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Ross Sutherland - The Three Stigmata of Pacman
Published on Monday, 23 August 2010

4 stars

Underbelly, Cowgate (venue website)
Until 29 Aug, 4:40pm (5:40pm)
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

Ross Sutherland's show is full of added value.  Little extra thoughts and ideas that enhance everything, and give the effect of him simply having too many clever takes on the world to fit in.

I loved that we came into an empty Iron Belly, upstairs at the Underbelly, to find a black and white live film of Sutherland's face that was either slowed down or sped up in some way to make it look decidedly odd.  I loved that it was accompanied by an acoustic guitar version of the Doctor Who theme tune, which even as a devoted Who fan, I had never heard before.  I also like the fact that almost every publicity shot of Sutherland (including the poster for this show) features him doing his O-face.  (But that last one could just be me.) 

Ross Sutherland's highly-original spoken-word show is hard to describe using the usual methods of comparison.  At one point he gives reviewers a hint by explaining that he's applied for Arts Council funding for 'live literature, or whatever this is'.  So maybe that's a description?  Sutherland's show consists of that particular kind of rap-influenced performance poetry - spoken to a rhythm and with distinctive hand movements and vocal urgency - strung together with a monologue that is a lot like stand-up, although of course, there'd be no Arts Council funding if he called the show comedy.

It's the poems that are the strongest part of the show.  They're genuinely original and experimental, like his showstopper: Liverish, Red-blooded, Riff-raff, Hoo-hah, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with all the words transposed with the one 23 places down in the dictionary.  Other fine moments come from a poem about a time capsule and about being refused alcohol in a local Spar.

The stand-up story that links these poems is slight and quite contrived. It's very funny in places and the early sections about Sutherland's career as a music journalist were enjoyable.  He reviewed musicians by repeating phrases such as 'bound to set the charts alight', 'the time for the X invasion is now' (where X would be the musical genre in question) or 'see them now before they die of drugs'.  This exposure of journalistic clichés had me wondering how often I too repeat myself.  But the overall story of Sutherland's quarter-life crisis, sending him back to his parents' home in his late 20s, didn't touch me.

However, I loved the poems and the committed, cocksure performance.  The show might feel as if it fails in its intention to say something profound and existential about life (and Sutherland's love of video games, which is where the title comes in) - but it is no less entertaining for that.  It is highly, wonderfully experimental and it is in the nature of experiments that at times they fail.  Well worth seeking out; see him now, before he dies of repetitive strain injury.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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