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Grit Lit: Tales from the Edge
Published on Saturday, 15 May 2010

Stories and storytelling must be one of the oldest forms of entertainment. But can watching writers read aloud compete with the more glittery, in-your-face brashness that Brighton Fringe has to offer? With a bill of seven writers on offer, Grit Lit was my chance to find out if this pared-down simplicity could cut it.

Even if the writers are great, it can be a challenge to listen for two hours, and the most successful acts were the ones that read short-short stories or flash fiction. Two or three little items strung together in their set allowed for lapses in concentration. Dave Swann's stories were witty and went down easily, like modern fables, and Jake Kennedy's happy-sad and sad-happy stories had a similar new-for-old feel.

The three readers who read extracts from novels or longer stories were still highly enjoyable, despite asking a little more of the audience. Caroline Rance's visceral and disturbing scene of an 18th Century amputation had me looking the book up on Amazon the next morning, fascinated to know more. Neil Ansell's bleak and inspiring story of living in semi-isolation in deepest Wales drew me in – and it was genuinely surprising to learn that this was his first live reading. Tim Lay's story about a rural hippy commune and its rat problem was skilfully done, and had a satisfying and nasty ending.

Amy Riley's novel about a New York taxi driver in the 1990s was the hardest for me to connect with, because – although the writing was clearly very artful and neat – the performance seemed low on energy and disconnected. I'd like to hear her read again before I make too much of a judgement.

The final reader, Ross Sutherland, very clearly stole the show. A well-practised performer who deliberately combines fiction and poetry with performance and stand-up, he got the biggest reactions of the evening. His crazed retelling of Red Riding Hood with various verbs and nouns transposed with ones 23 spaces down in the dictionary was delightful – "and they all lived hardcore, ever after" – as was his (pre-prepared) spontaneous poem, eulogising a member of the audience.

Shows like Grit Lit – a spoken word showcase of edgy, modern writing – fly or fail on the strength of the individual performers. Luckily for me and the rest of the audience squeezed into the Red Roaster Coffee House, the Grit Lit team had assembled a sparkling, well-thought-out bill of writers who delivered – with nothing more than words – all the thrills and spills an entertaining Fringe show needs.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.