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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.

Others:

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.

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Edinburgh Reviews Day 4, part 2: They Came With Outer Script, Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word and Flea Circus Open Slam

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 5, 2012 at 8:15 pm

– reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj –

Last week we reviewed a selection of Edinburgh Previews. We enjoyed them so much that this week Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster, and curmudgeonly 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 all-body yodelling)

They Came With Outer Script

This improv show from Asterix Theatre was full of amused giggles, ridiculous guffaws and the occasional big belly laugh. Performing an improvised B Movie they used audience suggestion, amusingly daft sound effects and a small child’s balloons to craft a suitably silly story about firefighters, arson and princesses.

While some of the improv was shaky, and the performers definitely could have been more confident and quicker on their feet, they had enough imaginative improvising to tease a lot of comedy out of the ideas. If they’d been a bit more vocally assertive, stumbled a bit less and the ‘director’ had controlled the proceedings with a bit more incisiveness it could’ve been great. But their enthusiasm and self-referential humour means it’s still a lot of fun.

Star Rating: 3/5

The Came With Outer Script is on at 1.05pm at Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 3rd-11th August.

 

Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word

The brainchild of Fay Roberts, organiser of Cambridge’s Hammer & Tongue chapter, the point of Other Voices is to showcase the voices that are seldom represented in the Spoken Word genre. It was really cool to be a gig where the female performers outnumbered the middle class white men, and the format of 2 guest poets (Lucy Ayrton and Ruth E Dixon), open mic and then a feature poet (Mark Grist), all with Fay’s smooth hosting and some of her delectable poetry.

Fay’s jazzy beat-style opening was a lovely lyrical slice of nostalgia, while her ‘I Want More’ is a right-on indictment of how women’s magazines attempt to dictate appearance and lifestyle (‘I’d rather buy drums than a chemical peel’), with nice nods to anti-consumerism and exploring the idea of media using such magazines as a smokescreen to distract from other issues. Her final piece, using audience clapping in a 4/4 beat, was also ace, as Fay hit the beats with staccato lyricism, crafting an electric poem of streets and crowds.

Lucy Ayrton performed ‘I Want Never Gets’, following an ever-climbing progression of the lessons we learn growing up as we realise the world gets ever more unfair (‘and then I learned the law, so I didn’t need to tell right from wrong any more’), and summarising the ways in which she wants more from the world, covering a variety of issues insightfully and amusingly. While ‘Missing You’ was a sweet and clever little poem with some lovely lines (‘I can craft a text message with the love of a jeweller’) and her poem ‘The Nightingale’ is a haunting and powerful story of ‘the sweetest affair’ between a lady and a knight, complete with her silky singing voice. Lucy’s show Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry is also on at the Banshee Labyrinth until the 14th (reviewed here).

Ruth E Dixon had some amusing poems on her children, ‘School Hour’s Breakdown’ was very funny with some great lines (‘Look at me, I’ve done a wee on the kitchen floor! Look at me, I’m three!’). She introduced her final poem by wondering why lots of her colleagues think she’s a feminist and after the poem I honestly wasn’t sure myself. ‘A Weather Girl’s Got to Have Tits’ was a sad piece of objectification, the playful tone and language of which (‘with the help of her rack, this cold spell’s less cack’) couldn’t make up for the way it reduced women to their bodily parts. It felt like something out of a Lad’s Mag and didn’t sit with the event’s mission statement at all.

Open Mic

There was only one open mic’er on the day, and that was Alec, who did an entertaining poem about bus banners arguing about religion, and Edinburgh’s new tram arriving to be hailed as a saviour.

