Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Superbard’

‘The Monster Opera’ by Nancy Stohlman

In Flash on September 4, 2013 at 1:20 pm

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

Following on their first flash novel, Matthew Ankeny’s The Rink, Bartleby Snopes Press is releasing a second title in the series, Nancy Stohlman’s The Monster Opera, ‘a flash novel in two acts’. Structurally, Stohlman’s work mixes operatic libretto and sheet music with production reviews, wrapped up within a self-reflexive narrative that centres on a forbidden story. Or as the writer character of Ursula Leonard announces in the ‘Overture’, regarding The Monster Opera, ‘I hate this story. I hate the Muse. […] Now it’s a bastard deformity. Not an opera, not a novel. I wish I’d never written the first word. I had no idea what kind of monster I was growing.’

The Monster Opera Nancy Stohlman

The first act of this flash novel thus consists mainly of the interactions between Ursula and the opera singers that she has come to stay with, tenor Libretto Santiago and soprano Magdalena Santiago (née Basco), as Ursula is seduced into writing their story. Libretto demands Ursula’s loyalty in exchange for giving her the story, offering her a final chance to ‘leave this place, leave [his] bed, leave this house and find [her]self another’. Right after she agrees to pay the price, the narrative interrupts to warn Libretto:

This is the final moment before the story changes hands, the moment your ego has done you in. You’re too infatuated to think straight, you find the prospect of becoming a character romantic and appealing, you want to be immortalized in words, you want to feel that your story is worth taking. Later, when it’s too late, you’ll forget that you gave it willingly. I warned you.

The story in question is akin to a living organism, casting its pall on the Santiago household, or as Ursula writes, ‘The whole family suffered from sad sickness.’ It is literally transmitted from Libretto to Ursula through a bite, continuing to gestate inside her: ‘The Forbidden Story grew inside of me. My breasts were stretched and sore. […] The story was growing stronger; it was swelling, transforming.’ It gradually becomes clear that what is being transmitted is really a poisoned chalice, in that it confers preternatural talent on those it infects, since Libretto received it from his father and went on to become the world’s greatest tenor, but ‘he [also] felt the monster stir’ inside him. In the case of Ursula, she writes, ‘The monster lives in me, wants to escape, wants to take over my body and mind.’

The final piece of the puzzle slides into place at the end of the flash novel’s first act, with the appearance of The Traitor, who also demands the deadly gift from Libretto. It is quickly revealed that The Traitor is in fact Ursula’s husband, Hugo, seemingly written into existence in the role by the Forbidden Story’s manipulation of Ursula (‘It’s growing on its own now’). In its second act, The Monster Opera shifts into a more surreal mode, as the walls between fiction and reality begin to break down, and the Forbidden Story writes itself towards a gruesome end for all involved: ‘The poet writhes and expels the story she is not allowed to write […] rotted, bloated chunks of paper that leave a strong odor.’

What is most fascinating about Stohlman’s work is how freely it shifts back and forth between different artistic forms, the whole package compressed into the length of a short story. Given its usage of sheet music, it would have been interesting to see an e-book produced that incorporated performances of those songs, in a similar fashion to what happens in Superbard’s The Flood. However, while Stohlman herself has acknowledged the potential of The Monster Opera as a performance piece, having done a staged reading with composer Nick Busheff and a small cast, she also sees it first and foremost as a written work. In that respect, The Monster Opera is a bold attempt to carve out a space for the flash novel as a distinct category within the fiction landscape. In doing so, the work also raises questions about how art forms like opera can sustain an existence today, as well as the sacrifices demanded of those involved in the act of creating art.


Saboteur Awards 2013: Fiction

In Saboteur Awards on June 5, 2013 at 11:10 am

-In which Richard T. Watson sums up the Fiction side of the Saboteur 2013 Awards

A Sabotuer rosette, from @jsamlarose's Twitter

A Sabotuer rosette, from @jsamlarose’s Twitter

The first of the Fiction stable’s awards was for the Best Short Story Collection by a single author. Four out of five nominees were traditionally-printed books, while one (Superbard’s The Flood) was designed specifically for the iPad and featured a range of interactive multimedia elements. Our voters listed its advantages as: ‘Imagination, lyricism and originality – merging classic storytelling and classic stories with a modern, nerdy scientist twist and a wicked sense of humour.’ and ‘Because it’s simply brilliant, adored the story telling and the little sea shanty, singer had a great voice. Loved it and want more please.’

