Poet in Da Corner (by Debris Stevenson, Inside Out Festival, Curve Theatre, Leicester, 20 Oct 2017)

reviewed by Sally Jack

Now in its fourth year, Curve Theatre’s Inside Out Festival celebrates “leading and emerging East Midlands artists”, showcasing writers, theatre makers and artists from around the region.

Between 18 and 28 October, various spaces in the theatre – from its 250+ seater Studio to ad hoc stages in the foyer space – feature free live music, spoken word readings and installations, together with programmed performances at around £10 a ticket.

Diverse and different, the festival provides an opportunity to dip into new genres, and see and hear what artists from the region are doing. If only this kind of event could have such a focus more than once a year.

So, for something different, I dipped an ear into grime, specifically Poet in Da Corner by Debris Stevenson.  Described as a fusion of poetry, grime and movement, this show is two years into a three year development programme, so presumably not the final version (although this isn’t entirely clear from the show ‘blurb’).

Deborah ‘Debris’ Stevenson co-founded and was director of the hugely influential Nottingham-based spoken word group The Mouthy Poets who performed 11 Say Sum Thin events at the Nottingham Playhouse as well as venues around the country in their six years of existence. Sadly, the group closed earlier this year but The Mouthy Poets was the inspiration for many young people to write and perform their poetry in a collaborative environment.

Inspired by the ‘flows’ of Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 Boy in Da Corner, Debris revisits her teenage years recounting the good and the bad of moving secondary schools and trying to fit in with a new crowd. This was also where she discovered her dyslexia was not a barrier to this form of self-expression and her love for, and career, in poetry was born.

Supported on stage by artists including DJ Fever, Asset X, Nat and Tyrese (unfortunately, no programme to check artists’ names), the show begins up stage right with the performers in a tight, almost circular group, each taking their turn MCing. Storytelling comes purely from the mic and music, a sofa and chair on stage are purely functional.

Whilst perhaps reinforcing my limited experience of what ‘goes down’ at a grime gig, this opening felt rather alienating as purpose and lyrics weren’t easy to decipher.

Once Debris addressed the audience, however, this improved – a charismatic performer, she welcomes her audience warmly from centre stage – nobody puts Debris in a corner, clearly. We learn a few essential dance moves as well as background to the show. Her enthusiasm for and commitment to the genre are infectious, and by the end of the hour-long performance, the speed of delivery and wordplay are captivating.

An appreciative audience whooped and chair-danced throughout. I just wish I could have heard more of the words.

Image supplied by Curve.