Spoken word review: Scroobius Pip – Words

Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Scroobius Pip – Words at Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) reviewed by Roger Cox

“This isn’t going to be a comedy show,” says Scroobius Pip. “I’m just gonna read loads of depressing poems.” He’s telling the truth – sort of – but his audience still roars with laughter.

They’re not being cruel; there’s a lot of love out there in the Pleasance’s packed, boozy Ace Dome. But part of Pip’s magic lies in the way each poem he performs leaves the room teetering on the brink of a deep, dark, depressing abyss, before he somehow manages to pull us all back from the edge at the last possible moment, either with a twinkle of the eye, the tiniest hint of a half-smile or yeah, OK, sometimes with a joke.

But when Pip does occasionally do comedy banter it’s more deadpan than Jack Dee, more tangential than Ross Noble and, more often than not, still brutally, uncomfortably dark. Just not quite as dark as his poems.

In the bittersweet Terminal, he imagines spending one last blissed-out, drug-fuelled day with a terminally-ill woman. Magician’s Assistant, meanwhile, is a shudderingly bleak riff on Mark Antony’s “Brutus is an honourable man” refrain from Julius Caesar, only with the poet addressing himself to a young girl about to kill herself. After itemising the crushing effects her death will have on her little sister, her parents and her partner, he repeats the line, “But as you said before, this just affects you.”

Elsewhere we get domestic violence, revenge killings, the spirit-sapping tedium of working in retail… no dark stone is left unturned. That said, one or two of Pip’s poems have their lighter moments. A rhyme about meeting an ex-girlfriend has an unexpectedly hilarious reveal and there’s even a detour into cod-French.

The highlight, though, is 1,000 Words – the Scroobius Pip genesis story, which tells the tale of how he fell in love with language, conquered his childhood speech impediment and went on to become “the one with the leather ties/ and weathered eyes.” At exactly 1,000 words long, it’s a lot like its creator: a bewitching mixture of too-cool-for-school nonchalance and laser-like intensity.

MORE INFO: Scroobius Pip – Words at Pleasance Dome (Venue 23), Until 26 August

Originally published in The Scotsman