Edinburgh Reviews #10: Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins
Company: Gilded Balloon Productions and Regular Music
Venue: Gilded Balloon – Debating Hall
Date: 22 Aug ’07

Henry Rollins called his show a “spoken word show”, presumably because there weren’t enough jokes to call it “stand-up comedy” without disappointing people. The only trouble with this is, I now have very little to judge it against; what am I to expect of a “spoken word show”? There don’t seem to be many others who self-define this way – indeed, Google the term and the first result refers to Henry Rollins. I suppose the best thing to think of it as is a piece of agit-prop theatre, except without any kind of façade. This is simply a guy talking at an audience.

Well anyway, whatever else it was or wasn’t, Henry Rollins’s spoken word show was an engaging hour-and-a-bit. Its primary purpose was simply for Rollins to introduce us to his worldview, and to tell us a few stories. He is an American, best known as frontman of Black Flag, but equally importantly to this show he is also quite political, and has been known to appear arguing his corner on American telly.

So having introduced himself, he tells us about his experience of appearing with his musical heroes The Ruts (or at least, The Ruts D.C.) in aid of cancer research, and then he tells us about a trip to some officially evil countries of the world (Syria, Iran, etc.). What connects these two? Rollins, basically. Both stories are shot through with his openness to life and willingness to go do things, and do them properly or not at all, yet at the same time being slightly socially awkward and occasionally surprising us by confounding our expectations of him.

The show was pretty good, and I was pleased that it attracted the audience it did, even if it was only on for a few days (it attracted possibly the biggest line of people waiting to see it of any show I saw, with the exception of Into the Hoods). It could have been improved in some senses quite easily, by pushing it in the direction of any number of more commonly understood formats. None of these, however, would have been as pure of purpose, and as an exercise in simply serving up Rollins on a plate for our consumption, it pretty much flawlessly did this. How one reacts then comes down pretty much to what you think of Rollins as a person.


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