Spoken Word Reviews


Mark Niel hosts the Tongue in Chic Showcase

Nats Kitchen 16 - 18 th July

The person next to me said 'I didn't know poetry could be such fun'. The evening was filled with many pleasant and humorous poems. Live performance of modern poetry works really well when it's personal and expressed with feeling. Mark Niel, who was also host, certainly knows how to communicate his work; his pieces were comic and powerful. If you like humour will certainly enjoy, 'My name is Mark Niel!' and 'My half of the fridge!', both of which have wonderful twists at the end.

Tonight's show varied in style and content. It featured Danni Antagonist, who has some wonderful lines, such as, 'making your life a crime of passion', and I'm sure many people will share Danni's sentiment in her piece, 'Farewell to big brother' In contrast Faye Roberts pieces were more subtle, with a soft seducing rhythm and show a depth of style, ranging from the poignant to the humorous like 'Oh!' or bitter like 'some people are like plants the gardener never intended'. However, I'm not sure what she has against the colour 'orange' for poetry doesn't need to rhyme it just needs a rhythm.

Guests featured Brian Two and David Lovesey, who won the evening's prize by popular vote of the audience. Both these poets produce delightfully amusing works with a good rhythm. Brian's Two's works, whose obvious inspiration was his son, included pieces, 'O My Daddy' and 'Boggies'.

The final artist was, Jerry Potter from Liverpool, who introduced his work with a clever piece that included words and rhymes that emphasised or worked with his Liverpool accent. His works were slightly more serious and based on his experiences growing up in a rough area of Liverpool, 'Battered Blue' and a tale about a young girl fighting for recognition and help and losing. This was delivered reasonably well but too many works of self reflection may start to lose the sympathy of the audience.

This type of performance is suited to the relaxed informal atmosphere of a bar. The only drawback to the evening was the restaurant activity. Nats Kitchen is a very popular restaurant that is unlikely to pause or subtly change its business to seriously accommodate a performance. It was apparent that the poets were expected to be the free entertainment for the diners, as all the tables in this type of establishment are likely to be pre-booked. Tonight was a busy night, especially for the restaurant and seating space for any guests was a premium. Get there early and stake your place.

Peter Stacey

BEDTIME STORIES - Hendrick's Gin & 40 Winks

With tales of adventure & mystery abounding, all the attention is fixed on the story tellers

The Gin Train is with us until the 18th opposite the Octagon but, sadly, there are no more bedtime stories

Rachel Rose Reid of 40 Winks read three stories to a full tent most of whom were wearing their nightwear as instructed. We started with gin, had a break for gin and could have had more gin afterward if we had the capacity.

The stories were "The Shadow" by Hans Christian Anderson, a Scottish folktale about silkies and Angela Carter's "I cannot Tuck You up". The choices made an excellent contrasting blend. The Shadow like so many of Andersons "Fairy" tales is dark and unsettling and all is not happy ever after. The silkie story (a silkie is a seal that sheds its skin to reveal the human inside, usually a beautiful girl, at midsummer or other magical times) exemplifies the beauty and haunting sadness of the folktale genre. "I Cannot Tuck You up" was rightly the favourite of the presenter. In the guise of a dark vampire tale Angela sucks us into considering the true horrors of the shadow of the 1st World War.

Rachel is accomplished and engaging, despite being dressed for it none of us came anywhere near falling asleep. 40 Winks perform regularly at the eponymous bijou boutique hotel in Stepney, London. Down there they would cost you a pony; we got them free. Thank you Hendrick's Gin.

John Wilson

FRINGE READINGS - Festival Fringe Readings

Old Hall Hotel, remaining performances 17, 18 Jul, 2pm and 3pm, 23 Jul, 2pm and 3pm. NB 24 Jul performances cancelled.

The Fringe Readings tradition has been going so long that it predates my own involvement in the Fringe. Talking to speaker and former Fringe chair, Peter Low, about it, I was surprised to find out that it originated as part of the Festival, the first ever readings being from Boccacio's Decameron. When the Festival Readings became Fringe Readings in 1993, a typically Fringey touch was that each speaker was invited to choose his or her own reading, rather than having to read something pre-decided.

Fringe Readings are still going strong with speakers, usually with some connection to the Fringe, choosing what they want to read and audiences taking potluck as to what they might hear. It's all free and the random nature is part of the fun, though I admit the press officer in me is tempted to suggest perhaps a little flyer advertising what's in store?