Feature

Mark Grist (whose solo show Rogue Teacher we have already reviewed and is well worth seeing) gave a really entertaining set, his grubby love poem to the city of Peterborough (‘enjoy romantic nights out at the dog track’) is a lot of fun, with his affectionate vision of a town that may not be amazing, but is clearly his. His piece on upper-class condescending attitudes towards teaching is also a great piece, a big screw you to people who believe the idea of Broken Britain, and also an inspiring take on the effort teaching takes, but the important changes it can make. An amazingly sleazy and grimy sounding character piece followed, on male attitudes towards girls in clubs, and it was so effective I felt the need to shower afterwards, while his final poem ‘A Girl Who Reads’ is one that I have some problems with, but it’s still very well performed and a great tonic to Dixon’s earlier sexism.

For this style of show it seems unfair to judge just by the performers of the day, so we’re giving two scores: one for the show’s format and mission, the other for the day’s performers.

Performers’ Star Rating: 3/5 (Ruth E Dixon dragged it way down)

Show Star Rating: 4/5 (really well executed show with an admirable mission statement and FREE SWEETS)

Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word is on at 2.50pm at the Banshee Labyrinth 4th-25th August (not Wednesdays), FREE

 

Flea Circus Open Slam

Another Tea Fuelled Art creation, this event was fun and fast-paced, embracing the slam format with gusto.

Lucy Ayrton popped up again (fresh from Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry) and hosted with slightly flustered efficiency, handling the audience with practiced charm. She also acted as ‘sacrificial poet’, and her ‘I Don’t Hate Men, Just You’ was a tongue-trippingly amusing and perceptive defence of feminism.

The Slam

Kevin Acott’s poems had nice lines (‘cherry breath of encouragement’) but he wasn’t practiced enough and his two pieces (one on fancying a riding instructor, the other on a ponderous park walk) were a little overlong and lacked focus. Score: 14

Robert Alcott’s piece the Spanish occupy movement (15th of May) was a cool piece on the unglamorous reality and frustrated potential of revolution, but it felt like it never got going and a forgetful performance didn’t help. Score: 16

Hannah Elwick’s poem to a lover, continually promising to better herself was awesomely sad, her repeated ‘I promise’ providing a continued punch to each self-erasing declaration. Could’ve done with a bit more to drive the point home. Score: 19

Henry Raby is currently performing Letter to the Man from the Boy at the Underbelly. His piece reimagining a breakup as various different film genres was clever, well-performed and sadly amusing. Score: 22

Matthew West’s ‘Anametics’ was a great exercise in wordplay and language, crafting a 26-line piece, in which each line uses only words starting with that letter of the alphabet, about animals. Great performance, but felt pointless to me. Score: 23

Result: West wins by a point, but Raby goes through to the final on the 14th as West won’t be in Edinburgh.

Feature: Richard Tyrone Jones, the poetic giant who organised the entire Spoken Word section of the Fringe gave a set filled with surreal humour, occasional filth (especially his poem on Richard Dawkins’s sex life) and a poem called ‘Heartstopper’ (from his show Richard Tyrone Jones has a Big Heart) that had a dangerous frenetic energy and brilliantly painful language to it.

Performers’ Star Rating: 3/5

Show Star Rating: 4/5

The Flea Circus Open Slam is on at 7.3opm at Banshee Labyrinth, 4th-14th August, FREE!

The Word House 28/04/12

In Performance Poetry on May 29, 2012 at 11:51 pm

– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj –

@ The Gallery Cafe

Host: Dan Simpson who was congenial and subtle as Jeeves, introducing acts and letting them take the limelight. His two poems were comic and warmed the crowd: from the chronically silly “Place in the Sun”, (which isn’t much fun, truth be told) to “Ride”, which used the fourth wall like a trellis: playing with “a lazy stereotype” objecting to zebras “coming over here, taking out metaphors from hard working animals, like a badger or some such”.

The Night itself: Was definitely enthusiastically attended, to the degree that all space in the location had transformed into a crowd in variations of sitting and standing. DJ Able performed during breaks that gave the event a trendy bar atmosphere. The performing poets tended towards short, punchy lines of varying efficacy.

