You Having Olaf?, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Amy Toledano

A stage dressed with cardboard cut outs of Donald Trump, three members of One Direction and a children’s play house are just some of the elements that make up this monologue of a recovering children’s entertainer. Joseph Cullen, or put more plainly Joe, who enters the space in a complete Princess Leia outfit, introduces himself to us as exactly this, and then continues to surprise us from that moment on.

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Martin Creed’s Words and Music, Edinburgh International Festival

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by guest critic Tom Brocklehurst

This show does what it says on the tin.

We spend an hour in the company of Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed, who plays some of his songs, and talks through some of the things he finds troubling about modern life. In this respect, the show is more like a performance poet set – John Hegley meets Professor Branestawn.

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My Country; a work in progress, Theatre Royal Stratford East

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After 52% of 72% of the British voting population voted to leave the EU, Rufus Norris’s concern that London theatre was out of touch with the majority of British people drove him to launch a nationwide project of listening. He sent a team of ‘gatherers’ to all corners of these sceptered isles, and they collected 70 interviews from people up and down the country. The transcriptions combined with text by Carol Ann Duffy gave birth to My Country; a work in progress.

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The Poetry of Exile, White Bear

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You can be who you want to be, right? Rob, a driving instructor in modern day Romford, believes himself to be an 8th century Chinese poet from the Tang Dynasty. When he finally chooses to live the sequestered life of a poet out on the marshes in a wooden hut, it has huge repercussions on his family and friends. The whole thing’s silly – sure, you can choose a career, or where you live, but contrary to what Rachel Dolezal and desperate sci-fi fans may think, we cannot chose our race or the century we live in.

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The Toll, Half Moon

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Luke Wright’s jovial demeanour and impressive word hoard sit at odds with his smudged eyeliner and black leather jacket. The unassuming performance poet skulks to the mic, breathes, then unleashes a torrent of verbal acrobatics snapshotting British everymen and women. From a Georgian dine and dasher, to a bloke from Essex who swears he saw a lion roaming a campground, Wright’s depictions bring these characters to life. His dexterity and character-driven performance has a theatricality missing from most performance poetry, but the polished story present in What I Learned From Johnny Bevan is notably absent in The Toll.

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The Wild Party, Hope Theatre

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By guest reviewer Martin Pettitt

The Wild Party, a simple and to-the-point title, perfectly describes the show as well as the evening I experienced. There was so much to like about this performance. Adapted into a performance piece here by Mingled Yarn Theatre Company, The Wild Party was originally a book-length narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March in the roaring twenties. Initially deemed too racy to publish, it has since become a seminal work finding ever more relevance as we venture further into the 2000s.

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The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Finborough Theatre

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In the first part of Tony Harrison’s The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Victorian archaeologist Grenfell struts and frets around a group of silent Egyptians sifting through scraps of papyrus. He maniacally monologues on his quest to find Sophocles’ lost plays and works himself into such a frenzy that he begins to hallucinate. This triggers an inexplicable leap to ancient Greece where a satyr play is acted out and cloth phalluses abound, then another transition to a modern day street populated by homeless men.

Though there is some thematic consistency, the three stories are otherwise unrelated by plot and style. What initially appears to be a play-within-a-play turns out to be a disjointed and disappointing triptych, much like the fragments of papyrus that litter the stage.

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