Attending the first reading this year I was greeted by Peter Low reading an early Roald Dahl story called Taste. Published in 1953, it is an engrossing, rather chilling tale in which a snobbish host attempts to outwit the wine expert at his dinner party. A dangerously absurd wager ensues in which the host, Mike, bets his daughter's hand in marriage that his guest cannot guess the provenance of a particular mystery claret. The story is all eyes at the start with the two men sizing each other up flintily, then all mouths as the gourmet, Richard, licks his full wet lips, taking sip after defining sip. We do not need to be told what a repulsive husband this would be for Mike's poor, blameless daughter.

In the quiet surroundings of the back bar of the Old Hall Hotel there was no need for any special projection and Peter's enjoyable, expression-filled but not over dramatic delivery made me feel rather as if I was tucked up in bed listening to a bedtime story -a great feeling in a week that has seen the flooding of the Fringe desk amongst other minor stresses. Don't forget to make a date in your diary for the next Fringe readings, a great way to relax during the mayhem of Fringe and Festival.

Stephanie Billen

WHAT HOLY COW IS THIS? - Psychicbread


Sadly just the one performance

Psychicbread are Mark Gwynne Jones, Nick the hat, John the drum and Debbie the keyboards. Sound by John McGrother, Stuart and Bernie.

Mark is a nationally recognised star and doesn't really need a review from me and, what's more, he's not doing another show this Fringe so I can't encourage you to come to the next show.

But he does seem to come back every year so all I can suggest is you block out next year's Fringe dates and make sure you're free when he's back. Other than that read the radio/TV listings, peruse what's on and be prepared to travel. It doesn't matter how far; you will be rewarded.

Those who have experienced Mark and the Psychicbread will not need a description. For those that haven't, it is unlikely my talents will suffice. The show starts weird and gets weirder. Think surreal, think psychedelia with music. Mark has a huge vocal range and mesmerising stage presence. His poetry is powerful, intelligent and witty. He observes the world wryly from strange angles. A born performer, he is a man of intellectual substance with a view of the world shared by the largely "alternative" audience. A polemicist he would nevertheless engage even his targets with his charm and humour.

Sometimes the words performance and poetry sit uncomfortably together but with Mark the two are entirely compatible; each would be less without the other. If you've not seen him, work out how to.

John Wilson


Are you `Bard` enough?

13th July Grove Hotel

The upstairs room at the Grove Hotel was jammed with performers and audience for the now-annual Fringe Poetry Slam. Poetry Slam? You heard right. This is a slightly wacky idea that sees poets performing in three minute slots and then being judged against each other by five randomly picked members of the audience. Competitive poetry like competitive yoga, is an odd idea, and yet, here, in this robust but very supportive atmosphere it seems to work. Rob Stevens is the brains behind it all, he organises and comperes, like some avuncular ringmaster. He even reads his own poetry.

The usual monthly Tuesday night poetry slam has a core of about nine poets, they'd turned out in force - 14 - for the Fringe spectacular, and all the work is original. There's a lot of rhyming in Buxton!

The system is that the 14 performers each have two three-minute slots to deliver their work. If they run over their allocated time a bell rings and they are penalised. It's very precise. After those two rounds then 14 would be whittled down to four, who would then read longer pieces - up to five minutes. There would then be a winner. Hurrah!

This is poetry as entertainment, Rob described it as 'gladiators bleeding for our amusement.'

The subject matter is wide-ranging; from the slightly unsettling 'Sweaty Betty' to serious war poetry, from doggerel to poems about daytime TV, weddings and relationships. Something for everyone. Visiting poet Mark Niel from Milton Keynes, read a skit on one of Philip Larkin's famous poems; Mark's was the more tactile-based 'They Tuck You Up Your Mum and Dad' and was very funny. As well as plenty of humour there were serious poems; I found Rob Stevens's 'Billy's Coming Home Today' about a soldier arriving home in a coffin very moving, particularly in light of recent events in Buxton.

I won't mention names but I did recognise a couple of poems from last year's slam, however I am being a bit picky there, all were original and most were entertaining. After well over 60 poems, it was testament to the depth and breadth of material that most of the audience were still there three hours later. The four highest scorers were drawn from the sequinned velvet pouch (there's lots of showmanship involved) and we were treated to Sue Walker 'Thompson's Chip Shop Queue', Gary Carr 'Information Underload', Rob Stevens 'The Hole in Noah's Ark' and Mark Niel's 'First Kiss'.

Mark Niel was declared overall winner after a sterling performance about being sexually attracted to his audience. It was a bravura performance as he stripped off to reveal a less-than-perfect physique!

