Saboteur Awards 2018: Spotlight on the Best Spoken Word Show Shortlist

Voting on this year’s shortlist continues apace, smashing last year’s records to bits! If you haven’t voted yet, take a look at the shortlisted shows below and try and catch them if you can! Voting is here!

Doctor Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine by Martin Figura

Is there a mathematical equation for love and the behaviour of a beating heart?  What can be retrieved from life’s catastrophes and wounds?  When our windshield is blurred with rain and we’re wearing our reading glasses, can we learn to look in the rear-view mirror and smile?

Doctor Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine, the new stage production from award winning poet Martin Figura, turns to international mathematics guru Sir Erik Christopher Zeeman’s iconic machine, the moon and photographs to shed light on these pressing questions and to help him sort out love, loss and when to let go.

The show finds the adult life Martin made for himself, following his moving portrayal of the shocking events surrounding his mother’s death at the hand of his father (when Martin was just 9 years old) described in his show Whistle. Now in his early sixties Figura comes to terms with his own mortality in a theatrical performance fusing words, sounds and visuals. With his measured skill, poise, wit and humour he looks back to his first marriage (and subsequent divorce), the birth of his children, their development and meeting his current wife in 2004.

The show blurs the edges of personal memory as he learns to move forwards and how (some) catastrophes eventually turn out for the best. He takes an American road trip with his son and his Down’s Syndrome daughter engages in intense relationships with cartoon characters and leaves home for college.

On stage the titular Catastrophe Machine (which used mathematics to understand human behavioural science) is an imposing participant in proceedings, becoming a tool for marriage guidance and the deeply moving humanity of the poems.  The show is illustrated with projections and an atmospheric soundscape.

Doctor Zeeman showcased in 2016, including at the London Roundhouse and a sold-out performance at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.  Since 2017 it has been performed at Chester, Bristol and Stanza Poetry Festivals and elsewhere.  It continues to tour extensively, within the  UK and Europe.

Martin Figura is a poet, retired army major, qualified accountant (winner of the 1976 RAPC Apprentice College Accounting Prize no less) and photographer. But mostly a poet. His breakthrough collection Whistle was published by Arrowhead in 2010, with a new edition published by Cinnamon Press in 2018 to meet demand.  The show toured extensively in the UK and to India. It won the Saboteur Best Spoken Word Show Award and was nominated for the Ted Hughes Award.

You can follow Martin on Twitter here

Why voters think it should win:

So much more than a spoken word show; the visuals are brought to life by Martin Figura’s words. What a multi dimensional show, entertaining show; entertaining but also speaks in the universal way that you relate to and that stays with you when you leave.

Emotional, entertaining and wonderfully presented

Above the Mealy-Mouthed Sea, by Jemima Foxtrot and Lucy Allan

“And then the fisherman says-… and then the fish… the fi-“

A woman stands at a microphone. She can’t remember the punchline.

Fusing poetry and song, award-winning UK theatre company Unholy Mess present a funny, strange and poignant play about growing up and the lasting legacy of abuse.

Performance poet Jemima Foxtrot takes you on a powerful journey exploring memory, childhood and what happens when we can’t get to the punchline.

Above the Mealy-mouthed Sea is experimental, absurdist anti-nostalgia like you’ve never seen it before.

You can follow Unholy Mess here and Jemima Foxtrot here

Why voters think it should win:

Amazing delivery and stage presence, writing that was engaging, funny and sad. Was lucky enough to see it twice and loved them both.

Honest relevant compelling. Very entertaining.

This Is Not A Safe Space, by Jackie Hagan

My name’s Jackie Hagan and I’ve got council estate bones, a jumble sale soul, cut me and I bleed hummus.

I’m massively pissed off by shows like Benefits st but I also know that you can’t presume that someone isn’t working class just because they’ve got a neutral accent and a fitbit.

I’m an amputee with a false leg that lights up, I have an autoimmune disease and bipolar and I’m losing the use of my hands. So things like The Undateables piss me off too.