The titles alone in this category deserve some awards. From The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes to Tania Hershman’s My Mother was an Upright Piano and the winner, All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten by Tony Williams, all were quirky but somehow appropriate. Meanwhile, Fog and Other Stories featured (as described by anonymous voters) a ‘Fascinating collection of stories and images of “fog” in all its forms. Ms. Egan has a great way of expressing the personalities of the characters’ in a collection that is ‘metaphorically alluring and humanistic’.

Our voters thought Syllabus deserved to win because ‘[Stokes is] a proper, bastard, full bore writer. These are stories that are true to themselves whilst showing a wide, deep range of influence and level of expressive dexterity. They’re an antidote to all the lame, colourless half formed stories[…]

Voter comments for My Mother… focused on the originality of Hershman’s writing, her ‘stunning prose’, ‘fresh, new voice’ and her stories as ‘little nuggets of solid gold, always witty, wise and warm’, with one saying: ‘Flash fiction can never get better than this. Tania is an exceptionally talented writer – someone to watch out for.’

But the winner was Tony Williams, for some of the following reasons:
‘Because the stories are rich with surprises and they are silly and clever and fun and disturbing. They take you in unexpected directions and you want to go on reading – that’s why it should win.’
‘Tony Williams is really an extremely cool dude. As well as being a super original and funny writer he’s also a really engaging performer. I’m really excited his short fiction’s being published… and by Salt, too!’

saboteur awards - short story collection

The nominees for our Best Magazine Award ranged from the long-running Rising, to the very new, like Lummox and the Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Art, or Alliterati with its focus on young writers, via last year’s Saboteur Award winners Armchair/Shotgun, with their third issue. All of them feature a range of short fiction, poetry and often visual artwork, sometimes with non-fiction in the form of interviews or reviews.

Lummox and Lakeview both had their first issues nominated, with voter comments highlighting Lummox’s quality of entries. Lakeview, the category’s runner-up, was described as ‘A diverse blend of traditional and experimental arts. Beautifully illustrated. Excellent work by new and established writers.’ and our review indicated it had promise to go on to even better things, echoing the anonymous comment that Lakeview was ‘A breath of fresh air, no clichés and obvious choices. Here to stay.’

The tenth issue of Alliterati was described as ‘A beautiful magazine created by passionate people, with pretty much no funding. Shows a true passion for the arts’ and praised for bringing ‘art and creative writing together in an innovative way and inspires people across the globe! A great use of the new digital marketplace!’ Comments also stressed the varied nature of the magazine’s content and readership.

The follow-up to last year’s winner, Armchair/Shotgun #2, was the third edition of the Brooklyn-based magazine, described as having ‘A continued dedication to both a fantastic product and the kind of writing that makes you feel publishing isn’t dead.’ Other praise declared: ‘They have a strong vision, strong writing and art, and their interview feature is especially strong.’

Maybe longevity gave the edge to winner (by just four votes), Rising, with many voter comments stressing a consistency and a willingness to take risks. One longer comment runs: ‘Rising has always unfailingly supported new and emerging writers alongside more established ones. Rising is brave and doesn’t shy away from bold subject matter or experimental forms. Every issue feels new, not just on the pulse, but Rising feels as if it were the pulse itself.’

Best Magazine Rising

Our category for Best Fiction Anthology catered for multiple-authored collections of short fiction, sometimes organised around a theme by an editor or publisher, but always representing the best of a wide range of submissions.

We had the world’s first ‘post-experimental’ collection from Bartleby Snopes, Post-Experimentalism, with its stated aim of providing literary satisfaction while transcending storytelling genres. Voters emphasised its innovation, with one saying: ‘Not only is this an innovative and entertaining anthology, but Post-Experimentalism seeks to bring forth a new movement in the literary world.’

The Dalkey Archive anthology, Best European Fiction 2013, is the latest in an annual series by the American publisher, showcasing what they consider to be the best foreign-language fiction in English translation. Voters called it diverse, refreshing and an ‘incredibly important anthology of fiction in translation, refreshing the staid Anglo scene. High production values (as ever) from Dalkey, bringing a diversity of voices and styles that expand the mind and bookshelf.’

