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

– 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.

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