Only You Can Save Poetry shares ineffable truth at the Roundhouse
“Have you ever been to a live poetry show before?” Near the start of this experimental live poetry show, this is one of the many questions the audience has to answer through their handheld electronic control sets, which also pose questions relating to the ethics of theft, who you vote for and whether you believe in a higher power, to name a few. Many in attendance are able to answer in the affirmative to the first question, but whether you fit into this rather snug subculture or you are a virgin to live verse, it would be a mistake to miss Only You Can Save Poetry.
The show’s two leading men are Mark Grist and Tim Clare, two cultish but accessible figures with experience between them in comedy, music, writing novels and battle rapping. The hook of Poetry is they want to avert any failed live gigs in future by observing audience opinion throughout via the results captured by the handsets. They offer much, from comedic deconstructions of poetic themes such as politics, nature and cheese (you can thank GK Chesterton for the last one) to a challenge to make 150 pop cultural references in verse under time pressure. It’s not all comedy, though, as there are some moving and wrenchingly personal pieces as well that strengthen the overall show immeasurably, such as Clare’s pledge to his unborn child and Grist’s reflection on a written note he found from an audience member unimpressed with his performance at a gig.
The fact that the audience interaction veered close to being an obnoxious gimmick is thankfully sidestepped by the pair’s sardonic yet sincere skewering of this very method of making art and performance into a glitzy competition (as seen in shows like The X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and so on). Grist is a former teacher whilst Clare, as a young student, is seemingly a perfect product of the exam-heavy curriculum, so both are well placed to passionately examine this theme of education while deftly tackling others such as success, failure, capitalism and social alienation in the process.
Only You Can Save Poetry’s power is like that all-enveloping desire for the approachable boy or girl that you thought was securely fenced in the friend zone: it sneaks up on you, with the initial larky po-mo cleverness unravelling to reveal a more profound empathy and wisdom. These two wordsmiths don’t necessarily teach you anything new but instead remind you of some ineffable truths that may have been forgotten. Another question asked is how happy you feel by the show’s end; despite its quality, there’s an accompanying bitter realisation, as you walk through the Tube where posters of Ninja Mutant Turtles gurn at you from their static residence, that not enough people will share the experience.
Only You Can Save Poetry is on at the Sackler Space in the Roundhouse from 31st May until 2nd June 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for the production here: