Man And Boy is a perfectly poetic way to punctuate an otherwise hectic day at the Fringe. The premise of the show is that a “middle-aged English fat bloke” called Robert Cole reads out a selection of poems from his newly published collection London Poems, joined by his nephew Ed, and later in the run, his son Maurice.
Understated and unusual, Man And Boy achieved a stillness and tranquility in the room that is probably hard to find elsewhere at the festival.
The poems are divided into three sections, Family, Form and Fate, separated by brief musical interludes, with Ed on keyboard. The set-up is beautifully simple. The two men sit in front of you, void of a stage, while a table of poetry books and family photos construct their set. The small space heightens the intimacy as Cole shares with the audience snippets of his life. There’s something so calming, amongst the bustle of the Fringe, about just sitting and listening for 50 minutes, letting his words wash over you.
The poetry collection itself is “grounded in geography”, the people and experiences that Cole connects with and a, somewhat surprisingly green, London landscape. Despite a background in finance, Cole writes not about the city grind but uses the natural world as a springboard for thinking about the human journey, with both its wonders and sadness, and reflecting tenderly on family.
Cole’s writing displays influences including Philip Larkin, and employs a variety of technically challenging forms such as the sestina and the villanelle, but is unpretentious and absolutely not limited to poetry fans. One could go away and plumb the poems’ depths at greater length, but they also have an immediately aesthetic quality. Cole’s straightforward, conversational style of expression and attention to sound patterning work well in spoken word performance, enhanced by the musical element of the reading.
Understated and unusual, Man And Boy achieved a stillness and tranquility in the room that is probably hard to find elsewhere at the festival. The abstraction of the show’s title captures the universality of the thoughts and feelings Cole explores, that will leave you feeling both happy and sad, much like life itself.
Poetry is toxic. The very word ‘poetry’ is a turn off for all but the hardiest of Edinburgh Festival and Fringe goers. It is more than toxic, actually. It is positively repulsive.
So yes, it is far far more difficult to attract audiences than I thought and with 3500 shows to compete with, it is freaking demanding on the first place.
There is very good news, though. The people that have come to #manandboy @edfringe @thespaceuk (venue 260, 6pm, £6) have really appreciated it. How do I know? Because about 50 percent of the punters have bought one of my books. That is one-hell of a hit rate.
Week one is nearly over. It has been a blast, and one hell of an experience. Yup: I have learned more about what I should not be doing than what I am doing, but that is undeniable a good thing. Roll on weeks two and three!
#poetry @edfringe is minority thing hidden in the minority category of #spokenword.
As I try to drum up custom flyering for #manandboy I fear I am invariably and immediately judged as promoter of stuff that is inherently bad, disreputable and embarrassing. Maybe in part that my illness talking – and of course many of the people who have come to the gig have proved their appreciation by shelling £6 on the slim volume London Poems. But for the vast majority of fringegoers #poetry seems to be a dirty word.
I saw Frankie Vah by Luke Wright (Underbelly , Venue 61, 9.20pm) last night. It tells the 1980s life story of a post-punk student drop out and goes straight into my top-rated ‘really good’ category. It is beautifully written. It is fast, sometimes furious, often insightful, and always absorbing. It also has a dirty secret – though the cover is blown as soon as the piece begins. This is an hour long poem. Is it advertised as #poetry? Is it heck. Look it up under the ‘spoken word’ and/or ‘theatre’.
Also in my ‘really good’ basket is Cathy (Pleasance Dome, Venue 23, 3.30pm), inspired by Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home. The injustice of 2017 housing policy in the UK, especially London, is laid bare. This excellent work made me angry and terarful at the same time.
It is hard to act the part of a shrink because shrinks are usually acting in real life so an actor in a play is acting the part of an actor. All that said, Monica Dolan pretty much nails it in Beasts (Underbelly, 6pm). The script is good too though it may have been better to focus more on ‘Karen’s’ life and background. Beasts is a monologue and I like monologues – I’ve seen Honestly (Space on the Mile, 4.20pm), Shit I’m In Love With You Again (Surgeons’ Hall, 9.15pm) and Beasts. Honestly is the pick of those I have seen so far, IMHO. I really liked Ciaran McGhee last night in the Captains Bar but am wearing of fanny gags.
It’s been bugging me ever since I arrived in Edinburgh, and it is something that has nagged on the past occasions I have stayed here. Don’t get me wrong I like the city a lot – but there is something missing and now I think I know what it is. A river.
Like London there is a north and a south to Edinburgh and there is a place where the river ought to be – along the train lines that run through Waverley. Asking around I heard that water – a loch – did once sit where the railway station now lies. On further investigation (see The Scotsman article linked below) it may have been man-made shitpit/water hole that also served as a place of medieval execution.
The Thames is different in that it is a flowing river as old as ice ages. It is cleaner now than it has been for, what, 2000 years? But my river spent much of that time as shitpit/water hole and place of death. Meanwhile the Nor’ Loch, to quote a line from one of my London Poems is, a “forgotten absence as as hard to reconceive / as the seven windmills that once faced Rotherhithe.”
To be serious and non-self deprecating for a change, I am in Edinburgh for a couple or three reasons. First, I suppose, it is because I have been suffering a nasty debilitating mental illness these last few months. Don’t worry, this is not a cry for help: I am getting plenty of help and, my goodness, am I grateful for it.
Second, it is something I have always wanted to do. The penny did not drop til recently, but I think I have always wanted to do this. Edwina said that was a decent reason to do anything, and she is right.
Third, I am trying to find out if there is an audience for my poetry. In the past, I am not sure I ever really understood peole who talked about ‘creating’ a market. It did not make sense, creating something from nothing. But now I get it. And now I understand how bloody difficult it is.
Tilly gave me a big big hug. Beth too. Jojo did the same last night because she said she wouldn’t see me in the morning. “But I don’t go till 11 o’clock”, I said. “So I won’t see you in the morning.” Jojo is now 17. Teenagers need a lot of sleep.