Reviewing Flea Circus Open Slam is rendered problematic by the ever fluctuating line up of performers; each night sees five fresh poets do lexical battle for a spot in August the fourteenth’s final. It therefore goes without saying that the level of poetic prowess on display across the ten night run will vary significantly; any one show could be amazing or abysmal.
The evening I attended fell somewhere in the middle. Lucy Ayrton was on compere duties, and kicked things off with what was arguably one of the best pieces of the show, it’s almost a shame that she wasn’t competing. Nevertheless, Ayrton gave the atmosphere a convivial, informal edge and her relaxed approach was infectious. In this vein, you have to question a scoring system which leant towards the convoluted. Penalties for going over length by ten seconds were enforced, and the less said about the audience judged scoring system the better. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with competition, but given how breezily the fact that winner Matthew West couldn’t make the final was dealt with, it does seem disproportionate.
West himself was a deserving winner, given the stunning delivery of his animal alphabet piece. That the man had the audience in stiches over something which was essentially an exercise in vocabulary confirms his status as a wordsmith. The best of the rest was Henry Raby, whose rhythmic, punchy energy was put to good use with Letter from the Man to the Boy. Regrettably the other hopefuls were anything but memorable; their respective efforts were adequate, but unlikely to stay with you in the long term.
Headliner, Richard Tyrone-Jones was mixed bag in himself. Something of a legend, in poetry circles at least, his droll, off kilter sense of humour was utilized to full effect, jokes occasionally fell flat, but this was the exception and not the rule. The artist was at his weakest when opting for more disturbing material, and whilst a worthy post slam act, he couldn’t hold a candle up to the mighty West.
All things considered, the Flea Circus Open Slam is a classic example of preaching to the choir; if spoken word isn’t your tipple, there’s little in the way of innovation here to change your mind, a show for the converted only.