The passionate play can't help but come off as a slam-poetry 'Glee'
Kristiana Rae Colón’s play, set in and around a poetry slam competition, is always driving at the connection between poetry and politics. In the right combination and delivered with due passion, words might have as much power as any physical act. A group of young poets (with amazing names like Prism, Palace and Jericho) use their writing to confront a harsh, intolerant and warring world.
Echoes of an astonishing authorial voice are struggling to break free from an overloaded script, plumped up to push the running time to an unnecessary three hours. The plot itself is thin, and difficult to follow amid the polyphony of ideas.
But it’s essentially an episode of ‘Glee’: a rag tag group of misfits, who happen to be quite good at poetry, fret their way to a top competition called The Octagon. Who should fill the fourth slot on the team? Should they follow their hearts, or play the game tactically in order to win? Will Prism’s penchant for S&M come back to bite her on the arse?
Colón never allows one voice to speak for long, instead opting for disorienting intercut monologues. And the dense, lyrical and reference-laden rhythms of the script are given slightly short shrift by the cast - though Estella Daniels as The Watcher Named Pen, the woman who presides over the slams and runs the bar they’re held in, is a fierce combination of wisdom and mystery.
The second half goes some way to redeeming Lorna Ritchie’s sluggish production: the themes are laid bare, the characters given space to grow. The craft of poetry, which was something pure and heartfelt in act one, is shown up to be a grubby business - is it right to use Sandra Bland’s name just to score points with the judges? Colon also shows how constantly searching for inspiration can be just as nine-to-five as any office job.
The pen may be mightier than the sword, but so what? It’s not swords that wound these days. It’s knives and guns and the men that wield them. Octagon champions the power of words, but seems to recognise that ultimately they’re impotent in a society that so freely and so frequently bears arms.
BY: TIM BANO
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4 / 5
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The young actors recite poetry with passion and emotion and the themes are strong. I thought it was a pleasure to watch and I will recommend it to my friends. An inexpensive (especially the pay-what-you-can Tuesdays) opportunity to enjoy a good night at a small theatre.