REVIEWER HEALTH WARNING: I already love PPP (Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists). Seeing their previous show at Edinburgh in 2017 was a life-changing experience. Three stars of the spoken-word circuit assembled a greatest hits show linked by the conceit of three friends talking about life in a pub. It was an object lesson in how to take spoken word to another level of audience engagement.
Sort of like Mamma Mia with poems only with no Pierce Brosnan messing it up.
At the time, I reviewed it as Chaucer with scratchcards: an almost picaresque celebration of scraping the good life out of the debris of austerity Britain. A pandemic, a European war and four cartoon PM’s later, this show has a different feel. There’s an elephant in the room and it’s trampled the beer garden into matchwood. Like the first, this show is a genuine piece of theatre. The three characters (basically stylised versions of themselves), would be the same even if someone else played them.
Whose Round Is It Anyway?
Emma Purshouse plays herself as a batty, anxiety-fuelled bag-lady with a shopping trolley full of PPE, a litter-picker and a tape measure to maintain social distancing. Dave Pitt is the jolly New Grandad who’s at the same time artfully troubled and angry about the world his grandchild has dropped into. Steve Pottinger’s Uber-Roadie persona wears his feelings, as ever, eloquently on his tattoos.
All three are back down the pub, the beer’s still rubbish and they’re trying to get their heads round it all. Think it’s all gone back to normal? Think again.
Inevitably, given it’s a sequel, the reflex is to make comparisons, but time does funny things: my memory of the previous show is of a rollicking romp via laugh-out-loud poems interspersed with sudden interjections of drama, pathos and idealism. This time, the mood is less exuberant, but, being held together by the tone, it’s a more coherent piece of theatre. There’s still plenty of laughs, but they’re more in the links and the (excellent) physical comedy business.
The poems themselves are still as memorable. I didn’t take notes and can still remember the individual poems the next morning. This is no mean feat. One of the ever-present dangers of spoken word generally is that the need to have an instant impact can result in a certain kind of ephemerality: A sort of, ‘that-was-great-but-I-can’t-remember-it’ syndrome.
Unresolved loss, fear and fun
In Whose Round Is It Anyway? the subject and tenor of individual poems stays with you, but so does the tone and feel of the whole piece. This is the sound of people channeling their bewilderment and trying to piece themselves back together again. Problem is, it’s like a charity shop jigsaw: even if all the pieces are, despite our suspicions, still there, it’s hard to see how we’re ever going to make any progress.
Given it’s a spoken word show, inevitably, this writer spent a good deal of time before and after greeting familiar faces from our various local poetry mafias. The truth hit us all simultaneously: the last time most of us saw each other was early 2020. And we thought we’d been out-and-about round the circuit again.
Truth is, we’ve changed almost beyond recognition and not realised it. The feeling that stayed with me after this show isn’t that of a weight being lifted: the effect is of someone reminding you that you’re carrying around a comfortable, high-end rucksack full of unresolved loss, fear and fun. And you wondered why things were getting smashed every time you turned round?
As such, this show is a massive kick up the arse, a tonic for the troops. Well done Leeds Litfest for putting it on. I’ve just got to shake my head like they used to in cartoons and work out what to do next.