GofaDM lies, almost exclusively, tied to the written medium in which it was created. Despite this handicap, readers should not feel embarrassed to read it out loud – nor even to arrange soirées at which treasured extracts are read aloud and shared with an audience of right-minded folk (obviously, if money changes hands at such events, I shall expect to receive a cut). Perhaps I should consider preparing an audiobook version of this blog? This could attract those with fading (or faded) eyesight, that class of folk unwilling to commit to the effort of reading themselves and drivers others.
But that is, very much, by the by. This post will instead form my final dispatch from the Edinburgh Fringe (you do know that I can hear you cheering, even at the back). The Fringe brochure does have a very modest section entitled Spoken Word – but has much larger sections entitled Comedy and Theatre. In my experience, both comedy and theatre do involve the verb “to speak” being applied rather directly and repeatedly to the the noun “word”. For the avoidance of doubt, I shall be applying the title to cover theatre and poetry and the strange shadowlands that lie between.
One of the joys of the Fringe is the huge range of spoken word (my definition) on offer, usually (for budgetary reasons) with a cast of two or fewer. One can see in a week a bigger range than is usually possible in a year: the challenge is always in the selection and the regret about the ones that “got away”: either from a failure of discovery or excess discovery by others (i.e. sold out weeks in advance). Below are my recommendations from this year’s Fringe:
- The Solid Life of Sugar Water: a two-handed play by Jack Thorne. Given the bleakness of the material, it is about a couple dealing with the death of a child, this play has a lot of laughs – and I coped rather better emotionally than many fellow attendees. I like to believe that it ended with a slight hint of hope for the future – but this may just be part of my own coping mechanism. The staging is very clever and the two actors were both disabled: she was deaf (as required by the script) and he was largely missing one forearm (not mentioned in the play, so far as I noticed). This made me realise how rare this is to see – especially where the disability isn’t a primary focus of the ‘action’. In the real world, people with such ‘minor’ disabilities are far more common than you could guess from stage or screen – much like women and ethnic minorities and with as little excuse (though even less pushback). Something to bear in mind in my own future theatre-going.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family by Ben Norris. I can’t remember how I discovered Ben Norris (I don’t think he’s been on The Verb, so it must have been via Twitter) but this was my first chance to see him live. The piece fuses theatre and poetry (and slide-show) very cleverly and was really enjoyable. In a normal year, it would have been my poetry highlight, but this year was eclipsed by…
- What I learned from Johnny Bevan by Luke Wright. I’ve seen Luke’s poetry sets before, but this turned poetry into theatre and was at a whole new level. Luke is a surprisingly decent actor (and can carry-off a top-knot with surprising élan) and the play is incredibly powerful, despite the very simple staging (and perhaps enhanced by the amazing venue at Summerhall – one time veterinary college). This has rightly obtained very good reviews, though tickets were still surprisingly easy to obtain last week.
- Stay at Home Dandy by Luke Wright. After WILFJB, both Luke and I (separately) high-tailed it across Edinburgh to the Underbelly for his other show (the boy does like a challenge!). This was a more traditional poetry set about his life on the school run, but is a lot of fun and well worth seeing.
- This Will End Badly by Rob Hayes. Once actor plays three characters, switching between them apparently at random (I suspect there may be more pattern than this, but I’d have to watch it more times to be sure) each in problematic situations. The three characters have different accents and mannerisms which helps the audience to keep up, but you do need to concentrate. Another powerful piece and a veritable torrent of words. I saw it directly before Luke Wright’s two shows and by the end of this spoken word ‘trilogy’ and the level of concentration needed, I think my brain was starting to ooze out through my ears.
I find it even harder to select spoken word shows than stand-up (there is less chance to catch works via YouTube, TV or radio – or I don’t know where to look) and I am more dependent on reviews or following writers or theatre companies whose work I have enjoyed in the past. I guess 80% of this year’s highlights were from writers whose work I somewhat knew and the other came via a review – otherwise, the range on offer is just too great. Still, this feels like an area of cultural life in which I should try and do better and expand my horizons (it’s usually inexpensive, so no excuse there) – and not just at Edinburgh!