Spoken Word Round-Up 2014

– by James Webster

It feels like we’ve had a cracking year for Spoken Word in 2014, with the established regular nights going from strength to strength (Bang Said the Gun, Hammer & Tongue, Chill Pill etc. just keep going) and a spate of new, inventive events popping up as well, including poetry game shows, speakeasies and the wonderful strangeness of the Anti-Slam. Plus, there were a glut of gleaming solo shows that went up to Edinburgh (where the Spoken Word category was bigger than ever) and more still that toured across the UK. Live literature in the UK seems very healthy right now.

cropped-sabotage_wide_1020-300x46Sabotage’s most viewed Spoken Word posts of 2014 (as of today)

  1. Given her massive success this year, it’s maybe not surprising that Artist Spotlight on Kate Tempest was our most viewed Spoken Word article
  2. Coming in second was another oldie, a whopper of a review from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe (with three reviews squeezed into one)
  3. The Anti-Slam Oxford comes in next, proving that our readers enjoy bad poetry as much as the good
  4. The Splitting of the Mermaid by Lucy Ayrton was also a popular read (and an utterly magical show)
  5. And The Mechanisms‘ wild-west Arthurian space-epic High Noon Over Camelot rounds out the top five.

The Saboteur Awards in May provided a great chance to come together and celebrate all the wonderful works that the previous year had brought us, and it was marked by a charming performance from our new Best Spoken Word Performer, Steve Nash, as well as a horrendously moving acceptance speech from Best One-Off, Against Rape. Sophia Walker stormed the Best Show category with Around the World in 8 Mistakes, while Best Regular Spoken Word Night went to the superb fusion of live and literature that is Liars’ League. And who could forget that video from The Anti-Slam crew.

We headed up to review in Edinburgh once more in August, seeing a lot of lovely poetry. Tim Clare’s Be Kind to Yourself was definitely a highlight, while Richard Tyrone Jones amped up the geek-factor with his Crap Time Lord. Other Voices: Spoken Word Cabaret continues to be one of the best things about the Fringe, while Lucy Ayrton and Sophia Walker were determined to make me cry to the point of severe dehydration with The Splitting of the Mermaid and Can’t Care, Won’t Care respectively.

As part of our ongoing efforts to try and cover as much of the UK as possible, we’ve recently appointed Mab Jones as our Spoken Word Editor for Wales, and the coverage has already started with a review of Bethany W Pope at The Cellar Bards, while we’ve also had a great review of Inky Fingers in Edinburgh and We are Enemies in Cork sounded absolutely fascinating. Meanwhile, London upped the ‘weird venue’ stakes when we squeezed into Horatio and Me, a show staged in a very cosy disused public toilet (ArtsLav). Ooh, and the European tour of Welcome to Night Vale was a live storytelling event like no other…
Editor’s Picks (in no particular order)

Having seen a lot of spoken word shows this year (with an especial glut in August at the Edinburgh Fringe), it’s been even tougher than usual to pick my own personal top five. But out of a smorgasbord of poetic riches, my absolute top picks are:

  1. High Noon Over Camelot by The Mechanisms. Their six-shooting, space opera remix of Arthurian legend utterly blew me away. A single, gold-plated bullet shot straight into my FEELINGS.
  2. Quiltbag Cabaret – a new addition to the spoken word scene in Oxford, Quiltbag has a strong focus on showcasing queer-themed content, providing a safe space for its audience and also offers the chance to mingle and do crafts in the interval. Bloody charming.
  3. The Anti-Slam – in both its Oxford and Valentine’s Day iterations, this unique poetry night that celebrated ‘creative engagement with failure’ was a real joy. This celebration of all that’s worst about spoken word was superbly conceived and birthed by Dan Simpson and Paula Varjack.
  4. Wingman Richard Marsh triumphed again at the Fringe with this foul-mouthed and furiously entertaining two-person poetry play.
  5. 300 to 1 – in a year packed full of theatre and television taking advantage of the centenary of the First World War, it was refreshing to see a show about the war that took an inventive and irreverent anti-war perspective. Witnessing a teenager describe the plot of 300 to Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon was priceless.