Features:

  • Emma Jones has a great stage presence and uncanny ability to take on accents that bring characters to life in fast paced and exhilarating poems. Performing a mix of old favourites and the newly written, her exuberant delivery had the audience in stitches, following every word.
  • Her Love Song to Hull was particularly memorable, chronicling a teenage girl’s night out, from club to someone’s home to being blissed out on a pill (“I’m made of light and diamonds and songs”), Jones’ delivery transporting us to every moment.
  • GCSE, drawing from teaching experience, was a nice take on SE London youth vocabulary (“you should ‘low it, Miss”), as her students tell her of the things they’d rather be doing than Drama.
  • Another old poem was to Shoreditch House (reviewed previously), taking on the home turf of the “twaterrati” in a personable manner (“fuck me! This is a pricy venue!”).
  • Her newest poem was more political. Raging against Michael Gove with her “best angry teacher death stare”, she responds to his academy opening speech by “[plotting] to train children to take back what’s theirs” from a world unfairly stacked against them. Truly a passionate teacher’s lament for the children who grow between “the gaps in the curriculum”. 
  • Sabrina Mahfouzis fantastic at creating poems that encapsulate crowds of disparate people reacting to the same stimulus. Starting with a poem set in the changing room of a nightclub, she channels several women using “down another hole”, adjusting their belts with varying aims, from the frantic to the sultry, crossing oceans in accents.
  • In an excerpt from Dry Ice (her solo show, sadly just finishing at the Bush Theatre), she revisits knowledge of strippers describing the various types of customer with unerring accuracy, conjuring them in our minds, from the “knobs with families”, the stereotypical skin-crawling creeps who call them “good girl”, the millionaire dream “removed from real world” who “just likes to give”, and the young twats who ask what their mums think of what they do (they’ve “got a nice girl at home like you”). Such specimens of mankind.
  • Mark Grist has a down-to-earth quality about his poetry and delivery that makes him appealing to his audiences. He often has an accessible humour, effectively using self-imposed poetical restrictions like rhyme schemes (“the hottest of all the gingers” is rhymed with “that list what was Schindler’s” at one point) or his (quite impressive) univocalism. (His popularity on Youtube probably speaks for itself in this regard).
  • Of the poems he performed tonight, my favourite was his enthusiastically performed The Fens (using only words with ‘e’), a surreal tale of a couple camping with a horror-twist ending, where a “beefy yet nerdy” Stephen becomes an entrée for his beloved.
  • Girls Who Read was a sweet poem used as a response (in the spirit d’escalier) to being asked what he goes for in a girl, again has humour shining through (classics are lauded because they’re “dirty”). While it could be argued that he’s just objectifying a different aspect of women than their “tits or arse”, he keeps it insightful and comic.
  • He also performed his poem about Beth Builder, a formative unrequited crush in primary school. He does well to encapsulate the bluntness of children with her voice, like nails on chalkboard, as she tells him to “piss off, cabbagehead”.

Open Mic:

