Company: big word performance poetry, Edinburgh, UK
Genre: Storytelling / Spoken Word
Venue: 14 - The King’s Head Pub
Jem Rolls is an experienced performer who knows how to deliver a good line, and even better, a good story.
Jem Rolls is an experienced performer who knows how to deliver a good line, and even better, a good story. Keeping a crowd engaged and entertained throughout an hour of poetry - in a venue where the audience can simultaneously drink many pints of decent beer - is no mean feat.
Sometimes the line between 'high energy performance' and 'aggressive and a little shout-y' begins to blur, but Rolls includes enough self-deprecating punch-lines for the show to (mostly) feel comradely instead of haranguing.
The consistency of Rolls' energy level contrasts with the inconsistency of his material. He's at his best (and most compelling) when he's telling stories. His smart-aleck pieces about growing up in an Scottish military town had the room laughing; his "Backstage Poem," imagining words as a cast of unruly, uppity, and mercurial actors, and himself as Poet/Director on the verge of a breakdown, is both genuinely funny and linguistically inventive.
Unfortunately, he too often skips the storytelling (and those opportunities for real connection with the audience) in favour of focusing too much on the over-familiar tropes of spoken word poetry. These self-consciously clever, predictable, high-speed, determinedly political poems ("it's a disaster/it's all moving faster") tend to be slick yet indistinguishable, and ultimately forgettable.
The professionalism of his delivery helps to compensate for the weaker material. The audience had a good time, as did I. You might not feel changed or blown away by his insights or perspectives, but you will be entertained by a likeable performer working hard to fill a bar with poems and laughter. And that's not a terrible way to spend an hour.