The young, Scarborough-based Valley Press put forward an anthology featuring young writers under the age of twenty-five writing about their take on modern society. Front Lines was praised for the vitality of its young writers, with our own review expressing relief that the short story was in good hands with a new generation. One voter commented that: ‘The quality of work in both the writing and the editing in Front Lines by Valley Press is testament to how well small publishers can do in this new age of publishing.’

The category’s runner-up was Unthology #3, the third anthology from Unthank Books, and the third to be well-received by a Sabotage reviewer. Voters praised the variety and experimental nature of stories, as well as the overall quality and cohesiveness of the anthology as a whole. One described it as: ‘A variety of fresh new British writing talent is given vital oxygen by this consistently high quality volume’. Another said ‘the third collection picks up where the second left off and goes further still. Wonderful and eclectic. Can’t wait for the fourth.’

The theme for the winner was clear. Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud falls very much within the oral/aural storytelling mould, with stories deliberately designed for reading out loud – whether in the reader’s head or literally out loud – and short enough to appear in front of an audience without them getting restless. Editor Jonathan Taylor’s introduction places the collection in a tradition stretching back at least as far as Dickens’ public performances of his novels, and probably as far as primitive camp fire storytellers. Voters commented on the range and breadth of stories and of writers, as well as the collection’s more-ish nature. One said: ‘This collection deserves to win because, quite simply, the quality of the writing is very high throughout, as opposed to in part, which is so often the case with fiction anthologies. Credit must go to Salt Publishing. They have quickly become synonymous with unearthing new talent and this collection builds on that reputation.’

Best Fiction Anthology: Overheard

The Best Novella category also featured a young field, including Sally Ashton, Luke Kennard, Alan Cunningham, Jason Rolfe and Django Wylie.

Sally Ashton’s Controller told the story of a young English woman paying her way as an artistic life model in Spain. It never shies away from the visceral, and is a graphic tale of eroticism and exploitation. One voter said: ‘This is one of the most unique and disturbing stories I have read in a very long time. Clever, erotic, and disturbing.’

Django Wylie’s The Middle strikes a chord with disappointed commuters everywhere, with our reviewer calling it a ‘stunning novella, sometimes heartbreaking, but always funny’. One voter said: ‘Such wonderful language and and an extremely enjoyable read. Left me wanting more!’, with another calling it a ‘great intelligent piece of writing’.

Runner-up Alan Cunningham’s Count from Zero to One Hundred is an intimate exploration of the life of a disabled male narrator, praised by voters for its honesty and insight. Its autobiographical feel extends to memoir-like passages and almost travel-writing sections as the narrator encounters the cities of London, Dublin, Budapest and Berlin. One voter said ‘The subject matter is at times painfully honest and the writing style captivating and entertaining’, and another that the novella was ‘thought-provoking and poetic. Something truly special which stays with you’.

In his first foray into prose writing, Holophin, Luke Kennard creates a believable sci-fi future-world where nations have been superseded by corporations and everyone carries a personal, semi-autonomous computer behind their ear. Voters praised the originality, wit and humour of Holophin. One voter described it thus: ‘It’s a small but terrifying satire, an ingenious idea, with all kinds of philosophical consequence, and it rips along joyfully and oddly, with some brilliant handbrake turns (the Proppian folktale for god’s sake!). It’s just ingenious, cleverly playful and masterfully unsung about itself.’

Both the runner-up and the winner were published by Penned in the Margins, who went on to collect the award for Most Innovative Publisher. Unthank Books were also nominated in three different categories.

Best Novella Holophin

‘The Flood’ by Superbard (George Lewkowicz)

In Interactive Literature, Saboteur Awards, Short Stories on April 21, 2013 at 1:57 pm

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

What is particularly interesting about The Flood is how it translates the live storytelling experience into a digitally portable medium. For instance, the first story ‘Dr Who and the Water’ was performed by Superbard (aka George Lewkowicz) at the Birkbeck Writer’s Hub October Hubbub last year, and he plans to continue performing stories from The Flood around the UK. At the moment, the ebook features three stories by Superbard and illustrations by Maria Forrester, accompanied by music and narration from the former. The latest update in iBooks added music and narration for the third story, ‘The Ark’, plus a burst of social commentary in the form of new song, ‘Two by Two’.
The Flood - Superbard
A complaint that is sometimes levelled at digital storytelling is that it resorts to gimmickry, privileging the manipulation of form at the expense of good stories. Thankfully, there is no danger of that in The Flood. Opening story ‘Dr Who and the Water’ nicely sets up the arrival of the titular flood. Rather than spend time trying to explain why the flood has happened, the story self-assuredly brings the reader into a remoulded reality where London is ‘Venice with no buildings’, and everyone is still unconcernedly going about their business, including watching the Doctor’s onscreen triumph. (I would quibble with the story’s referencing a particular Doctor Who episode though, since that so precisely dates the story’s time setting.)

