Spoken word review: Shift/ – A Best Of Spoken Word
Spoken word review: Shift/ – A Best Of Spoken Word

Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Shift/ – A Best Of Spoken Word, reviewed by The Scotsman’s David Pollock. ★★★★ Reflecting the invigorating freshness of the spoken word scene across the Central Belt of Scotland, Shift/ is a new programme of seven artists drawn from the very finest working in the sphere, each having written a …

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Shift Poets

Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Shift/ – A Best Of Spoken Word, reviewed by The Scotsman’s David Pollock.

★★★★

Reflecting the invigorating freshness of the spoken word scene across the Central Belt of Scotland, Shift/ is a new programme of seven artists drawn from the very finest working in the sphere, each having written a piece which runs to one hour and which is performed on a different night of the week. The logistics of reviewing such a mini-season of new work are tricky, so instead we’ve selected three individual performances to give a flavour, each of which reveals personal and political concerns amidst beautifully deft and challenging wordplay.

On Fridays, Harry Giles’s Drone is delivered in a nice, shiny silver dress, the sleek metal skin of the titular killer weapon in whose persona Giles’s anthropomorphic piece is delivered. Intensely bizarre and utterly engaging, this spoken tract is performed with a pinpoint accuracy which is hypnotic, Giles wearing a lyrical tone of voice which mirrors the title of the work; a buzzing, machine-like drone which only barely betrays the feminine persona which he has chosen for the device.

There’s an ISDN stream of consciousness to Giles’s words. He talks as if the drone is absorbing signals and soundbites from the crackling atmosphere, while Neil Simpson’s oppressive electronic fog blazes in the background. She – the drone – romances a nice ICBM at a party and imagines crashing at speed into the Western Pacific; she goes to the multidisciplinary art exhibition about drones and barks in clipped anger about hated phrases such as “arts strategy” and “media handling” and “new ways of working”; she watches It’s a Wonderful Life and feels disgust at “her country’s zeal for certain emotion”. It’s a state of the nation address from a frayed electronic mind flying high above that nation and looking for a place to hit.

“If life gives you lemons,” growls Bram E Gieben in his piece Exnihilo, delivered on Sundays, “**** lemonade, keep going.” This is Keep Going, his introduction to an extended work which is a very different kind of state of the nation address, a very personal and political attempt to make sense of the world.

“A year ago I would have shuddered at the positivity of that poem,” says Gieben, who uses the performing pseudonym Texture and who refers to himself as a “recovering nihilist”.

A certain view might be that there’s something quite portentous about such rhetoric, but Gieben is skilled and eloquent enough to tread the right side of the line between indulgent cynicism and tapping into the sense of powerlessness and fatalism which many feel increasingly faced with in life. He’s “male, mostly heterosexual, white and middle class”, and yet he writes works – delivered with a rapper’s timing and again with a dark, buzzing electronic background – about environmental catastrophe (Only Collapse) and financial injustice (Burning All My Money), searching through his own feelings of pessimism and optimism with a self-awareness which causes him to shrug that “every nihilist is his own Cassandra”.

On Wednesday is Jenny Lindsay’s Ire and Salt, her imagined conversation with Julia, Winston Smith’s love interest in George Orwell’s 1984. Like Gieben’s work, Lindsay recounts the shifting moods of the last few years of her life, although in a very different tone. She presents her poems with confidence and openness, and each piece is delivered in a wonderfully warm, coaxing manner, even as she grasps subjects as difficult as mental illness and being stalked. Amidst everything witnessed at the above sampling of these shows, her rhythmic and bare-souled description of emotional states ranging from ten down to one is perhaps the most eloquent and truthfully raw fragment.

What’s refreshing to note is that although each of these pieces shares similar fascinations – Gieben and Lindsay with the Scottish independence referendum, all three with the oppressive and fearful side of contemporary life and how power manifests within that – each voice sounds fresh and individual in expressing them.

Summerhall (Venue 26) until 28 August / listings

Main image: Chris Scott

Published in The Scotsman on 19 August 2015

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