Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Barnd New Ancients is an epic for our times, celebrating two South London families. The infidelities, familial betrayals and revenge of Greek tragedy are played out here in Peckham with young boys whom society no longer has a purpose for and who struggle to find their place in the world. Kate Tempest’s glorious poetry gives them wings and lets us see the humanity that is in us all.
Myths have shaped our world, and Kate Tempest reshapes it again with a vibrant new work that draws on myth to infuse our everyday world with humanity – and yes, with godliness.
‘Where are the gods today?’ In Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients the gods are among us now:
“The gods are in the betting shops, the gods are in the café,
The gods can’t afford the deposit on their flat…
Winged sandals tearing up the pavement,
Me, you, everyone, Brand New Ancients.”
They’re with us in all their imperfections. We’re reminded that the gods of Greek mythology weren’t gods of unattainable perfection: Zeus wasn’t a man renowned for his fidelity. And so, today the gods live in South London, ordinary working class people doing their best, experiencing small epiphanies, making bigger mistakes.
Kate Tempest creates an epic tale for our times with the story of two families, their lives intertwined as they connect and repel, draw together and pull apart, hurtling towards an inevitable cathartic conclusion.
It’s an hour long spoken story told over an orchestral score performed by a four-piece band (Kwake Bass on drums, Jo Gibson on tuba, Natasha Zielazinski on cello and Raven Bush on violin). With its roots in rap and performance poetry, Tempest transcends these forms and takes the words to new heights. Her words circle and soar, and swoop down to earth, and spiral, never out of control. She has an incredible range, infused with raw energy turning to elegiac praise, with precision that hits the spot every time. Above all, she is tender and compassionate, her poetry used to illuminate the lives of people who are so often denigrated.
When she first comes on the stage, Kate Tempest cuts a small slight figure caught in the lights. She introduces herself and welcomes us to her space, claiming the wide open theatrical space as something more intimate that we share together. And then as the story unfolds her energy grows, and she bounces from foot to foot like a boxer limbering up until she’s striding the stage like a Colossus waiting to land a mighty punch. Her punches are her words and her presence; utterly compelling, this is storytelling at its peak.
Occasionally, just occasionally, art has the power to make changes in the way you emerge to see the world; when I first saw Rachel Whiteread’s work I came out seeing everyday objects turned inside out. Walking through Edinburgh’s post midnight streets after Brand New Ancients, people detached themselves from each other and became individuals for me again, no longer background noise or even threats. Gods among us indeed.