|http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10168851/Chill-Pill-vs-Bang-Said-the-Gun-Soho-Theatre-review.html - 4/5 stars|
In 1955, Allen Ginsberg challenged conventional writing styles with a reading of his poem Howl at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. From John Cooper Clarke to Gill Scott-Heron, performance poetry has since remained appreciated for its phonetic qualities as much as for its message.
In a small room on the third floor of the Soho Theatre, two of London’s biggest and most talked-about performance poetry nights — Bang Said the Gun and Chill Pill — put this into practice, as they came together in a battle to decide which event reigns supreme.
Forget your preconceptions about poetry readings: Bang Said the Gun is a raucous combination of poetry and comedy. It boasts an array of well-known names that have performed under its banner, including Phil Jupitus and Andrew Motion. Chill Pill, curated by Mr Gee, the host of Radio 4’s Bespoken Word and Rhyme and Reason, is its more laid back alternative.
The atmosphere was like a New Year’s Eve party or political rally. Upbeat music was provided by Mr Gee. Shakers, left on seats for the audience to use whenever they found something funny or inspiring, rattled throughout.
In one round, “The Headline Poem”, the performers wrote a poem inspired by that day’s newspaper headlines. The biggest crowd pleaser was the UK slam champion Adam Kammerling’s imagining of Tim Henman’s reaction to Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory. “It’s not about the win,” said Kammerling as Henman, “or the BBC’s overdramatic coverage. It’s that mount.”
The “Classic Corner” round saw performers pick up one of the poetry books scattered across the stage. Dan Cockrill reading of “To You” by Adrian Mitchell and Raymond Antrobus’s reading of “Aren’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth were rare moments of clarity.
Events such as these have heralded the growth of performance poetry in Britain over the past few years: more than 50,000 people have viewed Dean Atta’s poem “I am Nobody’s N-----” on YouTube; George the Poet performed at the Royal Albert Hall; Inua Ellams took his one-man play to the National; and in March this year, Carol Ann Duffy presented the Ted Hughes award for innovation in poetry to Kate Tempest for “Brand New Ancients”, an hour-long “spoken story”, complete with orchestral backing.
The performance was funny, ridiculous and serious all at the same time. In the end, nobody won: the judges were as much part of the performance as the acts themselves. But what was most exciting was the uncertainty. Here is an art that remains fresh and undefined. And you can never be sure just what you’re going to get.