Review: Pete (the Temp) versus Climate Change! 03/05/12


@ The Cockpit

– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj

Pete (the Temp) is a bit of a legend.

Very well known on the poetry circuit; he’s won a string of slams (including the prestigious Hammer & Tongue National Slam), made entertaining poetry and music appearances at a bunch of festivals, and he’s a damn fine administrator to boot.

He has now turned to creating a one man show based on his passionate interest in climate change, which I saw the first time it was performed in its entirety, so some of the teething problems should be ironed out by now as it continues its tour.

A “theatrical, multimedia, stand-up poetry show”

It was split into five chapters of set pieces of poems, videos, photo slides and props, Pete talked us through his set in an amicable way. Billed as a “theatrical, multimedia, stand-up poetry show”, I was quite excited- immediately, this made me draw comparisons to Superbard‘s multimedia storytelling (reviewed), but, ultimately, they do different things. Superbard’s multimedia is integrated into the storytelling, while Pete’s is more a comment on media: with skits amusingly appropriating the language of popular ads and pitches.

But the closing is perhaps the best use of multimedia in the piece.

It culminates in a simply brilliant subversion of Cameron’s post-riots speech that tied inextricably the damage companies do to the planet to Cameron’s verbose blaming of the rioters who think “rights outweigh responsibilities”. He also uses the quotes “consequences of actions” and the “full force of the law” very effectively (echoed with images of the tsunami) and with a stirring soundtrack. 

Elsewhere, however, it seemed stodgy and slightly presentation-like, although his off-the-cuff delivery is highly personable and makes up for the somewhat dated visual aids of animations and graphs. He introduces the idea well, too, with his initial mimed “low emission poetry” (with subs). Also, his transformation into Pete the Temp-lar with shield, sword, helmet and cape, was very well done.

Make no mistake, this is an activist spectacle:

The flyer has a list of various Climate Change activist groups and the show is peppered with information and statistics and analogies to better illustrate his points. Playing to a home crowd (many of whom he had been protesting with earlier that day), he was fantastically received as an eloquent, passionate speaker. The passion he feels even transfers to those in the audience not caught up in active protesting, particularly in an absurd set of call-and-responses to “what do we want?”.

That said, there were some points of the show that seemed only to pander to the activist crowd: namely a section of documentation, with film and photographs, of their protest at RBS HQ (for their support of Canada’s Tar Sands). It comes across like catching up in the pub, as he gleefully recounts their actions (which included a magnificent siege tower, thwarted by a narrow wooden footbridge). Which he does in all the absurdity that often occurs at such events, particularly so in his breakdown of the Police’s reported injuries (inc. toothaches, insect bites and damaged by their own car).

Another anecdote that is rather famous: his BP inspired Oil Orgy at an energy summit. With fake credentials, he and his co-conspirator mingled in “the belly of the beast” before stripping off and roleplaying Canada and the UK’s relationship in an orgy of treacle and entreaties (“I’ll be your bitumen if you’ll be my crude boy” & etc.). While the youtube clips do speak for themselves, I wished there were a better way to integrate them into the show than producing the props and recounting the events. That said, a strong running technique he used was bait-and-switch captions, used well here, with the “criminal damage” of the small spot of treacle on a chair flicking to images of the oil spill. The message was clear: it is not the activists who should be held accountable.

His subversion of popular media was pretty fab.

Taking on familiar jingles and graphic styles, there were several intermissions of ‘ads’ with added facts: Morrison’s becomes the “Texas Chainstore Massacre” where they’ve “knocked a third off plantation wages” and you can get “all the toxins you need”. Another, a take on the traditional charity sponsorship ads, was spot on: “Sponsor an Activist”, it asks, with the all-too-familiar jargon (“registered charity, low admin costs…”), poking fun both at the format and protesters (complete with photos of ‘Charlie’ handcuffed to things & money breakdowns like “£10/m would provide soya milk for a month”). But its barbs had a point, a subtle jab at “armchair activists” (“go on, just sit there and sponsor…”).

But what about his poetry? I hear you cry. Surely if I’m going to see Pete The Temp, I am going for his wit and verbal dexterity?

Well, yes and no. Near the start, he acknowledges poetry’s power to “distil” subjects, and distil he does, into powerful set pieces that are emotively performed throughout the show. His personification of London as an obscene, twisted old man with a “corporate umbilical cord” was fantastically grotesque: the bowler-hatted figure is seething with rot, with alcoholic burns and drowning in insolvency. Pete eloquently makes our skin crawl, before ending with a bitter “it does have an awful lot of perks”.

His other poem, on telephone fundraising for charities, was heartbreaking. Confession: I’ve worked the same job, and his dialogue between an old woman and the fundraiser was painfully accurate. The use of a score elevated the emotions as you felt for the distress of the woman, her cyclical repetitions getting more abstract (“I give to the cancer, I give to the heart…”). The weaving together of the two narratives, who “get/give what they can when they can”, who are called/hear the same replies “every day, every day” is brilliant, with both sides sympathetic.

The Conclusion of the show leaves us with a question: “has he succeeded?” Pete the Temp vs Climate Change certainly is a firebrand for his cause. The set pieces are fantastic, the discussion amiable. With better integration of past exploits, the show would stick together somewhat more, but should you wish to be challenged, amused and given something to consider, do try and catch it where it next appears at The Secret Garden Party.

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