‘Brixton’s Afloat’ is my favourite story of the three, due in no small part to its catchy refrain (vocals by Nikki Blemings):

Now that Brixton’s afloat will you lay your body next to mine,
And we’ll sink to the bottom of the sea.
For now my darling we should smother ourselves in brine,
Now that Brixton’s afloat upon the sea.

The story itself is told in a familiar form, making use of diary entries, but even the tiniest detail like how the narrator begins each entry by describing what kind of tie he wore that day (the tie is later dropped in favour of jeans, then waterproof trousers, and finally a wetsuit, as the flood progresses) lends a twist, especially when one is experiencing the story aurally.

As for final story (for now) ‘The Ark’, it manages to evoke a blend of pathos and disgust simply from the device of having the characters sit down to play a game of bridge. The addition of song ‘Two by Two’ just before the story emphasises the class aspect of the card game choice, but there is also something pitiful about a group of people (illustrated as animals though, which is apt on multiple symbolic levels), the ‘worst of humanity’, carrying on as if they were not stuck in a sinking ark. Superbard also displays his gift for live storytelling in the story’s closing line: ‘and then for the first time, they started to breathe’.

Frankly, if The Flood were to just finish on that note, I would consider it a satisfying book. Fortunately, The Flood is an ongoing project, and readers are invited to contact Superbard on Facebook or Twitter to suggest storylines or characters. With any luck, you might even be made a character in the stories, with your choices determining Superbard’s handling of your character, turning The Flood into a form of collaborative storytelling. (The credits for the current three stories connect the various characters to their real-world inspirations.) On the whole, this is a project that makes for great reading-cum-listening, and my only regret is that I cannot be in the UK to catch Superbard performing one of these stories live.

Saboteur Awards 2013: The Shortlist

In All of the Above, Saboteur Awards on April 1, 2013 at 12:09 am

Your Pick of this Year’s Best Indie Lit!


Once a year, to mark our birthday, we at Sabotage like to give out some awards to the publications we’ve most enjoyed during the year. This year, we want YOU to vote for the winners in twelve different categories.

After over 2000 votes, voting is now closed! Winners will be announced on 29th May at the Book Club, London. It’s going to be a big celebration of indie lit in all its glory and we’d love it if you could attend. There’ll also be performances, a mini-book fair, music from LiTTLe MACHINe and our very own critique booth.

Here’s what happens next:

  1. Voting is now closed!
  2. Buy a ticket to the awards ceremony/birthday bash.

Please find the shortlist below, which consists of the top 5 nominations in each of the 12 categories, with links to their reviews in Sabotage.*

*Reviewing or featuring all of these works (through interviews for instance) is a work-in-progress which we hope to achieve by the time of the event. Obviously, it is quite a monumental task in a short time, so we appreciate any help from past, present and future reviewers in achieving this, as well as the cooperation of nominees!

Many congratulations to all those who made the shortlist!

In no particular order:

Best Novella

Synthetic Saints by Jason Rolfe (Vagabondage Press)
Holophin by Luke Kennard (Penned in the Margins)
Count from Zero to One Hundred by Alan Cunningham (Penned in the Margins)
The Middle by Django Wylie (
Controller by Sally Ashton (Dead Ink)

Best spoken word performer

Raymond Antrobus
Dan Cockrill
Emma Jones
Vanessa Kisuule
Fay Roberts

Most innovative publisher

Burning Eye
Unthank Books
Sidekick Books
Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press
Penned in the Margins

Best short story collection

 The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes (Unthank Books)
My Mother Was An Upright Piano by Tania Hershman (Tangent Books)
Fog and Other Stories by Laury A. Egan (Stone Garden)
All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten by Tony Williams (Salt Publishing)
The Flood by Superbard (Tea Fuelled)

