Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Masterful poetry and much more from a wordsmith par excellence.
Last year Greg Byron, the alter ego of Fringe doyen Gavin Robertson, was angry. Which meant he was awake. Twelve months on and he’s still awake and still angry. Still firing out words like bullets from a machine gun. Fast, fiery, punchy, on target. As he says, if you’re not angry, you’re not awake.
Stand-Up Poet is a tour de force follow-up to Byron’s very successful and well-received 2018 show, Words. Naturally, words remain the centre piece of this year’s wonderfully entertaining and painfully funny show – he’s a poet, so you’d expect that.
And what a lexicon we got covering subjects that came and went in the blinking of an eye. We had letters to America from both their so-called special partner (us, the UK) and France, the latter delivered with a comedic accent and a dose of irony that was as funny as it was (worryingly) accurate. Brexit got a bit of a bashing as did a certain orange hued (or “artistically tanned”, as Byron prefers) gentleman in the White House. US gun laws took a pasting and general inequality hit his radar, yet it wasn’t all about politics, politicians or topical social issues.
We got wacky ideas like what life would be like run in reverse, the daft advertising slogans that somehow get fixed in our heads and a lament to the recently “deceased” Mars rover (it sent back data for 14 years instead of its expected nine months). And there was a heartfelt, poignant piece about plastic pollution together with a reflective take on what a simple photograph can convey.
But, whilst it’s clear on which side of the political and social divide he falls, Byron never rams his views down his audience’s throat. Instead, he gently eases us around to his way of thinking, deploying his impressive lexicon to construct verse that twists and turns through humour, on to the serious point he wants to (almost subliminally) impart and then back to the humour again.
This is a show that oozes quality through every pore and stands out for three reasons : Bryon’s use of words, his delivery and his empathy with his audience.
Words. There’s a waterfall of them, all woven neatly into micro stories (his running gag of the “two word horror show” was right on the money), mini-stories (a series of fifty-five word poems which were clever, pithy and funny) through to stories told in prose or neat stanzas, with subtle varieties in terms of metering and rhyming patterns that draw one’s attention to the kernel of the piece he is relating. And the stories themselves are clever, often funny and/or tinged with pathos and really make you think.
Delivery. Byron has the perfect storytelling voice. Rich in tone, flicking effortlessly through the accents, careful use of intonation, modulation, inventive use of “pace and space” and he never misses or wastes a consonant or a vowel – everything is crystal clear. And his comic timing is sublime. From one-liners to full blown stories, he knows just where to accelerate, where to place the pause and for how long, before releasing the punch line, allowing the audience time to appreciate and digest it.
Audience. Byron made us a part of the show. There was no fourth wall. His rapport with the audience was natural, real and engaging. His enthusiasm for his art is infectious and it was like he was playing the show to you and you alone. It became a personal, immersive, stimulating and rewarding experience.
This is an absolute belter of a show, a “must see” in fact, for the reasons I outline above. As I reluctantly wandered out into another dank Edinburgh evening I felt refreshed, rejuvenated, my mind buzzing with the hypotheses Byron aired and the stories he’d told. An hour in which every word counted. How often can you say that?