Ocean Going Idiot (Story City Festival, St Martin’s Tea & Coffee, 6 Jul 2015)

reviewed by Sally Jack

Rob Coleman, Ocean Going Idiot
Rob Coleman, Ocean Going Idiot (Nathan Human)

Pork pies notwithstanding, Leicester has a bit of a reputation for festivals and between 6 and 12 July, there’s a new flavour in town: Story City.

Featuring a wide variety of theatre and spoken word as well as visual and digital arts, the tag line “A city has many stories. Let’s share them” could provide a blueprint for festivals in every city around the country.

Writer, comedian and cyclist Rob Coleman takes the plunge into storytelling with Ocean Going Idiot, a new show which endeavours to explain his obsession with rowing across the Atlantic in a small boat. Never mind that, why would anyone living in Leicester, a city furthest from any UK-surrounding sea, choose ocean-rowing as a hobby?

And this is what Ocean Going Idiot attempts to answer. After all, as he says, how hard can it be? Rob covers a lot of ground so to speak as he recounts his journey from cherubic youngster to member of the Conservative party, how he faces up to cowardice and constipation to his current quest to row across large expanses of water.

Self-deprecating in style and confessional in nature, Rob’s many gags and quips are punctuated with personal detail – yet more proof that comedy and tragedy make a great couple. I last saw Rob in the quarter finals of this year’s UK Pun Championships at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival and he works in some pleasing word play and poetic touches to his writing; when describing himself he is “more wannabe than queen bee … less Randolph Fiennes than library fines” and coping with “a rampant ego and and one E at ‘A’ level”.

For any doubters out there, ocean-rowing is a tough beast to overcome, both physically and mentally – being in a confined space on a vast sea and suffering the indignities of the ‘poo bucket’ would do for most people. Rob is brutally honest but his use of concrete detail demonstrates both the horrendous conditions and the beauty of a star-studded Atlantic night.

This performance was an Edinburgh preview as well as maiden voyage of Ocean Going Idiot therefore occasional referral to notes during the show is forgiven. The influence of place is one of the pillars of writing and performance and whilst St Martin’s Tea and Coffee provides excellent refreshments and is one of Leicester’s finest cafés, performing with his back to a large window meant Rob was occasionally shrouded in gloom. A picky detail but venue and stage placement play a large part in keeping an audience engaged and window-glare isn’t helpful. Use of props assisted with the storytelling; I wonder if a few more might help during the longer passages but overall, Rob’s open and amiable nature meant you went with him, willing him on.

You have to admire his courage as Ocean Going Idiot provides numerous valid reasons as to why this is not the wisest of ventures for Rob to undertake. However, he rows relentlessly onwards and the next nautical knot on his journey is to take part in the forthcoming NOMAN Challenge, a race between Ibiza and Barcelona. And I’m sure that will be another story.

If you’re up in Edinburgh this August, Ocean Going Idiot is at The Laughing Horse @The Counting House between 6 and 30 August and part of the free Fringe.

More information about Story City available here.

Image by Nathan Human.