The ‘othering’ of people means we can dismiss them as not real, and forget the problems, but when we can hear the stumbling bravado of someone’s voice or hear them laugh it makes the statistics real. I don’t want to create any more empathy fatigue, we’re all knackered, I want to make it easier.

So, because of that and because the government is shitting on people like me, I interviewed 80 disabled people, working class people and people on benefits, and I use the audio from  interviews in the show.

It’s part stand up comedy, poetry, crisp throwing, hard hitting, surprising, well informed, considered and considerate.

It’s called what it’s called because most of the people i recorded for the show spoke about not being safe, and for us to be safe society needs to change.


You can find out more about Hagan on Twitter or on her website

Why voters think it should win:

Because she made me laugh. She made me cry. She fed me quavers for fuck sake.

I love the way Jackie challenges everything from ableism to biphobia to classism, with heart and wit.

Hopeless by Leyla Josephine

Poster by Daniel Hughes

Leyla debuted her 5 star show ‘Hopeless’ at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Through quick-fire poetry and dark comedy, Leyla asks whether we can really make a difference or, if in fact, everything is broken beyond repair. Hopeless examines millennials’ apathetic attitudes to the world and audiences can expect a fiery collision of theatre and spoken word all tied together with a powerhouse performance.

The show follows Leyla, as she realises the news brings nothing but despair, causing her to feel hopeless. She stays in bed all day, eating full Vienettas and asking ‘what is the point of starting the day when things are so bleak?’ The show examines Leyla’s personal struggles about feeling useless, as well as the ‘annoying’ indifference shown by many of her peers. Hopeless shines light on these miserable times and stirs up hope even in the most cynical of audience members.

‘Hopeless’ has toured to The Tron Glasgow, Eastern Promise Festival, Imagine Festival Belfast and you can catch it at Alphabetti Newcastle, The Prague Fringe, Migration Matters Festival, The Brighton Fringe with more to be announced.

It was longlisted for The Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award due to it’s examination of the current refugee crisis.

You can follow her on Twitter or on her website.

Why voters think it should win:

Deeply thought -provoking in concept and execution – more of the same please

I saw this in edinburgh and was blown away. Clever, inventive, funny, poignant and so uplifting in its humanity.

SEXY by Vanessa Kisuule

Vanessa Kisuule is a writer, performer, burlesque artist and general empress of blag based in Bristol. She has won several slam titles including Farrago Schools Out Slam Champion 2010, Bang Said The Gun Award, Poetry Rivals 2011, Next Generation Slam 2012, Slambassadors 2010 and South West Hammer and Tongue Slam Champion 2012 and most recently The Roundhouse Slam 2014, Hammer and Tongue National Slam 2014 and the Nuoryican Poetry Slam in New York. She was the recipient of The Jerwood Micro Arts Bursary and the Leverhulme Arts Scholarship in 2017.

She has worked with the Southbank Centre, RADA, The Bristol City Council and had her work featured on BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 1 and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, The Guardian, Huffington Post, The Guilty Feminist Podcast, Dazed and Confused, Blue Peter, Sky TV and TEDx in Vienna. She represented the UK in two European Slam Championships in Sweden and Belgium, completed a ten day tour around Germany in 2015 and spoke at the Global Forum of Migration and Development in Bangladesh in 2016. Her roster of international performances has extended into 2017 with invitations to Barcelona, Finland and Oslo. She has two poetry collections published by Burning Eye Books: Joyriding The Storm (2014) and A Recipe For Sorcery (2017). Her one woman show SEXY toured in 2017/18 with the support of Arts Council England, Bristol Old Vic and Camden People’s Theatre. She is currently the Bristol City Poet for 2018 – 2020.

Follow her on Twitter or on her website.

Why voters think it should win:

Funny, poignant, politically engaged and provocative with so much heart – a beautifully balanced show

I love the perspective and multitude of ideas raised in this show, it leaves your head buzzing for days