Following an acclaimed run at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Toby Thompson brings his current show For the Record to the Pleasance for one night only – it plays as part of the Caledonian Express series of Edinburgh transfers. Thompson is a spoken word & poetry writer and performer, described by Kate Tempest as “the future”.
This particular show comprises of poems that Thompson has written, interspersed with blasts of some of his favourite tunes on vinyl. As we settle in for an hour with a shot of strong coffee (or even a tot of whiskey!), we are taken on a journey through life, love and heartache in a surprising fashion – the songs influence the poetry, and the poetry drives home the stories. The Girl From Ipanema becomes the subject of a lifelong unrequited love, an older woman with grey hair now, but no less beautiful in the speaker’s eyes; Dusty Springfield’s Spooky jogs a memory of the “Bengalese feral beast” – a wild girl who brings daring cuisine to the cinema instead of sweets; Black Coffee by Ella Fitzgerald is a reminder of his mum, whose record it is, and inspires some self-reflection & introspection.
Oddly enough, I was drawn to this show thanks to a combination of Harry & Chris and Arinzé Kene’s Misty – the former are known for their quick & clever rhymes (Harry Baker just so happens to be a World Poetry Slam champion), and the precise, rhythmic inflections of the latter’s spoken word is a fine example of what the medium can offer. The inclusion of songs simply played out is also intriguing; it’s a clever move to do this, as it breaks up the performances a bit, and also provides a good bridge between each section of the show. Far more effective and organic than maybe just mentioning the song and how it relates to the poem, or simply performing all of the pieces without this added context.
As soon as you enter the auditorium it’s like you’re being welcomed into Toby Thompson’s living room. There’s a rug on the floor, a couple of pot plants, a keyboard – and, of course, the record machine takes pride of place in the centre, keeping some background music going as the coffee is offered out. The lack of a traditional boundary between audience and performer gives the show an extra charm, making it feel as if you’re all friends who have gathered for an informal poetry recital! The relaxed nature of the show goes hand in hand with Thompson’s own performance style, the syncopated & conversational rhythms of his delivery making it accessible & engaging from the outset.
The relationship between the writing and performance is amazing – there are some frankly ridiculous rhymes and tongue-twisting alliterations, and Thompson has an incredible way with pauses. Whether it’s to bring in a punchline or give an emotional hit, they are timed to absolute perfection. There are some extraordinary details and quirky similes & metaphors too, as well as a pun so exemplary I almost stood and applauded (I very much appreciate puns, good & bad). The hour whizzes by, leaving you with a feel-good glow.
My verdict? An intimate & informal poetry performance, showcasing some top-notch writing and some excellent tunes – Toby Thompson really does have a way with words.
Toby Thompson: For the Record was at the Pleasance (Downstairs) on 8 November 2018.