‘What were you expecting?” ask Sage Francis and B Dolan of the puzzled crowd at their show Tricknology.
It’s a valid question in this burgeoning scene that veers from rap to poetry to theatrical performance.
This duo’s vast experience in the poetry slam and hip-hop scene has built a fanbase who gaze towards the horizon of expectation. But in Tricknology these formidable, bald and bearded wordsmiths subvert this somewhat by wrapping their freestyle skills in a themed narrative, taking on the role of false prophets offering enlightenment at a price. The dark comedic tone works well, yet when they do break character to perform standalone spoken word and rap pieces, their phenomenal skills are laid bare to make it feel as if they are eitherrationing their talent or hiding their light under a bushel.
In Two Ducks, Matt Abbott shows he is the finished article, but polished is a description too bland and smooth for a performance with truth and anger roughing its edge. His stage is split into the three sections that his act follows – representing Brexit Britain, the Calais Jungle (which he visited) and a seat that he takes when sharing the personal story of Maria, a fictional character from his native Wakefield. If this all sounds oh so serious, it is seasoned with highly amusing reflections including sex in a two-man tent and a drunken night in Romford – a town he marvels has “two Wetherspoon’s on one street!”. His room is around a quarter full on this mid-run afternoon. Every empty seat is a missed opportunity to see an artist with something to say, who knows how to say it.
Then, on to the lighter side of the scene with the Loud Poets collective. With four performers, a four-piece band and special guest Victoria McNulty, they burn through an enjoyable, fast-paced hour, bringing poetry to the masses. They at first seem very likeable. So likeable. Too damn likeable – mainstream balladry to the Dylanesque political posturing of Abbott or prophets of rage Sage and Dolan. Then once we’re comfortable, they broadside us with a deep and heartfelt meditation on immigration, where US-born poet Katie Ailes mirrors her chosen migration with that forced upon others – checking her privilege in acknowledging her “accent is as good as a visa stamp”. A common-sense critique of a performance is simply whether it’s worth the ticket price – in this case a resounding yes.
The next evening offers a show with no such price barometer, That’s What She Said takes place on the Free Fringe. Lively compere Jane Brady explains from the off that this London-based night is there to champion writing by women, but it’s a welcoming event for all, with a revolving performer list changing each night in cabaret gig format. This evening of four performers builds from a talented rookie cutting their teeth through to the charisma-fuelled, character-based set of modern Renaissance Woman Sabrina Mahfouz. She reads from How You Might Know Me, a poetry collection from the perspective of four sex workers. The room erupts in laughter, then is silenced by her work’s darker notes. Mahfouz appears at Edinburgh International Book Festival today as part of their Babble-On spoken word strand, sharing a stage with Scotland’s own Iona Lee, another to feature in those Nationwide adverts.
Matt Abbott, Two Little Ducks @ Underbelly until 27 August; Sage Francis and B Dolan present Tricknology, New Town Theatre until 27 Aug (not Monday); Loud Poets, Scottish Storytelling Centre until 28 Aug (not Monday); That’s What She Said, Room 3 @ Barbados until Saturday