BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

24/02/2017 - 27/02/2017

NZ Fringe Festival 2017 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

Heathcote Williams, the radical and multi award-winning poet (including the Archangel Award 2011) gives us this celebration of radical verse & lyrics that have changed the world for good.

Performed by an International cast, underscored by music created especially for the show and performed live on stage, this is a unique experience of performance poetry that defies genre.

‘spellbinding, provocative…passionate & political’ ***** Three Weeks

The epic, heart-pounding production charts great resistance movements from Babylon to Tahrir Square. Over 80 poets are referenced in an anthology of the courageous & creative voices that called for change; from Shelly & Firdousi to Ginsberg & Angelou to Pussy Riot & Mirman Baheer, all weaved together by a narration that is in itself an incendiary call for justice.

‘(a) glorious & incendiary song cycle of rhyme & rebellion…stunning’ The Lazarus Corporation

When Brainfruit Artistic Director and award winning performer, Roy Hutchins began his daily visits to Occupy Brighton in 2011, he did what he does best- rouse the crowds with Williams’ words. Williams, known for his idiosyncratic documentary/investigative style of poetry was, in turn, inspired by Hutchins’ activism to reflect the role of poetry in political uprisings and so, Poetry Can F*ck Off was born. The title proved to be a polarising one, confusing some of the people at whom the piece was aimed. And so ‘Poetry Can F*ck Off’ morphed in to ‘Fiery Tongues’, keeping the sense of power and scope, while allowing it to be accessible to everyone.

‘A convincing case for poetry as weapon of choice in the revolution…brilliant’ ****Sabotage Reviews

Hutchins is joined on stage by:
Mike ‘Dr. Blue’ Mckeon, the composer & Musical Director of the piece, a Blues and Roots singer/songwriter and poet;
Sameena Zehra, a comedian, story-teller, Blues singer and director, who cut her teeth performing street theatre in New Delhi about the death penalty and marital rape;
Anya Tate-Manning, a New Zealand based actor, writer and director whose work explores political satire and personal relationships; and
James Nokise, also New Zealand based, an award winning comedian & writer, whose work explores his Welsh-Samoan heritage and battles with Pacific stereotypes, gangs and the political landscape.

In light of the current political climate, this polemic work finds itself part of a much larger movement of artists and activists calling for change, and the response from audiences has been electric. The reminder that words alone can bring down a tyrant, encapsulate a vision, or simply embarrass leaders into action has never been more timely, or more relevant.

BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Mt Victoria, Wellington
24-27 Feb 2017
TICKETS: $20/$15

Theatre , Performance Poetry ,

1 hr

Exhilarating, moving or non-stop zoom

Review by Tim Stevenson 25th Feb 2017

Fiery Tongues wants, passionately, to make you believe in the power of poetry as a political force. And it’s going to do everything that its script, five performers, one guitar plus the usual sound equipment can do in one hour to convince you.

That means taking the audience on a break-neck, continent- and century-hopping tour of times and places where poets join with those big turning points in history: the Irish uprising of 1916, the Egyptian rebellion of 2011, Levitating the Pentagon 1967, the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, Occupy Wall Street 2011, Ban the Bomb, the anti-slavery movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement … Percy Bysshe Shelley, Rewi Maniapoto, Hisham al Gakh, The Fugs, Lord Byron, Pete Seeger, Helen Reddy, Gaius Valerius Catullus, Tracy Chapman, Abu ’l-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi, Pussy Riot … and many, many more.   

The vehicle of choice combines song, recitation and chant, linked by a narrative with the theme that where there’s revolution, radical social change, dictatorships to challenge and overthrow, you’ll find poets leading the way with their songs and visions. The counterfactual (as some people like to say), is that poetry is boring, irrelevant and all the other stuff we got accidentally taught in school. “Wrong! Very wrong!” says Fiery Tongues. Of course, this sort of thing rarely turns up on the school curriculum, or at least the curriculum of the schools I went to:

“Who can buy a government so cheap?
Change a cabinet without a squeak?
Fucking-a man!
(Fucking-A! C-I-A!)

CIA Man!

Who has got the secret-est Service?
The one that makes the other service nervous?
Fucking-a man!
(Fucking-A! C-I-A!)

CIA Man!”

(The Fugs 1965)

Some people may find Fiery Tongues an exhilarating, moving celebration, proof – if proof is needed – that words, rhyme and music can inspire humankind to stand together and fight the forces of institutionalised brutality, injustice and oppression. Others may find it a bit like touring the Louvre by rollerblade on a tight schedule – you zoom past a lot of beautiful, famous images and name-check a lot of highly renowned artists, but there’s a nagging sense that it would be nice to stop and gaze a while at something that caught your eye.

Or you might find yourself somewhere betwixt and between; like your reviewer, who came straight home and started googling poems and songs sampled for the show. Which sort of proves the show’s point – poetry can and does influence human behaviour (at least, it can make people read old Fugs lyrics).

Fiery Tongues has an intriguing pedigree: it’s written/assembled by English poet, actor and dramatist Heathcote Williams plus guest artists living and dead, and comes to Wellington following previous performances in the UK under the title Poetry can Fuck Off. The international cast* has a pleasantly relaxed style, taking small onstage hitches in their collective stride, and they’ve got a good rhythm going, with smoothly handled changes in pace and intensity. These are all accomplished artists who know what they’re doing and work together comfortably; James Nokise’s performance stood out for me, for added energy and conviction. 

There’s a guest spot for local poets: last night, Maraea Rakuraku recited a staunch poem reflecting on ethnic identity, Freya Daly Sadgrove seemed slightly off topic but was extremely funny.

*Cast: Roy Hutchins, Sameena Zehra, James Nokise, Anya Tate-Manning; with live music from Mike ‘Dr Blue’ McKeon. 


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