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Letter to the Man (from the Boy)
Published on Wednesday, 08 August 2012
3

3 stars

Underbelly, Cowgate (venue website)
Theatre
2-12, 14-26 Aug, 1:10pm-2:10pm
Reviewed by Lynne Morris

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

Set within the many bellies of the sprawling Underbelly space on Cowgate, Letter to the Man (from the Boy) is an enjoyable piece – if not necessarily groundbreaking. By the time you resurface beneath the grey city skyline, you will be in possession of intriguing snippets of information and at times emotional memories, courtesy of the man, the boy and your fellow audience members. You’ll also be carrying a letter to yourself.

Primarily a spoken word piece, self-described performance poet Henry Raby treads a winding path through (among other topics) his childhood dilemmas, unrequited love and young ambitions. His impassioned, lively poems clearly have roots in punk music, philosophy, and the adventures of a desperately overactive imagination. His style is interesting and energetic as he shares some beautifully humorous and evocative poetry.

The trouble is… I just kept forgetting that I should be listening.  Raby evidently enjoys the sharing process, and generously offers comic depictions of his own life experiences as a way to evoke similar material from his audience. The difficulty for me is that, while I quite like the material, the continual shifting of focus – from stage, to audience, to letter writing, back to stage – means I get a bit lost, and don’t necessarily hurry to return to Raby’s order of service.

It’s his commendable and genuine interest in the audience that creates this feeling.  But in his concern to create an inclusive space, he risks losing people’s gaze. Own that stage, young man!

The disconnection experienced was furthered by a problem which is widespread during the festival: noise pollution. At various points he struggled to be heard over the music booming through the walls from an adjacent space. Still, with ease and comic timing, he acknowledged the issue with an additional line slipped into one of his verses and soldiered on.

Much though this was a valiant first stab at the festival, given its material and concept it could have been a much better show. The ideas are there, they just need a bit more spit and polish. I left the venue imagining how something as simple as a different seating plan would have helped the work feel more cohesive. Have a bit more fun with the set and sound design, and maybe I’ll see you next year.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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