polished performance showing a great deal of vocal versatility.
  • Best Performance by a performer working in English and another language: Susana Medina, with translator Rosie Marteau.
  • Best SLAM! Performance: Amy Acre, delivered to rapturous applause. Her performance of Blackbird, a highly sensual poem of sexual fluidity and self-doubt, did a lot to explain why she seemed to be a crowd favourite.
  • Best Farrago Debut Feature Performance: Amy McAllister. This Irish poet had a deceptively underwhelming stage presence; her visceral, earthy and fluent performance was one of the highlights of my evening.
  • Best Performance by a performer using spoken word, comedy or music: Miles Davis Landesman & ensemble. This was followed by a performance by Miles accompanying singer Kath Best. An enjoyable tribute. I would love to hear Kath singing from a more soulful repertoire, as it is clear this would suit her voice immensely.
  • Best Performance by an International poet: Penny Ashton (New Zealand), who sadly couldn’t be here tonight, due to the trains from New Zealand being delayed that evening.
  • Best Overall Performance/Reading: Fran Landesman, awarded posthumously for a performance at Farrago only days after the death of her husband. One poet remarked that it was “the most courageous performance [they] had ever seen”.

The Slam

The second half of the evening kicked off with performances by the hypnotic-voiced Abraham Gibson and UK Slam Champion Harry Baker.

If I still had lingering fears about slam being inaccessible to me, then Harry Baker‘s love poem about dinosaurs put them solidly to rest. With his strong geeky charisma and his talent for seamlessly combining rap influences with maths jokes, it is clear that this performer will go far.

Then came the competition.

It soon became clear that since I was neither performing in the slam, nor friends with anyone in the slam, nor “in a sordid sexual relationship with anyone in the slam” (I am not kidding, this was one of the criteria), I was one of the few people eligible to judge. I applaud this attempt at objectivity, although it was somewhat negated by the tendency of the audience to boo when lower-than-average scores were given. When this happens on X factor, I throw stuff at the screen, but I didn’t think that response would be appropriate here. Still, whilst perhaps meant in good humour, it is never conducive to a fair competition.

To the MC John Paul O’Neil‘s credit, the whole process was explained clearly, so even as a complete newcomer to slam I was able to pick it up very quickly. However, I did notice that the scores were perhaps more disparate than they should have been, which I learnt afterwards is a common phenomenon at slam events. This should probably have been explained to us on the night in order to avoid “score creep” (the process by which judges award higher scores as they have more fun and drinks – ed).

Highlights of the slam included Katrina Quinn, with a breathless and highly evocative performance that showed a lot of potential; Kathleen Stavert, whose fluent and conversational style made me want to hear more, and Lettie McKie, a first-time performer who delivered a highly promising ode to chefs, although her choice of subject matter didn’t grab me.

The Result

The winner, by .1 of a point, was Anthony Fairweather with an energetic and well-delivered image of the Olympics gone wrong. Anthony obviously has a great deal of potential as a comedy poet, and had the audience laughing a number of times. In retrospect, digs at “the health and safety brigade” are a little old even for this Victorian scholar, but that is my only real criticism. A well-deserved victory.

I have to confess, I expected to cringe a lot more than I did. My experiences of non-performance poetry groups and writers’ circles have occasionally been just short of traumatic. However, this was far from the case at Farrago. Although there were some weak performances, all of them had at least one positive aspect, and I even found myself awarding perfect tens to two separate poets.

There were fourteen participants in total, all of varying abilities. Although previous Sabotage reviews have criticised this aspect of Farrago slams, I think it has the advantage of making the slam seem accessible and welcoming to newcomers whilst still being entertaining for non-participants. Perhaps more experienced poets and performers might need to supplement their circuit with more selective events, but there is a definite sense of inclusion and community here, and I would definitely like to come back and attend in a non-reviewing capacity.

Conclusion: Any kind of intra-community “award ceremony” always risks being elitist, but the Farrago Zoo New Year Slam Awards successfully managed to avoid this. A highly enjoyable and accessible event. Clearly Farrago’s diversity is one of its strengths.

Sage and Time’s First Birthday @ The Charterhouse Bar 27/07/11

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on August 23, 2011 at 12:11 am

-Reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

I haven’t exactly been reticent on my love of Sage and Time. It’s a fantastic night run by Anna Le and the consistently jaw-dropping Dirty Hands collective.

And it was a charming celebration. Poets were welcomed individually, always with a smile and often with a hug, reminding me what makes S&T such a nurturing environment. Included in the ticket price was a glass of wine and a slice of cake, so we could all toast S&T’s first year in style, and the evening featured a smorgasboard of poetic talent with 29 poets performing in total. It was an extravaganza of poetry; a night filled with verse, love and the supportive atmosphere that makes Sage and Time so special.

The Host

  • Kat Francois was, um, wow. She brought this brazen energy and engaging off-the-cuff comedy to the evening. Some of her quips could’ve been horrendous if done by someone with less charisma, but, boy, does she make it work.
  • And her poem where she asserted ‘I’m a poetry whore’ was an insightful take on performing, with great rhythm to her sing-song delivery. She summed up how the microphone is a portal into you, but also a shield between you and the audience; how performing makes you the centre of attention, but also so nakedly vulnerable. In her capable voice, simply repetitions became repeated gasps leading up to the final ‘just so I can breath.’ Like many poets, she dedicated her poem to Anna Le. ‘Cos Anna’s lovely.

