– reviewed by James Webster –
Our Performance Editor is in Edinburgh for the next week, trying to review as many Spoken Word shows as possible before he has to go home (or words begin to lose all meaning, whichever comes first). His first stop was the always impressive Other Voices on 12/08/14.
Now in its third year at the Fringe, the idea behind Other Voices is, well, just that: to provide us with a showcase of different voices to the usually white-male-cis-het dominated genre. And I can attest that it is a very refreshing hour’s entertainment (anyone who’s ever been to a London or Oxford open mic to hear endless rhymes about middle-class angst – must admit I’m guilty of that – should agree).
The Host It succeeds, in no small part, due to the glamorously attired Fay Roberts‘ warm and encouraging manner, coaxing increasing enthusiasm from the audience with her easy patter; we were led through a practice of the appropriate ooh’s, oh’s and gasps to greet a poet’s performance (but not laughter, “because practising laughter is creepy”), told the unquiet spirits that haunted this former torture chamber (Banshee Labyrinth, great venue) would be scared away by loud cheering and told the shy poets needed encouragement in the form of “verbal strokes”.
Her poem ‘Blissful Chance’ was also a joyously jazzy romp across heartfelt hungover days that showcased her superb sense of rhythm and inventive wordsmithery.
The Acts The audience on the 12th got to enjoy a great variety of styles, tones and subject matters from some impressive performers. Hannah Chutzpah‘s nostalgic look at childhood treasures, ‘Butterflies’, was full of youthful magic, winsomely expressing the transformative alchemy of imagination that transformed swimming pools into underwater adventures and a stone into “a fossilised T-Rex claw”. While ‘Permission’ was both an ode to and rallying cry for the women of the world who just didn’t give a f*ck, with Chutzpah relishing the words and tongue-in-cheek humour. She’s performing her own show Asking Nicely from the 14th.
Hel Gurney‘s set was also concerned with magic, reading poems full of sumptuous language that hummed like incantations and left the ears buzzing. ‘Washed Up’, a reworking of Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ was a powerful take on the tale, describing the transformation as a “rewriting” and grounding the mermaid’s experiences in gorgeous and painful physical experience. ‘The Last Fairy at My Christening’ was a spiky, fluttering poem that grabbed me by the gut, expressing the triumphs and iniquities of life with intense eeriness. While the final poem ‘Blood on the Snow’ was a folktale creep-fest that felt ages old, with a powerful, galloping rhythm that whispered to my primal lizard brain and sent shivers down my spine.
The ‘mellifluous’ Mel Jones was also fun, but possibly lacked the depth of the other poets. Her ‘Shakespearean Sonnet’ was a clever poem, instructing the listener in how to write a sonnet, ending on a nice wink of a punchline, but a fairly generic story of heartache and a fond retrospective on her family in a rural idyll felt frustratingly surface level in their language (even if they did allude to a depth of emotion beneath).
Topping the bill was The Underground Clown Club, who are at Electric Circus until the 15th with their show Love and Rabbits. Their quickfire, poetic double-act was terrifically slick and endearingly entertaining, like the love child of Dr Seuss and Edgar Allen Poe spliced with a touch of Lewis Carroll absurdity.
Their poetic pieces were interspersed with a fun cast of witches, bears, elves and rabbits, making use of impressive stage presence and versatility to give amusing voice to their various characters. My favourite of their pieces was their musing dialogue on the origin of the moon, with the idea that it’s a trapped firefly drawing a series of spontaneous ‘awwws’ from across the room; both hilarious and surprisingly touching.
I’ve gone to Other Voices a few times over its three years at the Fringe and, while it’s always been good, it seems to only be getting better, the event’s layout is slicker, Fay’s hosting ever more lovely, and the acts more polished. I can only hope this will remain a staple of the Fringe for years to come. Other Voices is brilliant and, more than that, it’s important.
Star Rating: 4/5
Other Voices is at the Banshee Labyrinth (29-35 Niddry Street, EH1 1LG) until 24th August (not Wednesdays) and is free and unticketed.