Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Written in contemporary verse, combined with physical theatre and an original soundtrack of newly composed anthems. A one-man show written and performed by Greg Shewring, directed by Jesse Jones.
Written in verse and combined with physical theatre, ‘Guttermouth’ is a one-man exploration of Bristol’s nocturnal rave scene. Written and performed by Greg Shewring, ‘Guttermouth’ is our journey alongside an ethereal trickster-guide into the seamy underbelly of urban Britain. We follow our omniscient narrator as he encounters and embodies the characters, energies and living facets that define an electrically kinetic early-morning romp.
This production, from the Richard Burton Group, is an elegantly crisp presentation that showcases Shewring’s visceral text with clarity and precision. Using minimal set pieces (a wheely bin from which Shewring delivers the majority of this work), sparse costuming and occasional props, Shewring successfully taps the power of his hypnotic and flowing verse to include us in his ecstatic universe. He entreats us, with Shakespearean flair, to follow him as we travel through the oppressiveness of council estate conformity and local pub complacency, and into a space of light and sound (original soundtrack produced and mixed by Joe Newman).
Shewring’s observations range from raging, expansively performed rave dances to the quiet mundanity of pulling pints from a gurgling pub tap. Space and time artfully expand and contract to suit his narrative and as a performer Shewring has done well to mediate these realities. A nod here to director Jesse Jones with whom Shewring has seemingly choreographed and considered each line of this piece.
One gets the feeling that the spoken and performed texts of this work lie very near to Shewring’s autobiography, but they are performed with impressive control and objectivity. This quality of performance saves the piece from indulgence. We’ve all had that friend whose best-night-ever seemed an endless conglomeration of inebriated had-to-be-theres. Shewring gives a nod to this well known archetype through a gently performed, burnt-out stoner who struggles to encapsulate the profundity and meaning of ‘everything’ while expressing absolutely nothing. It’s a shrewd and welcome contrast that successfully lends perspective for the whole of the piece.
The spoken text, described by the artist as ‘contemporary verse’, is fluid at best though occasionally impenetrable. I found the trick here was to relax into the frenzy of impressions and descriptions – to trust Shewring’s performance to engender context through tone and to pounce on the sharp insights and vivid imagery that forge through his stream of dynamic consciousness.
Shewring treats his characters with care. He’s certain to make polite criticism of the establishment (the middle finger makes more than one appearance), but he’s gentle to the party goers who trade sexual favors for drugs. There were moments when I had wished Shewring’s observations were a bit more barbed – more Irvine Welsh and less Charles Buchowski. For all the talk of soul-rattling bass, we never really hear any rattlingly low tones or experience the truly dark elements of dub step culture.
Our charismatic narrator does a fine job to make us feel welcome, if a bit too safe, making this piece a love letter to nightlife instead of a Dear John or, as is often the case with work around these themes, a suicide note.
But perhaps this is exactly why ‘Guttermouth’ succeeds. It doesn’t attempt to shock us with depravity or hold our our feet against the flame of existence. Instead, it asserts with wide-eyed enthusiasm that there are great nights to be had and worthwhile moments beyond our daily routines; a whole world of experience awaits if you’re simply willing to follow along.