– reviewed by Lettie McKie –
As poetry is, like much writing, an essentially solo activity it is not surprising that many performance poets, after several year on the circuit, will eventually feel like the time is right to develop a one person show. Many careers have been launched after successful shows, Kate Tempest and Luke Wright being the most obvious recent examples.
This year several London poets who could all be described as ‘emerging’ are taking shows to the Edinburgh Fringe; Paula Varjack, Rob Auton, Dan Simpson and Keith Jarrett amongst others. I managed to catch Dan Simpson and Keith Jarrett’s shows which are both part of PBH’s free fringe 2013.
This show has recently finished its run after 16 consecutive shows. Putting the ‘One Man’ into the proverbial title Dan Simpson did everything himself from set up, costumes, props, music and welcoming guests. He was chatty and friendly as we arrived, efficiently organising himself whilst putting us at our ease. He started by introducing the premise of the show as a ‘lecture’ about Pac-Man interspersed with poetry and complete with the inevitable teaching aid, a flip chart!
Dan’s persona as the geeky Pac-Man lecturer was instantly likeable and warm, but not overdone. He started the performance with a neat, tongue in cheek delivery of his Pac-Man rap introducing the slightly pathetic character of Clyde the Orange Ghost. As the show developed he presented a parallel between this character and himself and with people in general, using Clyde as a representative for human vulnerability. Over an hour he delved into his own past using poetry largely inspired by his childhood, alongside a story written when he was a teenager, to illustrate his carefully considered points about growing up, finding yourself and happiness. His performance was earnest, heartfelt and had moments where it was very easy to relate to. The strengths of the piece lay in entertaining, image rich poetry which he used to tell his own story, picking out funny stories and giving us a sense of his character as well as how he has come to see the world and his place within it.
Although Dan was charming and very likeable, I felt the show could have benefited from less explanation and more direct engagement with his art form. He used the lecture format to express thoughts and feelings that could have been more deeply explored through the sort of poetic storytelling that he so effectively showcased at other times. By choosing not to use his poetic expertise more thoroughly the show floundered a little bit in places and occasionally lacked impact. We are All Orange Ghosts was undoubtedly a little unpolished, but showed great potential as an interesting exploration of identity and happiness.
Star rating: 3/5
This show was a very interesting contrast to Dan’s piece. Delivered in an entirely different and less formal way, Keith’s show took a more straight forward format as a series of poems and linking sections. This meant that it was easy to focus on the poetry itself (which explored very similar themes to We are all Orange Ghosts) and although Keith did include costumes and props that I felt were largely unnecessary.
Keith chose to develop and deliver poems that focused on specific issues, all of which impact upon a person’s sense of identity e.g. name, gender, religion, nationality, sexuality, and disability. Like Dan, he drew heavily on his own personal experiences from childhood and adolescence, building up a rapport with the audience using no obvious persona other than a public version of himself. He delved into stories about his background and upbringing in lyrically rich poems, charged with emotion, passion and lots of humour. He played around with different characters, for example the differences in himself from weekday school boy rapper to smartly dressed Church goer on Sundays. He tackled controversial issues head on with tongue in cheek humour, I found his ‘gay’ poem was particularly clever: asked in the past why he didn’t have a ‘gay’ poem he wrote one in the guise of the poem itself being confused about its own sexuality. This is a great example of Keith’s ability to turn an interesting twist on a subject, making the audience see it from a different and unexpected perspective.
Star Rating 3/5
Both shows were a delight to watch for slightly different reasons. Identity Mix Up was less conceptual than We are All Orange Ghosts and benefited from this simplicity. Both poets are consummate storytellers and approached their subject matter with honesty.