Kate Tempest: prize-winning poet, novelist (her debut novel has just been bought by Bloomsbury), performer, musician, rapper – is a plain-clothed goddess. She’s a younger, ginger, Patti Smith. But with a hiphop edge to her music and poetry rather than the punk that inspired Patti. And she’s similarly determined to subvert convention.
When I went to see her touring show Brand New Ancients at the Royal Court Theatre last Saturday, Ms Tempest eschewed the mic, stepping to the front of the stage to introduce herself and make sure that the audience felt comfortable. She commented on the traditional rigidity of theatre-going and told the audience to make noise; to sneeze if they needed to sneeze. It was a perfect little warm up, helping everyone to relax through comedy.
Next she introduced her girl band. “They usually do it at the end but that don’t make sense,” she said. And she’s right.
Then the show began, opening with an instrumental section – Tempest perched on the edge of the raised platform, head hung, almost meditating to the orchestral sounds – before she took the mic and launched into her heartfelt spoken word. She told us (the audience/ society/ this generation/ every generation) that we are all gods. She explained that today’s antics are the myths of tomorrow (as ancient Greek stories are the myths of today). It was new, and powerful, and uplifting.
Then she broke into rap over music with a hiphop beat, before stepping back and getting stuck into the story. And the story is GOOD. It’s like an episode of Eastenders – with sex, infidelity, violence, class issues, abuse, career dilemmas. But it’s spoken rhythmically; a poetic story. And then followed more rapping over music, to add tension, before she took us back to the well-structured, gripping, tale of two families.
In a later interlude Tempest brought in the X Factor, Simon Cowell and our celebrity-obsessed culture. We look up to celebrities like they’re our gods, she said – not berating anyone for doing it, just trying to understand why we do it. (And she’s part of it – she admitted to watching the X Factor). It seems nothing is trivial in Tempest’s world: everything is poignant and worthy of commentary.
I was blown away by the energy; the drama, by Tempest’s modesty and inner beauty and positivity and kindness and sincerity. The show was well-deserving of the standing ovation it received.
EVERYONE should try to see this because I can’t think of one person who couldn’t derive enjoyment from such an amazing, accessible piece of performance art.