Editor's Review: Spoken Word at Brighton Fringe

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A whistle-stop, two-day visit to the Brighton Fringe on a glorious bank-holiday weekend at the start of May was always going to be unsatisfyingly brief.  In true Fringe tradition events were everywhere, street-entertainment was rife in the city centre and fliering was de rigueur, but while my first ever visit to the festival was all too short it did give me the opportunity to experience three very different forms of poetry performance, all of which I enjoyed immensely.


Down the Pub with Luke Wright.  **** (Four stars)

Luke Wright (pictured) wowed this expectant sell-out audience with his trademark confidence and his clever, engaging material.  From the Fish Bar favourites to the single-vowel univocals of London Sloths and the like, we really felt that Luke had indeed taken us all down the pub and we were all having a great time.  For any innocent bystander who may have stumbled across this show (as often happens at Fringe Festivals) it would have been very hard not to get swept along with the enthusiasm of the crowd, who were very much assembled to worship at the feet of this modern poetry master. 

The only question that formed in my mind was: why was he playing to such a small venue?  There are a lot of people wanting to share the Luke Wright love, and this sweltering 50/60-seater back room at a pub which had no air-conditioning and started over half an hour late due to previous over-runs didn’t do him justice.  It was so hot in there, at one point he even took his jacket off.  I’m not saying this was a feature of the show but more than one person wolf-whistled.

Luke delivered his brilliant poetry with consummate ease to a largely adoring audience who devoured every word and howled for more.  He was never going to disappoint, but then again this seemed to be no challenge for him and I look forward to experiencing a different kind of show where he gets to flex his performance muscles in a much larger room with an audience who need to be won over.  In the mean-time though, this was a great night out down the pub, cheers!


Mark Grist and Tim Clare: Voted Out*** (Three stars)

This was an unusual but hilarious hour of unruly slam poetry for technology nerds.  Grist and Clare, both highly capable poets, created a kind of faux-competitive environment in which to deliver their work and then used mind-blowing 25th century brain-invading neural-pathway machinery to harvest the very thoughts of every individual audience member.  Okay this may be overstating the situation, but they did have a very clever gizmo which enabled them to gather an instant and anonymous total audience response to any given question.  It was great fun.

This was also an interesting exercise in seeing poets become stage performers.  They had a script (sort of), and they inhabited the personas of competing poets/audience hosts/data geeks with a real energy which worked very well indeed.  The show was highly entertaining and the format they used was underpinned with originality, although it did seem that the comedy information-gathering took more prominence than the poetry and became a little laboured at times.  I would have liked to have heard more than the half-dozen or so poems we were offered amid the antics.

This was definitely more a “show” than a spoken word performance, and congratulations to both of them for mixing things up a bit and finding a new spin on bringing poetry to a wider audience.  I don’t think either of them could claim that this would have furthered their careers as poets in particular but they will definitely have grown as performers and entertainers.  They certainly seemed to be having a really good laugh and it was a joy to be part of the fun.


Joseph J Clarke: Drunk with a Pen.  ** (Two stars)

Joe Clarke presented the only straightforward poetry recital I attended in Brighton.  He was clearly of the mind that his show was about poetry rather than performance, an entirely worthy approach which I applaud although one that resulted on this occasion with rather pitifully low audience numbers. Which was a shame as his work was enjoyable, well-crafted and gentle if a little under-stated.

To all intents and purposes he had made all the right moves to market the show as an entertaining hour (which it was), with a good show title and website-based blurb to make it all sound quite absorbing.  Unfortunately he seemed to pay scant attention to the idea that this was a large festival with a great variety of events on offer to a discerning public who would be unlikely to buy tickets to see an unknown poet when they could far more easily take a punt on a free comedy show elsewhere in the town.

Perhaps he would be more at home at an event dedicated purely to poetry, and while his delivery was good his stage-presence sadly lacked anything more than a misplaced boyish charm that belied his maturity.  Of course not all spoken-word artists feel the need to perform with gusto and elaborate passion when taking the stage, but there is something about choosing to put on a show at an arts festival which rather implies one needs to have something people actually want to see.  Joe’s best work is definitely his poetry, not his performance, and for my money this could be better enjoyed on the page rather than the stage.


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Gary Carr

Sat 2nd Jun 2018 15:02

Couple of comments.
I’ve seen Luke at Ed. Fringe shows, poetry festivals, on his tours and in 50-80 seater pubs for one-off bookings. The tour (400+ seats in the theatre) and his main show at the fringe (again in the hundreds) were good and professional, but only showed a “stage” personality, interaction was scripted in. The ensemble show in Edinburgh and the one-off booking, both in smallish venues, are where he shone and interacted more naturally with the audience, which is a big strength for him.
Your review on Joseph J Clarke is perhaps a little harsh, one would expect attendees at an “Arts” festival not to always need to “be” entertained. I suspect that, as a relatively “unknown poet” about to put on a “spoken word” show at a big arts festival you might find this review coming back to bite you on the bum🤨.
An interesting approach to the review might have been to compare JJC’s position to your own and to have considered the learning points you might take away from it for your upcoming show. Have you scripted your own between poem patter? Is it as entertaining as it should be? Have you considered whether the poetry has the maximum inbuilt audience potential? Does it need to? What is the nature of the contract between poet and audience, is it fulfilled? are all questions you could have mooted to give maximum audience satisfaction from the review.😏

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