Brand New Ancients
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
ON A DARK stage crossed by shafts of dusty golden light, in front of a powerful four-piece band, a young woman poet stands at a microphone, and delivers. What she is doing, in her 80-minute epic poem, is not exactly new; she is giving the street life of contemporary London the quality and grandeur of Greek myth, as Steven Berkoff sought to do 30 years ago, and as Scotland’s Paddy Cunneen has done more recently, for the streets of Glasgow.
What she achieves, though – in her story of a London boy called Tom, the people around him, the mother who bore him, the man he knew as his father, the man who really begot him, the violent boys he meets at school, and the girlfriend who loves him – is a torrent of poetry so brilliant that the words often seem to glow and smoke with intensity, as the narrative unfolds, the detail grows richer, and the backbeat of thought and reflection takes on new shapes and forms, reflected in the superb accompanying music written by the band with Neil Catchpole.
For if Tempest is treading a known path here, she does it in an inimitable style, marked not only by a huge storytelling energy and a great and powerful lyrical gift, but by a huge depth of human compassion; Tempest writes with skill and brilliance, but above all with overwhelming love, so much so that it’s difficult not to fear for her, in a world where love is so scarce. Nor does she content herself with the clear, strong narrative arc of her main story; she disturbs the form a little, adding a strange, unexpected coda that provokes real thought. Is she a genius? Possibly; there are certainly times in this show when Tempest herself seems like a young, jeans-wearing goddess of passion and compassion. What’s clear, though, is that her superb show is one of the must-see events of this year’s Fringe; be there, or miss a performance of heart-shifting power.