Edinburgh Reviews Day 6 part 1 (06/08/12): Harry Baker: Proper Pop-up Purple Paper People, Letter to the Man (from the Boy), The Man Who

– reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

This week Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster, and contrary reviewer Dana Bubulj, are up in Edinburgh taking in the Fringe Festival. While they’re there, they are trying to review as much Spoken Word as they possibly can, as well as a few other things that catch their eye (and fall vaguely within our purview, e.g. stand-up-orienteering)

Harry Baker: Proper Pop-up Purple Paper People

This show was effectively an account of Harry Baker (UK Slam Champion, International Slam Champion) in his first year at Uni in Bristol. There were a fair amount of familiar stories about awkward first conversations and strange experiences with societies (his piece on going to a Pole Dancing Society taster is appropriately awkward), but all with Baker’s off-beat personality stamped all over them.

He had a good mix of poetry, including some that were purest fun frivolity, messing mischievously with language; like the German presentation he did in rap form (in both German and English) with a minor striptease involved, or his ridiculously silly haiku-one-liners that garnered equal numbers of laughs and groans from the audience. His univocalism (using only one vowel, namely ‘u’) was also fun, but while these pieces entertained with excellent comedy manner and physicality, it’s when he has a little more to say that Harry really shines.

He’s perhaps at his best when mixing his intricate rap-style rhymes and tongue-bending delivery with a mixture of comedy and commentary. An old favourite ‘I am a Man’ has some funny lines (‘real men cry, that’s why they make man-sized tissues for man-sized eyes’) and also explores the concept of what masculinity means to our generation of giant man-children, while also touching on acts of amazing bravery (like Jordan Rice who gave his life to save his brother). And his poem about being the only guy at Pole-soc (to impress a girl) really captures youthful social awkwardness and also has some interesting (if light) commentary on gender roles.

But he’s at his very brilliantly world-beating (literally, this poem won him the international slam) lyrical and comic best with his penultimate piece, the eponymous ‘Proper Pop-up Purple Paper People’. It’s full of killer wordplay, insightful allegorical political commentary (with the idea of ‘paper cuts’ and ‘origami armies’) and ends with a powerful and blissfully hopeful message ‘people have the potential to be powerful’. This poem alone lifts this to a 4-star show.

Star Rating: 4/5

Harry Baker: Proper Pop-up Purple Paper People is on at 12.00pm at the Royal Oak, 6th-24th August (no Sundays).

Letters to the Man (from the Boy)

Henry Raby’s show is a thoughtful and intelligent concept, skilfully executed, asking questions of his own life and the lives and experiences of his audience with warm audience interaction, making for an ice-cool show.

It takes the form of a letter that Raby is writing to his future self, reminiscing on his life so far, reminding his future self of past victories and failures, and asking questions about the man he has become. But where the show really succeeds is in the way he also encourages the audience to write their future selves a letter, using fun randomised prompts from the ‘mystery box’ and encouraging the audience to share their answers. The result is a lovely atmosphere of shared confidences and mutual trust between Henry and his audience: after all, he’s sharing so much with us that it seems only fair for us to share a little with him. He also cleverly uses audience comments as links to his next letter or poem, which was a very nice touch.

The letter itself has some choice lines and interesting nostalgic wisdom (‘don’t listen to any advice that doesn’t come from Yoda’), while his poems are fun and accessible; his poem on children’s TV shows taking over his childhood world nicely highlights the slightly twisted weirdness of some of those shows and elicits lots of laughs from those who get the references (as a child of the 80’s I found it hilarious); his piece on adolescent house parties is appropriately chaotic and full of youthful bravado; and his poem on leaving town to go to Uni was quite touching.

The only flaw is that the poetry, while good, is often almost too accessible, lacking the entertaining artifice that can lift a poem and make it great, but the accessible style blends very well with the show’s format and informal interactive style, which makes the show such a nostalgic and involving joy.

Star Rating: 4/5

Letter to the Man (from the Boy) is on at 1.10pm at the Underbelly, 2nd-26th (not the 13th)

The Man Who

This was a fun and well written piece of theatre about romantic and professional rivalry between two of the first inventors. While the love triangle and the idea of the first wheel were fairly standard, what it excelled in was an interesting take on the importance of roles and names, and if they can be interchangeable. The three characters all have name changes: The Younger Man becomes The Man Who Invented the Wheel and then Brendan, The Man becomes The New Man Who Invented the Wheel and The Woman becomes, um, Matthew (in a slightly obvious joke).

Perhaps a comparison to ‘The Man Who Sold the World‘ is apt: much of the tale deals with the consequences of fame and fortune weighed against Love itself and the balance shifts throughout the play as The Woman alternates between the two men, preoccupied with ideas of settling on “having a The Baby”. As such, some of the potential of playful semiotics is lost, to the show’s detriment. It was an enjoyable, if ultimately played-out story.

Star Rating: 3/5

The Man Who was on at 2.55 from 2-6th August at the Underbelly.

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