– reviewed by Lettie McKie –
16th and 17th October, the Southbank Centre
‘A big warm hug of a show …’
Warmly welcoming us to the cosy surroundings of the Festival Village, Simon and his enthusiastic team ushered the audience into a warehouse space kitted out like a dining room, complete with two course dinner. My first reaction to this was ‘£8 for theatre and dinner?…total bargain’!
Simon has been working with dramaturg Peader Kirk as they take this touring production around the UK, working with a different group of young poets in each venue. These poets, recruited through open call outs, help host the night: serving food, welcoming guests and performing their poems whilst the audience eat a hearty meal of bean casserole, tiger bread and taco chips!
Peader described it to me it is a ‘a great big warm hug of a show’ and Simon added ‘we wanted to combine the atmosphere of a family gathering with high quality performance’. In this aim they have most definitely succeeded. The event was friendly, the dinner set up allowing people on the tables to engage in easy chat whilst they ate and watched the talented poets who jumped from table to table.
And a feast of young poetic talent …
The quality of poetry on offer from these bright young writers was extremely high. Sara Hirsch told a fantastic story about her Polish grandfather arriving in England and, not speaking the language, mistaking it for America. Hal Sutherland delivered his poems with a cheeky grin, taking a tongue in cheek approach to the theme of ‘family gathering’ with a mouth-wateringly hilarious exploration of the merits of gravy. The good use of props continued with Gabriel Akamo illustrating his ethereal poetry by lighting candles and actress Emily Spetch throwing spices in the air in a poem about her dad’s cooking. Her witty poem, which suggested that if you can make your own dinner you can command your own destiny, gently conveyed a sense of their close father daughter relationship.
And a sumptuous main course of compelling poetry …
After a short break the main event began, Simon Mole’s performance of his one man show Indiana Jones and the Extra Chair. Until now the concept of a dinner was a welcome, if slightly random one. But as his story unfolded the link became crystal clear as Simon told a gentle story centring on an awkward family gathering.
Although the dining room set up had worked very well for the first part of the evening the staging was problematic. The room was very long and Simon performed in the middle so that visibility towards the end of the tables was very poor. A consummate poet and performer Simon adapted well to this issue by making full use of the stage and changing his delivery point frequently but the necessity for this could have been avoided by resetting the room into rows of chairs during the break.
In general however the staging did not negatively impact upon a compelling piece of spoken word. Simon told the story of Mike who is an ordinary guy obsessed with Indiana Jones. Weaving through multiple characters the poem follows hapless Mike through a painful break up and an extremely awkward meal with his mum and her new boyfriend.
Simon’s poetry is packed with observant details and his laid back, snappy verse (influenced by his roots as an MC) is chaotically stitched together. His characters are particularly sympathetic because their flawed personality traits make them easy to relate to. A core theme that runs throughout the poem is that both men (Mike and his mum’s boyfriend) feel the need to defer to their movie character heroes, indulging in the frequent fantasy ‘what would Indie do?’ Through this Simon explores thought provoking issues around self-confidence and societal expectations in a down to earth and funny show that is extremely easy to relate to.
Oh…and there’s dessert as well!