Odes to Sage and Time

A goodly number of poets performed pieces inspired by S&T itself. With excellent result.

  • Will Stopha: A former host of S&T, his beautiful phrasing was a loving and clever look back, referencing so many of the poets who helped make S&T the success it is. He’s giving up hosting duties for now and it was a touching goodbye.
  • Anna Le: Anna’s poem ‘Beautiful People’ again referenced a lot of the S&T regulars, and it summed itself up sumptuously. Anna, like the people she referenced, made ‘verbs do things verbs don’t usually do’. I was tempted to just ask her for a copy of the poem and post that instead of this review.
  • Richard Marsh: His repeated rhyme on Anna Le’s name was an amazing embrace of a poem for Anna, the S&T poets and poetry itself. Joy.

Assorted Poets

  • Mr G’s poem on the Olympics, on Jesse Owen ‘the Running Man’ was flowing, strong, and used the Olympics as an effective metaphor for political unrest.
  • The Wizard of Skill’s my radio was typical of his style. Loudly and confidently performed, lots of repetition, and I’m sure there’s a point hidden there somewhere.
  • James Webster’s ‘That’s Why the Lady is a Cunt’ was delivered with passion and earnestness, but his delivery was stilted and would’ve been better if he’d learnt the poem.
  • Kai Kamikaze’s ‘Heroin Diaries’ was very evocative of his time ‘living on bastard street’, but I feel there could’ve been more to it.
  • Did I mention that I love Donall Dempsey and Janice Windle? Because I do. They’re fast building a reputation as the first couple ofLondonpoetry. And their combined set really showed off their interplaying verse and personalities. From Donall’s ‘Kiss Kiss and Cuddles Man’ (as all the good superheroes are taken) to Janice’s joyously near-explicit poem on the sex you shouldn’t have above the age of 40, they are riotously lovable.
  • Vanessa’s emotive ‘lunchtime playground romance’ was a thought-provoking poem on childhood serenity and bullying; it had a great flow and fiery delivery.
  • Richard Marsh’s second poem (see above) made one thing clear: he likes fools. It was an empowering and charmingly clever rallying call for the fools of this world. ‘Rejoice, you mucky-faced adventurers’ indeed.
  • JazzMan John is part of the S&T fixtures. His ‘July Poem’ was spat out with driving momentum, an ode to anyone in need of an ode. Frankly I was disappointed that we didn’t all run out and commit immediate acts of civil disobedience.
  • Jethro’s piece about an audition from the POV of a pretentious director deftly combined a plethora of meaningless theatrical jargon, but didn’t quite come alive for me.
  • Peter Hayhoe was one of many to spank, sorry, thank Anna Le for putting S&T together. ‘Pinch’ was a poem for fighting for your place and finding it. It did make me want to ‘grab [my] pen and paper and go to war’.
  • Mark Thompson’s ‘Dance for Dancing’s Sake’ was at once both beautifully awkward and at one with its own rhythm. He hosts Bang Said the Gun, by the way.
  • Katy Bonna’s ‘Organs’ was a highlight, on the idea of two peoples’ hearts and minds sneaking off together. Its irregular beat beats in compliment to the theme, backed up by some choice words.
  • Lionheart was odd. Some truly original imagery was coupled with hyperbolic bitterness and it seemed his poem could be summed up as ‘other guys don’t respect you, but I respect you, so why aren’t you sleeping with me?’ Also see: Nice Guy TM.
  • Anna Le claimed not to be very good with words. She lied. She performed “I am Many Rivers’, the first poem I ever heard her perform and the reason I came to Sage & Time in the first place. I loved it then and I love it now. Her language, her delivery, it’s delectable, personal and personable. You can feel the rivers of culture and history that she speaks of flowing through her voice.
  • Lisa Handy managed to fake an orgasm onstage and have it not be embarrassing. Her poem was sexual and explicit, without being sleazy, her words were loaded, dripping with tension, and felt like she was caressing you with poetry (and I don’t think I know her well enough to be comfortable with that).
  • While Amy Acre was performing, a bottle of champagne spontaneously erupted. I’m not even exaggerating, that happened. Her first poem where she affirmed ‘this, poetry, this is mine’ was a poem ingrained in the bone, a shout of joy for having a voice. I’m surprised all the champagne didn’t pop.
  • Will Stopha was armed only with his own beat-boxing and a ‘key-chordian’ and performed some layered poetry/music/audience interaction hybrid, recording the audience and playing them back as his own chorus. Amazing rhythm, wording and content; he made me believe London is indeed a city that’s ‘got more ideas than pigeons’. Top drawer.

In the end

I wish I could fit all the poets into this review. Sadly, I can’t, so what you’ve read is a brief summary of the highlights of S&T’s first birthday. It was a magically inclusive night. While I can’t say all of the poets wowed me, most of them did.

And that’s all I really hope for. Plus a little bit more.

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

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

-Reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

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

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

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

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

His style:

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

His simplicity:

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

His cleverness:

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

His jokes:

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

His problems:

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

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

Superbard (and the Sexy Quantum Stories)

Was vastly entertaining.

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

The multimedia:

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

The plot:

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

The performance:

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

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

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