  • Zia Ahmed had a Milton Jones-esque take on popular expressions and pop culture references (as diverse as Monty Python, Byker Grove and the funny bone books). With a hectic narrative of short, rhyming phrases, he effectively destroyed the comfort zones of familiar expressions (Um Bongo’s jingle led to child soldiers).
  • Jill Abram attempted to conjure the scenes visible from a train’s window in ‘On the 10.22’. Using a list format, there could have been more of a coherent transition from the urban to the rural via the gradual suburbia (“sundials, aerials, satellite dish”). As it was, the journey seemed indistinct.
  • Jack Dean‘s fantastic”Let There Be Light” was a fiery defence of youth and life from “hipster angels”. Concluding powerfully, (“It’s our generation to fuck up”), it’s a love letter to the “vast, pointless gorgeousness of it all”.
  • Billy Hicks took us on a whistle-stop tour of pop-cultural signposts for those who were born in the 80s but children of the 90s. He listed age appropriate nostalgia bait like Super Nintendo, listening moodily to Keane as a teen, and discovering himself in his twenties in a cheerful and highly personable manner.
  • Sarah Chapman had never performed before and sadly, it showed. It would have been stronger had she stuck to fewer poems; as such, the poems were over before they began. The most substantial, “Since We’ve Met“, had the narrator growing distant through insecurity about a woman with a “river-filled brain” who can be glamorous despite living “in a shithole”.
  • Janek Gossetthad an interesting take on Icarus, plummeting from the sky having seen a “glimpse of god”. An adrenaline fuelled fall, filled with dense imagery, that questioned the truth of narrative and gave Icarus a new life: phoenix-like, with “wings earned through strife and dreams of change”.
  • Richard Tyrone Jonesperformed a poem from his show, RTJ has a Big Heart (touring this year, preview in June), called “Heartstopper”. With good modulation, his rhythm matched the state of his heart: slowed by drugs and sped by adrenaline. (it also had echoes of sitcom humour: the cardiac arrest was brought on by a particularly sexy student nurse.)
  • Da Poet‘s “The Significance of Being Insignificant” was absolutely fantastic. With fluent and passionate wordplay, he urged us to set aside the differences of the Abrahamic religions and become a “resisting filament resisting belligerent militants” together, not divided by faith or race. A highlight of the night.
  • Oh Standfast‘s delivery (example) reminded me somewhat of the Wizard of Skill. Short phrases, repetition and shouting made the randomness and mundanity almost absurd, with a mildly threatening undercurrent in the refrain (“check you out with your…”), which was received with laughter.

It was a lively and enjoyable night, so do check their facebook page for when it’s next on. I believe it’s their anniversary in July, so that should be something special.

Utter Nutters @ the Green Note Cafe 07/06/11

In Performance Poetry on July 25, 2011 at 11:25 pm

-Reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

Dear Utter: Spoken Word,

Re: Your ‘Utter Nutters’ event, 06/07/11

I apologise that it has taken me so long to write this review, Utter, but, well, I’ve been dreading it. You see, I like writing reviews, I like trying to capture a poet’s style and performance. But I had such a bad time at ‘Utter Nutters’, your night dedicated to the theme of mental health, that I honestly had no idea how to put it into words.

You had promise. Your monthly events on selected themes ensure variety and can keep you on the pulse of society with events like ‘Utter: Coalition’, where your use of Alternative Vote to decide the winner of the Paid Gig Competition helped your event interact with the events of the day.

And the Paid Gig Competition! You give talented poets the chance to get paid to perform for the first time. As your website claims, you really do nurture new talent.

And it wasn’t all bad. It’s just that the good poets made the bad ones seem so much worse.

The Good

There was a little. But for the sake of positivity it will take up the majority of this review.

