Last Saturday I headed into Kent for Ashford Is…, part of the Revealing Ashford series of events. It was an overcast afternoon that threatened rain, and I was scheduled to appear on a stage made of cardboard: a soggy disaster in the making. A good crowd came to listen and the weather held, so I was able to perform without my platform collapsing down around me in a papier-mâché mess. Before my set, I went around the site and got people to complete the sentence ‘Ashford is…’ to create an impromptu, crowd-sourced list poem. There were all sorts of suggestions, from the obscene to the sublime, and the piece went down well with the audience.
Other than that I’ve been busy in the new job, which you can read about here on the Apples and Snakes blog. I also received a massive parcel of poems this week: all the entries for the Canterbury Festival Schools’ Poetry Competition. Now I have the hard task of picking winners and commendations before the Awards evening on the 6th October. I also went to see a poetry show this week, which you can read a review of at the end of this post. Not much coming up gig wise, what with the general August slow-down and Edinburgh. I’m going up 24 – 28 August and looking forward to seeing as many of the very many poetry and spoken word shows that are on, and hopefully perform at a couple of open-mics.
That’s it for now – have a look at my review of Richard Tyrone Jones Has a Big Heart, immediately below, and if you’re heading up to the Fringe let’s meet for a show and a drink!
Richard Tyrone Jones Has a Big Heart
This week I went to see Richard Tyrone Jones Has a Big Heart, the debut show from the eponymous spoken word poet. A piece of biographical detail first: at the beginning of last year, shortly after organising his own mock-funeral in celebration of his 30th birthday (which I attended), Richard was taken ill with dilated cardiomyopathy – heart failure, in other words. If such a set-up was put into a piece of writing, it would seem contrived, but life has these hyper-ironic coincidences sometimes. Now healthy again (or at least as healthy as someone can be with such a condition), Richard’s show details the last year and a half of his life – from near near death to recovery.
I’d first heard pieces from it in a workshop last year, so it was with anticipation that I went along to the Camden Head, where the show was happening as part of the Camden Fringe. Just down the road from the Green Note Café, where Richard hosts his monthly Utter! nights, I was perhaps expecting more of the same: Richard’s trademark compèring banter plus some poems – something I’ve seen him do incredibly well a number of times. And it was that – up to a point.
Given more of a focus, Richard was able to really explore the subject, making it more of a monologue with interspersed poems than a stand-up poetry set. Richard’s conversational tone belies the seriousness of what happened to him, as the moments of dark humour penetrate the lightness of his stage presence. The poems themselves are excellent, slowing the monologue down at the right moments and bringing the sometimes gory, sometimes brutal, reality of heart failure back to the fore. There is also a new and strong physicality in RTJ’s performance, no doubt coached by director Anthony Shrubsall.
Highlights include Richard’s story of an attractive nurse causing him to have a ‘gap’, resulting in the crash team cutting open his shirt to recover him, and stories of his fellow heart-failure patients (a 20 year old cocaine user who breaks out of hospital for a cigarette, a relentlessly upbeat man with hypertension). There’s also an incredibly impressive Tom Lehrer-inspired feat of memory as he adapts the Elements Song into a piece about all the types of disease humans can be born with – ultimately making the point that we can’t deny reproductive rights to people with genetic diseases, as were do you stop?
Like poetry itself, the subject matter could become self-indulgent and self-congratulatory, but the show never gets itself into this territory. There are many moments of humour, but the serious undertone is never lost. When Richard talks about thinking that he simply had a chest infection, accompanied by a coughing fit, it serves to reinforce the very real coughing that sometimes interrupts his performance. This is a man who has been, if not all the way to the precipice of death, not very many steps away from it. To deal with a harrowing experience with such considered comedy and measured pathos is an impressive feat, and one which Richard is justly getting recognition for in reviews.
The show is on once more at the Camden Fringe, on Sunday, so go see it, or catch it when it inevitably tours.