Best poetry pamphlet

Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman (Annexe Magazine)
Body Voices by Kevin Reid (Crisis Chronicles Press)
Lune by Sarah Hymas (self-published)
Songs of Steelyard Sue by J.S.Watts (Lapwing Publications)
Lowlifes, Fast Times & Occasionally Love by Lawrence Gladeview (Erbacce Press)

Best ‘one-off’

Penning Perfumes
Shake the Dust
Binders full of Women
Poetry Polaroid (Inky Fingers Collective)
Poetry Parnassus

Best Spoken Word show

‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
‘Dirty Great Love Story’ by Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh
Wandering Word Stage
Emergency Poet
‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best magazine

Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts

Best regular Spoken Word night
Bang said the Gun (London)
Hammer and Tongue (Oxford)
Jibba Jabba (Newcastle)
Inky Fingers (Edinburgh)
Come Rhyme with Me (London)

Best poetry anthology

The Centrifugal Eye’s 5th Anniversary Anthology (ed. E.A. Hanninen)
Rhyming Thunder – the Alternative Book of Young Poets (Burning Eye)
Sculpted: Poetry of the North West (ed. L. Holland and A. Topping)
Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot (English PEN)
Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins)

Best fiction anthology
Unthology, volume 3 (Unthank Books)
Post-Experimentalism (Bartleby Snopes)
Best European Fiction 2013 (Dalkey Archive)
Front lines (Valley Press)
Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt Publishing)

Best mixed anthology

Estuary: a Confluence of Art & Poetry (Moon and Mountain)
Pressed by Unseen Feet (Stairwell Books)
Still (Negative Press)
Silver Anthology (Silver Birch Press)
Second Lives (Cargo Press)

Top Spoken Word Moments of 2012

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

– listed by James Webster

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

Top 5 Most Viewed

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

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

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

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

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

My Personal Top 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edinburgh Reviews Day 2: Life or Something Like It, The Static, Dating George Orwell, Mark Grist: Rogue Teacher, A Real Man’s Guide to Sainthood and Superbard Starts to Save the World

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 3, 2012 at 2:38 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 intrepid 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 strip club meta-theatre)

Life or Something Like It

This show comprised two different acts: the poet Alex Keelan, and singer-songwriter Claire Mooney. Both shows were characterised by their lefty leanings and positive messages and punctuated by punchy insights and humour, which kept the audience entertained and engaged.

Alex Keelan

Listening to Alex Keelan, I could not help but admire her poetry’s message and imagery. She professes that her poems are all about ‘social injustice’ and she successfully summons up the atmosphere of oppressive office environs, of damaging gender-stereotyping, drunken nights out and British political missteps.

In all her poetry she is rightly right on, and she clearly expresses a variety of salient points; pointing out the absurdity of victim-blaming by the police in cases of rape in her poem ‘Slutwalk’, or exploring gender with intelligent insight in ‘Double Negative’. And there’s some very effective powerful language in there too, her poem ‘Laissez Faire’ points out why some politicians will never have your best interests at heart as ‘our blood runs red and theirs runs blue’ and refers to Cameron as the ‘tinpot robot product of the iron lady’. It really puts some weight behind her point, and she also effectively lightens it with occasional moments of comedy.

The problem is that such gems of language are few and far between, and for all her clarity of expression, her writing lacks the creativity that would mark her out as a great poet. Too often her work is formed of well-intentioned ideas that are well-expressed, but don’t capture the imagination and rely too much on shared political feeling, and not enough on the power of her writing.

Couple this with frequently lazy and repetitive rhyme-schemes and some really dry performance, and what could have been a great set becomes, well, just ok. It’s good if you’re on board with the very laudable message, but with some more original language and better performance it could have been great.

Claire Mooney

By contrast, Claire Mooney coupled moving political songs with creatively amusing writing and an effortless talent for entertaining, amusing and occasionally making fun of her audience. She asserts that protest songs do have the power to change things (‘so it’s me and Bob Dylan’) and given her deeply funny and intelligent songs, you could well believe it.

She shows an impressive breadth of tone and subject matter. Her song about things that would make her happy (‘if my geraniums would flower/ and better people got into power’) is jaunty and funny in its hopefulness. Another song points out the costs of making a record, with glares at any confessed-pirates in the audience (such as myself) in amusingly biting fashion, while a surprisingly gorgeous piece praises the strength of a woman facing deportation. And combining the poignant and the satirical is a piece deriding the current cabinet in nicely mournful tone, underlined by the chorus ‘we’re moving forwards in reverse’.

