Bar Medusa, 154 Vivian Street, Wellington

20/02/2014 - 20/02/2014

NZ Fringe Festival 2014

Production Details

Comedian and writer Ben Stokes returns to New Zealand with a more serious, and less organized solo spoken word show.

Expect a chaotic combination of slam style poetry, rudimentary punk rock and attempted insights into an increasingly confusing world.

Bar Medusa, 154 Vivian Street, Wellington CBD
9pm, Thurs 20 Feb (90mins)
BOOKINGS: www.fringe.co.nz 

Theatre ,

Honest proclamations of love and anarchy

Review by Deborah Eve Rea 21st Feb 2014

Aaah, Valve… I mean… Valhalla. It’s been too long since I stepped through the hole in the wall into the dark, windowless concrete pen of punks, metal-heads and anarchists.

Ben Stokes is a 19 year old spoken-word poet who has recently returned to New Zealand from a stint travelling in Vietnam.  As Stokes eloquently puts, “The difference in speaking poetry and speaking madness is an audience,” and he has drawn quite a crowd. Valhalla is packed and I’m excited by an audience full of unfamiliar faces. 

Stokes approaches the microphone bashfully and confesses he is surprised and slightly intimidated by the turn out.  Without much lead-in, he quickly launches into his first poem, ‘Chaos Theory’ – described as “an experiment” – and keeps his gaze mostly downward throughout.

The audience enjoy his explanation of his next poem, ‘Death of Punk Rock’, and as a result Stokes becomes more confident and settled. He lifts his gaze and from here on, uses his poetry to converse with us.

I recently caught Ben Stokes competing in the Raw Poetry Slam, which he won. Explode on Contact features the full-length versions of his winning poems (among others) which had to be cut down to fit within the Raw Poetry Slam time limit.

At 19, Stokes has reached that stage of life when one’s eyes become open to all of the atrocities, madness and unfairness of the world. He believes “there’s a place in the system for angry young men to say ‘this is bollocks’.” His writing features themes of a world dream, young love, lust and empathy. His churnings are genuine though and I don’t doubt that he would save the world (and the girl) if the opportunity half presented itself. 

Explode on Contact comes to 90 minutes (with interval) and includes 11 pieces of poetry, which is an ambitious duration for any solo poet, much less one so young. Listening to so much of one poet takes work, as the audience must follow all of the many images and ideas passed over to us using a similar, signature rhythm. It’s a credit to Stokes’ talent that the audience stay committed and transfixed throughout. 

Stokes is a rock’n’roll Romeo, invoking a young Jim Morrison with buds of Kerouac and Kurt Cobain.  His honest proclamations of love and anarchy leave men with wide-eyes and dropped jaws; and women with pursed lips and fluttering lashes. 

An integral part of the success of this creative package is Stokes’ brother (whose name is mentioned but I unfortunately have not kept note), who acts as his Mercutio, welcoming us with cheeky banter at the door and dutifully watching the performance throughout. The brother was also present as Stokes’ side-kick through the Raw Poetry Slam. Their partnership adds to the coming-of-age boyishness that the audience eats up. 

That he’s figuring out how to present all of this ‘work’ seems to fit with Stokes’ punk-rock premise.  Stokes admits that he has spent “a lot of time learning the poems but no time on what to say for the banter in between” and he realises now that “it’s a bit shit”. The next step for him, which I’m certain he’s all too aware of, is to develop his poetry-reading into a spoken-word performance without losing the charming humility that his onstage discovery provides.


Marion Hughes February 24th, 2014

‘Ben Stokes’ poetry is a living, breathing tapestry of sound. Being in the audience is like going white-water rafting; his work is fresh, keenly-felt, exhilarating, hints of Kerouac and early Dylan, like watching a sped-up time-lapse film of a young man speaking his life.’

eve black February 22nd, 2014


Just when you think you have heard it all - wham, bam, thank you Slam - along comes Ben Stokes to prove otherwise. This exciting new talent was the winner of the 2014 Wellington Poetry Slam and it is easy to understand why. He turns the performance of Slam Poetry into an explosive, mind-blowing art form.

Ben's slender form occupied the stage of the Valhalla bar in Vivian Street, with a grace and authority that enthralled the audience and had them literally baying for more. His sense of rhythm, shifted from one cadence to another with consumate ease, carrying the enthusiastic crowd in its wake.

Each word was delivered with a passion and wisdom that far belies his callow youthfulness. He is a true wordsmith - carving his stories from life experiences in Hanoi, Vietnam; relationships, injustices in the world. Tales of setting up his brother Jake with a blow-up doll ... followed in the next instant with heart-achingly beautiful words of tenderness and emotion.

The show was a cornucopia of all the angst, an angry, but compassionate, humorous and metaphorically gifted young man feels in this materially obsessed world. Ben is the voice of tomorrow. A new age prophet slamming an old door shut and opening the world to a more thoughtful, caring society.

For this we give thanks.

Eve Black.

Artist and writer. www.eveblack.co.nz

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