Review: Great Northern Slam @ Northern Stage

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scott_tyrrell credit Bohdan Piasecki

The small room that is Stage 3 at Northern Stage filled with laughter and chatter as the audience prepared for the first poetry slam to be held at the venue.

Poetry slams first began in Chicago, where it was felt that a competitive element would benefit the art form. In the Great Northern Slam, amateurs took part in an X Factor style competition with poets eliminated each round.

The evening started with a guest spot from Zack Lewis, who had placed second at a previous slam. As many in the audience had never experienced a slam before, his spot served as an example of the format in which poets are given just three minutes to perform their work.

From the outset, the audience were invited to be a part of the evening. Organisers shuffled around the room asking people to choose slips of paper which determined the order of the performers. Five audience members were also selected to be judges and scored each performance.

The competition began with nine poets, who all ranged in age and gender.  Based on the scores by the judges, seven were left after the first round. The poets then returned to the stage with new offerings, with the cycle continuing until just two remained.

The finalists, Scott Tyrell and Ann Porre, had been favourites with the audience all night. Tyrell’s review of the Bethlehem Inn as told by Joseph had left the crowd in stitches while Porre’s truthful tales had plenty clapping in agreement. The result of the slam was tight, with Tyrell winning by just 0.5 of a score.

The poets having just three minutes added a level of excitement to the evening. Would they run out of time? What happens if the buzzer goes off? Members of the audience could be heard fretting the buzzer was about to go. But, if anything, it evidenced how long three minutes actually is. The poets took the audience into a different world and told a story just as beautifully as a 400 page novel or a two-hour long film could.

Just as any musician is different, each poet was too. One poem spoke of the “scary city seagulls” while the next spoke about the experience of kicking a child out of the house. It was this range of subjects that made the night successful, with the various styles adding to this. Some poems were almost song-like, read with speed and passion. Some were more like observational comedy sketches, with lots of movement from the poet and laughter from the audience. All of them were clever in their own way and captivated the audience’s full attention.

The evening also had a spot from Spoz, a charming Brummie who kept the interactive element alive. He invited the audience to join in with his poems which were just as comedic as their writer. His light-hearted spot served as a calm interval to the fast-paced, high energy competition.

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