She comes across as a natural performer, gently nudging the audience along with amusing asides and sing-a-longs, while also engaging them with her witty and moving liberal insights. Her CD’s are available after the show and also online here.

Claire Mooney is easily a 4-star performer, while Alex Keelan’s formulaic rhyme and dry performance mean we wouldn’t give her more than 2-stars. So overall they receive:

Star Rating: 3/5

Life or Something Like It is on tomorrow (the 3rd) only, at Laughing Horse @ Captain Taylor’s Coffee House, 1.15pm. For free!

The Static

By Davey Anderson, and produced by ThickSkin (as part of Made In Scotland 2012), the world premiere of this new Scottish play was a tightly written and performed coming-of-age tale of a problem child (with superpowers).

It mixed an appropriately irreverent and troubled lead with an even more irreverent (possibly psychic) teen love interest, using storytelling, movement and a very effective set to tell the tale of a secondary school loner who discovers he has frightening kinetic powers.

It taps into some effective narratives; the idea of the problem/rebel child, the almost too-resonant idea of violence in schools, and, of course, the maturation of superpowers at puberty (using teen superpowers as a macabre microcosm for teen angst and overflowing emotion). And the fact that it’s a well acted and brilliantly staged piece means it deals with these issues in an intelligent, thoughtful and sometimes downright scary fashion.

The only problems are that the cast seem to swallow some of the piece’s natural comedy, and that some of the plot points are a little predictable. But still a performance we very much recommend.

Star Rating: 4/5

The Static is on at the Underbelly at 2.40pm, 2nd-26th of August.

Dating George Orwell

We’re not going to give this show a rating. Suffice to say, Kelly Jones’s show centres around Pauline, whose paraphilia of books coupled with teenage hormones and a burgeoning sexual addiction was rather explicit and somewhat discomfiting. If your response to this is ‘it sounds awful, I must see it’ and are comfortable with graphic book-sex, then by all means go ahead.

Dating George Orwell is on at Laughing Horse @ The White Horse at 4.45pm, 2nd-18th of August.

Mark Grist: Rogue Teacher

Dana’s actually reviewed this show at preview stage (link above), but today James went on his own and this is what he thought.

Grist’s show is a retrospective on his life, specifically focusing on his last few years as a teacher and then a professional poet and viral youtube celebrity.

There’s some great stuff here on the power of teaching, coupled with some entertaining anecdotes on his students and fellow teachers. His poems about teaching in the show’s first half work especially well. A battle style diss poem to a fellow teacher Miss Knowles is very funny in its deconstruction of a particularly stuffy teacher (retribution for her stealing his Humphrey Bogart cutout), while ‘Why I’m Angry’ was a biting indictment of an apathetic parent that made my brain tingle and his piece expressing his anger at the AQA Chief Examiner’s restrictive views on education was a nice visual knob-gag.

Where the show falls down is twofold: firstly there’s just not enough poetry there. Out of an hour long show roughly a third is poetry, the rest forgettably entertaining anecdotes about teaching and internet fame that were backed up by powerpoint slides, and came across as presentation instead of performance. Secondly, he’s so wrapped up in trying to deal with his image as an internet sensation that he doesn’t deal with the more interesting social aspects of it in any great detail. He lightly touches upon the narrative the media used him for (in effectively bullying the ‘cocky’ youth he ‘demolished’ in a rap battle), but doesn’t examine properly why that might be. And his ‘Girl Who Reads’ piece is another example of something that could tackle wider social issues (objectification of women and sexism), but instead seems to objectify intelligence instead of the physical (in sweet and entertaining fashion).

Ultimately he has some excellent and inventive poetry (his univocalism especially), and it just feels like either there should be more of it, or his linking segments should be more performance based.

Star Rating: 3/5

Mark Grist: Rogue Teacher is on at the Underbelly at 5.10pm, 2nd-26th of August.


A Real Man’s Guide to Sainthood

This was a superbly inventive piece of theatre from Milk Presents. A reimagining of the St George myth, placed within a world that dealt with the impossible expectations of ‘manliness’ that society’s self-created heroes must deal with.

