Some theatres are hard to miss, but the venue for Jess Green’s latest spoken word gig is wrapped around the back of New Bridge Street West, and is therefore hard to find. To obtain entry into Alphabetti Theatre one must navigate alleyways, staircases and an ale-dispensing bar with a plywood counter. The event takes place in an L-shaped basement with a capacity of roughly 50. There are perhaps 60 crammed in tonight. The clock strokes 7.30pm and as the band takes to the stage and patrons take their seats, staff pass out blankets to add a homely feel to proceedings. The first three rows are soon quilted up and we’re ready to start.
The overwhelming impression of Jess is one of sincerity and enthusiasm. She begins the show by petitioning a show of hands. She wants to tell the teachers they won’t learn anything they don’t already know from her tonight. You see, Jess mostly draws on her experiences working in education to furnish her poems – particularly her time spent as ‘Reading Champion’ in a school library (tougher than it sounds).
Her accompanying musicians Dave Morris and Scott Cadenhead kick up a bluesy riff and the first song is underway. ‘Burning Books’ is a realistic portrait-rant about the obstacles that discourage children from reading: jobsworth librarians, head teachers that miss the point, and adults who think classics should be banned for being too dirty. As the song builds, more venom creeps into the delivery, more laughs are drawn from the audience (“D.H. Lawrence? Don’t get me started!”), and Jess is only just managing to pull the air into her lungs as the words spill out.
‘Conspiracy’ introduces us to Nigel, the worst teacher in the world. A guy who turned to teaching because he reached the end of his degree and thought, how hard can it be? While we laugh at each of his attempts to escape detection by Ofsted for just one more day, we wince as the details of his private life are revealed – coke and conspiracy theories with the flat mates. We begin to worry about the characters creeping into teaching, particularly as those with a true vocation for the profession are put off by damaging government reforms.
Nigel isn’t the only angry young man in Jess’ work. ‘Movember’ deals with a male graduate struggling for meaning and self-worth now he’s had the comfort blanket of university removed. Misguidedly, he puts all his fury into growing a moustache for charity, and isn’t best pleased when he receives a Facebook message which points out he could be doing more to help. It’s these lampoons that are some of the best work on display tonight. For all Jess’ character portraits are farcical, or even sinister at times, there is something sympathetic in her attack which makes all of them redeemable. Even Michael Gove.
As the night comes to an end, the audience is treated to ‘Friday Night’, a poem put together earlier in the day to commemorate the Paris attacks two nights before. For all the haste it was constructed in, it still hits a nerve. Jess Green and her accompanying musicians leave the stage to hearty applause when the silence finally breaks.
Live theatre and music on every week at Alphabetti Theatre