You can see Mark perform again at Nat's Kitchen 16/17/18th July as a cast of seasoned poets perform from 9pm.

Gill Kent

IZZY'S BEE AND ME - Simon Unwin

Ashford poet Simon Unwin

United Reformed Church Hall, 14 July 7pm to 9pm

I arrive at the venue to be met by Simon and a likeable lady on ticket sales but sadly no other audience. We wait for a little while in case latecomers have been waylaid by the delights of the Buxton Fair, taking the opportunity to get a little acquainted and to admire the well appointed hall with its lovely stained glass windows. They are pleasant company and it seems a shame to abandon proceedings so the show goes on.

And a pleasant show it is. Simon Unwin takes us on a tour of his beloved Peak District and artfully blends together his poetry, photographs and reminiscences to varied and entertaining effect. And to complete the audiovisual experience he even uses his own recorded guitar accompaniment to link each section of the performance. There are also judicious recordings of sheep bleating, swifts screeching and the yellowhammers' summer call of "little bit of bread and no cheeeese" which sadly he no longer hears in Pennyunk Lane near his home in Ashford in the Water.

The poem of his that provides the title for the show was written 15 years ago after a walk in West Kinder Scout ("and on her knee, a bee"), but the rest were written last year after he was made redundant from Ferodo. It is inspiring to see how he has made an opportunity out of that particular crisis.

His topics range from the gravestone of his great grandfather in Stoney Middleton to child labour in Cressbrook Mill ("Half starved and beaten and worked to the bone/and buried in graves without even a stone"), but there are also discourses on crows, Wellington boots, dragonflies and hares.

And throughout this rewarding evening, the resonant names of the Peaks ring out - Fin Cop and the Fiddler of Fin, Hob's House, Longstone Edge, Ravens Dale, Kinder Gates, The Riley Graves - reminding us of the poetry all around us.

Dan Osborne


Stranger than Fiction: The Weird, Wicked & Wonderful - David Allen

The United Reform Church on Hardwick Square was a congenial venue for David Allen's ramble through the Weird and Wonderful World of the Law, and a good crowd was in for an entertaining hour in his company.

The show is built round Allen's twenty years in the law, particularly as a locum solicitor where he is in and out of different offices and experiencing different areas of the legal system from family law to litigation, and particularly personal injury, including a nasty incident with a circular saw and its legal consequences - something that may be of special interest to one of the Fringe organisers. You'll also find out what happened to an old lady stuck in a lavatory, and about a will written on a pair of pants.

The other main theme of the show is Political Correctness and Health and Safety gone mad, where he vents his exasperation at the modern world, in which a £10 note can be litter, protective glasses are required to use blu-tac and a teabag may be mistaken for something more sinister.

Allen is a natural raconteur and created an intimate and friendly atmosphere where the appreciative audience felt comfortable enough to chat back and ask the odd question, interaction that our host welcomed and took in his stride.

Continues at the URC Room 2 on 15th July at noon and 5:45pm*, 16th July at noon, 5pm and 9pm* and 17th July at 5pm and 9pm*

NB The talk reviewed was the Weird and Wonderful World of the Law, performances marked * are of the talk on Victorian Murders.

Steve Walker


The Anatomy Of Melancholy

There was a moment when a technical hitch derailed the start that I felt rather fearful for Moxy Casimir with her nervous and slightly anxious demeanour. But when she started her first whimsically surreal exploration of the reasons for our melancholy it became clear that she was in control of her material and the gasps of laughter from a slightly wrong-footed audience lent the moment a Susan Boyle-ish quality (I hasten to add that there is no resemblance at all between Moxy Casimir and SuBo).

That first anecdote is an examination of the biblical creation story and the common ancestry of Adam and Eve and clay - explaining how it's no wonder things have gone awry for us from the start. Moxy teases out some hilarious and never before considered links between our ancestors and those of the humble clay. I have a completely new view on the Terracotta Army, and perhaps some of us did come home and give the ornaments on our mantelpiece a hug.

The material in the second half of the show is not of the same standard as the opening half, with the tangential asides, while regularly very funny, often distracting from the main thread rather than augmenting it, and the coherence of the whole suffers. But there are still some very funny moments, you'll never before have considered swapping your ribs for vertical blinds, whether JFK was killed by Cubism, and sphinxes enjoyment of Sudoku.

I also felt that the music and dance segment at the beginning seemed unnecessary, it is hard to see what relevance it has to the rest of the show - and without it there would be no risk of the technical hitch.