Superbly British, with imaginative staging and lighting (the whole show’s lit by overhead projectors and lights powered by exercise bikes) and alternately entertaining and harrowing music (all played by the cast), this play was hilarious, insightful and sweetly heartbreaking.

See it. Go see it now. I don’t care that you’re not in Edinburgh, just get on the next train, alright?

Star Rating: 5/5

A Real Man’s Guide to Sainthood is on at the Underbelly at 6.40pm 2nd-26th of August (except the 9th and 10th)


Superbard Starts to Save the World

Another show that the intrepid Dana Bubulj has already reviewed (link above) at the London preview, and a show that is interestingly going to be different every time, due to its reliance on audience interaction.

The audience members chosen as tonight’s star-crossed lovers were especially entertaining, given a slight age disparity and one’s inability to read the script in the dim lights of Spotlites. But their gusto and banter more than made up for that, and Superbard just about managed to improv around the first night jitters.

The writing remains superbly inventive, hilarious and bitterly sweet, with excellent use of multimedia. His slow-burn apocalypse and world of time-travel and squaddy super-soldiers is a wonderful interactive and epic sci-fi love story.

Star Rating: 4/5

Superbard Starts to Save the World is on at Spotlites @ The Merchants’ Hall at 9.10pm, 2nd-19th of August.

Review: Tea Fuelled Edinburgh Previews

In Performance Poetry on July 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm

The Dogstar

– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj

Tea Fuelled are sending their performers up to the Edinburgh Fringe. I got to see their previews, double-billed over three nights at the Dogstar in Brixton. They varied in finish, but with polish some should be some fantastic (and free!) shows to see if you’re up there.

Where to start with this show? His premise is to lightly mock his middle-class Guardian-reading sensibilities by listening to “the other view”. While he’s worried about being “preachy”, I’d be more worried that I’d not stuck to my point. While some of his juxtapositions (asylum seekers dying horribly as seen as preferable to children sharing schools) highlight the absurdity and callousness of some Daily Mail standpoints, and he touches upon ideas of shifting beliefs from youth to old age, it’s just not sufficiently developed to give the show any political bite.

He mentions, in his closing, that he’s “a bit of a twat trying to be good”, and that’s half right. He starts the show by ‘calibrating’ the audience by quoting stats and offensive jokes, and this would work if he took the right conclusions from audience noises and if he sounded less gleeful about the potential offence caused. Coupled with the smugness of his liberal views (such as his Greer-inspired explanation of why he uses ‘cunt’ over ‘vagina’), he doesn’t come across as that likeable.

His irrevent and laddish style does lend itself to discussing sex (“cheating is bad, flipside, orgasms are great”), politics and Christianity, but he needs to either better connect his material to his theme (or write some new themed material) or just let his material develop and not force it into a structure he never truly develops.

Star Rating: 1/5

This show, at its heart, is a fourth-wall breaking campfire-horror story that takes the literal nature of his words to the limit like some kind of event horizon of Chekhov’s Gun.

Opening with a ‘solitary figure walking through tautology street alone’, Heal narrates a story from a diary ‘found’ when researching his upcoming show about trains that rapidly descends into a madcap and rather violent escapade where not even Heal himself is safe from his character, Giles Rowntree.

Without spoiling the plot, I can say it was an enjoyable hour, although the running brothel gags got a little tiresome. Each line is intricately crafted, constantly subverting and playing with its meaning, leaving you almost trying to guess them beforehand, groaning with amusement as you do (particularly at his “with aplomb…I ate the plum with relish – it was a great relish…”).

With magic (or is it?) axes and “no reason to doubt a creepy voice of ambiguous origin”, the protagonist (or is he?) breaks his resolution of not killing anyone, having received a letter (or did he?) (enough of this – Ed) that threatened his life and that of our narrator Jack Heal, at the Dogstar. Incorporating the show’s location and its date keeps the audience on their toes, particularly in the show’s second half.

More clarity in the final narration would be helpful: near the end it was sometimes tricky to tell whether he was narrating Giles’ actions or his own as the story got too ‘meta’ for its own good. Similarly, I could do without the cheaper laughs and “slaggy” girls. That said, it was a tightly woven set that was a joy to watch, and I’d definitely recommend you catch it at The Banshee Labyrinth from 4-14th August.

Star Rating: 3/5

Mark GristRogue Teacher

In case you weren’t aware, Mark Grist is a teacher, turned professional poet, turned grime battle MC, who became a bit of an internet sensation this year by demolishing teen rapper Blizzard in a rap battle that now has over 2 million views on youtube.