  • Cat Brogan’s cameo was a highlight with ‘I had a dream last night’. She skillfully weaved parallels between people with mental health issues, immigrants, those living below the poverty line; all groups who are made ‘other’ by their differences. It was very neat and very moving.
  • Rosy Carrick the co-host of Hammer & Tongue Brighton was excellent. The only truly excellent poet of the night in my opinion. She gave us an insight into stalking and psychological obsession. She tells us there are 2 kinds of stalking: the bad kind ends in death; the good kind does not. She practices the good kind.
  • Her first poem ‘Trochee’ was a joyous tale of twisted, kinky, obsessive weird-love. The idea of a woman in love with a train-spotter who ‘took her interest for abuse’ was well-expressed in beautifully awkward fashion.
  • Her 2nd was apparently based on host Richard Tyrone Jones’s false hand. It was resonant of Tom Lehrer, was very   funny and an intriguing take on getting over your past obsessions in sometimes grotesque fashion.
  • Her 3rd, on stalking Vladimir Maikovsky (posthumously) was odd, beautiful and really quite sensual.
  • Her final poem ‘Cat-Sitting for Nick Cave’ was (once more) surreal and so much fun. The narrator claims to be cat sitting for Nick Cave and so posts catfood through the letterbox and must intercept the postman to maintain the façade. All illustrated with Rosy’s odd little turns of phrase, like ‘like a magician I torture the thought that something’s about to fall’.
  • Dan Simpson the winner of May’s Paid Gig Competition. His poems were tight and well thought out. Especially good was his Mathematics love poem was filled with clever maths and physics puns, creating a lovely new language of scientifically expressed love.
  • In comparison his ‘Girl’ was a little prosaic and a little creepy. And his ‘We’ve Changed’, about being changed by your ex, had a good performance, but was an overplayed sentiment.
  • But his final poem on feeling sorry for the orange ghost in Pacman brought him back to his geeky and sweet best. Did you know the orange ghost is called (in different places and languages) ‘slow’, ‘stupid’, ‘crybaby’ and ‘clyde’? Now I do. And he managed to make me feel impressively sorry for poor ‘Clyde’.
  • Richard Tyrone Jones, the host. He was engaging and frequently funny. He had a genuine interest in the night’s mental health theme (he himself is Bi-Polar) and his material engaged with it frankly and intelligently.
  • His poem on male suicide was a strong start, encapsulating the urge to drastic action just to reach some resolution, but finding only separation.
  • His second on senile dementia was just as cheery. Sorry, I mean, heart-wrenchingly and soulfully depressing. It was horribly moving and captured an image of a life replayed and remembered in fragments.
  • His third, on his own manic phases, was a powerful performance that encapsulated how a manic phase can make you feel like you can (and almost have to) do anything, and also of the strengths needed just to go about a normal day.

It was a shame his enthusiasm for the, ahem, less enjoyable poets made his taste seem suspect and gave the whole mess of an evening a bizarrely self-congratulatory tone.

The Ok

  • Anthony Fairweather peaked with his first poem that segued neatly from intro into verse. It had a great rhyme and rhythm that really churned the poem along. That rhythm and superb performance kept going through all his poems, but often they seemed to lack meaning, acting as more of a vehicle for his verbal dexterity and aptitude for tongue-twisting rhyme.
  • Clare Saponia who played along to her poetry on some kind of strange and tiny stringed instrument, gave us ‘Good Medicine’ a deeply depressing meditation on medication and therapy. It was bleakly and rhythmically discordant, a haunting way to express the methods used to get people to cope for a little while before being discarded by the system. It just seemed like it needed a little more polish and accessibility as she didn’t quite keep the audience with her.

Sadly, due to the frankly horrendous standards of the vast majority of the night I am forced to submit the following invoice.

The Invoiced

Description: Hours of My Life

Amount: 1.5

Breakdown:

Helen Burke: 5 mins

(Her poem consisting of Eastenders jokes did not justify the time taken.)

Liz Bentley: 40mins

(A psychotherapist by day and poet by night: she managed to offend me several times. Her poems were mostly condescending and obvious, filled with barely thought through opinions and vacuous truisms. So bad I felt compelled to argue with her during her set.)

Ashley Reaks: 40mins

(Nonsensical poetry; distorted recordings of his own voice; twisted puppets of his grandmother reading nonsense football scores; and he tried to market his album as a suicide aid, which was in quite impressively horrible taste.)

Sid Ozalid: 5mins

(Has a new book out in support of MIND, which is getting some very positive reviews. Here he suffered from an overly long preamble, a strange sense of humour, and a pretense that a ‘quirky’ style and jokes about Adam West make good poetry.)

To be paid by: time travel. Or some other quantum chicanery.

Conclusion: There were some mitigating factors to ‘Utter Nutters’ but they were far outweighed by a night that really did make me wish for those hours of my life back. The worst part? They get Arts Council funding to book this dross.

In fairness it’s entirely possible this night was atypical of Utter and the usual standard is higher than this, and, call me a glutton for punishment, I will be back to see if they can do better. I just don’t really want to.