If you'd like to experience the delightful and dreamlike world of Moxy Casimir, The Anatomy of Melancholy continues at Underground Venues on 14th July at 9:30pm, and 17th and 18th July at 2:15pm. NB As a late addition to the Fringe you won't find it in the printed program.

Steve Walker


Poet, translator and performer Jennifer Ferraro

One more performance at 8pm in the United Reformed Church Hall on Tuesday 20th July

Jennifer Ferraro reads, sings and dances to poetry of the Sufi mystics which she has translated. She is completely unselfconscious and open in sharing these and her own poems with the audience.

Sufism is a mystical form of Islam, though there are those who claim the core belief in a unity between man and divine, the presence of the divine within, predate the prophet. Often persecuted by established Islam as heretics the Sufi embraced sensual pleasures (as we know from Omar Khayyam) and many sects embrace a full role for women in religion.

This is particularly true of the Turkish Bektashi tradition whose poetry across eight centuries Jennifer has translated. In one poem from the 19th century that Jennifer shares the male poet takes a female voice and pseudonym - Edip Harabi - to express revolutionary ideas of equality that would be radical in Islam today.

"They say we are inferior".

The use of a refrain is common in the poems. The first from the 12th century is Nesimi's "What of it?" Later we get "What would I do?" The poems are essentially songs and Jennifer is at her most charming when she accompanies the poem on frame drum or sings the words. The song she sings, initially in Turkish, is so restful and beautiful it could be a lullaby. For one song Jennifer dances most elegantly and charmingly in the beautiful silk Turkish traditional costume she wears.

For strangers to this world these Sufi songs are the most interesting part of the recital.

Jennifer follows with readings of her own poems on the themes of love and loss. These are intensely personal and shared so openly. Jennifer is clearly a remarkable person.

The books she read s from are available for sale.

"Quarreling with God" is the book of translations and her own book is "Divine Nostalgia"

Both can be found at http://www.jenniferferraro.com

John Wilson


Where unusual tales are found aplenty.

Pavilion Gardens

The venue is a small raised platform in the Pavilion Gardens set facing the 'Horseless Carriage of Curiosities', which together with an open side marquee formed a garden of its own with ragtime music and free tots of gin and tonic to anyone who stepped into the space.

The Peek and Speak is a 50 minute talk by three authors who are each introduced by Damian Barr. Each author tells a personal tale of their connections to inspirational people with curious and sometimes amazing co-incidence. Each author also brought a related object or objects adding credence and foundation to their tales.

From RAF training in Iraq in 1939, to the Camp at Buchenwald, the third most famous person from Denmark, Pineapple Joe and a large ball made of the silver paper from chocolate bars and, my favourite, the super ellipse.

A huge part of the spell is the context and storytelling of the authors and their personal involvement. Prepare to be gob-smacked! Some of these quite extraordinary connections led some members of the audience to gasp in awe.

Having a particular interest in mathematics, I was especially absorbed by the stories and objects of Alex Bellos, author of the book 'Alex's Adventures in Numberland.'

So intrigued was I, that the first thing I did when I got home was to browse the internet.

Martin Wood


Sophie Snell in Seven Deadly Sins

Underground Venues - Pauper's Pit 9 Jul 3:30pm to 4:30pm, 14-15 Jul 2:15pm to 3:15pm 

It is always a good sign when an hour speeds by, and storyteller Sophie Snell had the audience gripped from the outset.

I was expecting some kind of plod through the seven deadly sins but instead Snell wove three disturbing British folk tales (all new to me) within a clever framing story in which a girl flees from a row with her mother and into a nearby church. There she ends up throwing down prayer books and hiding from the priest by slipping behind a curtain. Before she knows it she is listening to a series of highly confidential confessions...

Although her delivery was just a little hesitant at times (probably because this is a new show for her), Snell has a way with words and is a very expressive performer who really knows how to tell a story and paint pictures in your head. Without spoiling the plot, I can tell you that certain images are indelibly printed on my consciousness - the proud young woman framed in a candlelit doorway in her long black dress that 'whispered' across the floor, its velvet 'as soft as fur', or the rampaging Roman soldiers in their red capes, jeering at the beggar whom they have crucified, little imagining the wrath they have inspired in his fellow villagers.

The stories may be ancient but Snell calls her work New Writing, and rightly so. Viscerally thrilling as the show is - and not for the faint-hearted at times - it is also intellectually satisfying with a near perfect overall structure and a neat twist at the end. Recommended.

Stephanie Billen