We’ve reviewed him before, and those comments still stand. This show, I think, is perhaps his way to dismantle the hype that comes from going viral for something he now feels somewhat sheepish about. His famous poems are there (previously reviewed), with others wrapped up in friendly chatter and a heartfelt apology directed to Blizzard’s mum (bit awkward).

He is passionate about his school, and his set is littered with anecdotes about working with the kids and his colleagues. His poems also touch on these: one dedicated to his fellow staff, (including ones whose contempt of children should probably have them in another profession) and another has scathing words to say about examiners who dismiss children responding to poetry laterally. He uses a slideshow in a particularly teacherly way, with screencaps and photos to illustrate scenes or, during his sabbatical, his increasing debt and points on his licence in between surreal gigs.

His “Dear Me, age 13”, a dialogue, epitomised the show for me: in it, Grist asserts his own independence with humour and a visible desire to be seen as more than an internet sensation. Grist talks about life as a teacher and a performing poet in an eminently likable and unstructured way, as if down the pub, but while the result is enjoyable and likeable, it’s also a tad forgettable.

Star Rating: 3/5

The conceit: a “corporate presentation” of a new start-up assassin agency inspired by watching Leon. There’s some nice satire of business jargon, with a “global vision” of the “mortality market”, with demographic charts and marketing lingo as the characters attempt to convince potential investors of their business model. They also amusingly offer the audience a free murder, as a taster.

They’ve a gloriously awful logo (the Vitruvian man WITH A GUN), a purposefully failed video promo, which has them kill a (feline) target, and the convoluted application forms (where you don’t want to mix up boxes but can specify death preferences) are a great idea. The intricacies and hyper-legal terms and conditions make for an amusing premise when taken to their extremes.

They continuously (and amusingly) undercut their professionalism with their pitch, interrupting each other with enthusiastic “Top FIVE” countdowns, but the show falls flat as the interruptions become more personal. The characters become increasingly separate from their pitch, degenerating into standard stereotypes of the straight man and the somewhat unstable woman. And you can’t help but feel that the script would have more punch if they got to the climax of the show a bit earlier. Instead you’re stuck in the uncomfortable territory of watching a couple have a blazing row (complete with exes). Awkward.

The twist in the show’s climax is appropriately dramatic and it does partially resurrect the show’s momentum, but the earlier awkwardness still drags it down a little.

It’s an interesting show, with potential. At the time of the preview they were still in early stages, with lines to be learnt and technical problems to solve, so there was definitely time for them to rehearse and revise (so if you’re free, do catch it at The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh at 12.05 from the 4th til the 14th of August.)

Star Rating: 2/5 (though a more polished version could get 3 or 4).

We’ve reviewed Superbard before, so I was looking forward to this show. While I was expecting rehearsed media interaction, I had not expected how much the show relied upon the audience. Or more specifically: two members of the audience whose new-found love might save the world. They are given scripts in envelopes (a neat take on audience interaction) that carefully don’t give away the plot, which has some interesting twists so that they are able to enjoy the night despite being called on periodically.  My one sticking point with the show, in that it does rely upon the goodwill of the chosen actors, also that they’ll play along should they not be heterosexual. But Superbard also does a good job improvising when things do not go to plan, so it isn’t all lost if don’t play along.

The premise that Superbard is a time-traveller from the Future is mined richly, using several set pieces that are both moving and amusing. There’s a school talk by the embittered office-bound time police agent disabusing us of the glamour of the job (“it’s mainly spreadsheets”… “I studied history! I just wanna see a witch drown!”) and a drunken night in the future, featuring some excellent world-building with subtle nods to the fantastical (being beaten up by super-soldiers “silhouetted by the fake moon”).

What is also particularly fun is the playful take on the act of storytelling, deconstructing it through having actors whose actions he both narrates (“it’s ok, it’s just a script, he thinks”) and sometimes instructs, with a fantastic exploration of fate (Pirandello, anyone?). The impending doom is the “slowburn apocalypse”, where we know each other “less and less” and become strangers. Intimacy and love will carry the day, it seems, which should warm the heart of even the bitterest cynics like myself.

Very enjoyable, and do catch it if you can.

Star Rating: 4/5 (5 stars with the right audience members)

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!