Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients examines the similarities between the gods of the ancient world and the lives of modern people. If this sounds like something dry and stuffy or horribly pretentious, fear not – this is a sharp, witty piece of writing with tons of heart and humour.
Following the lives of two families from an initial infidelity to a final act of violence, Tempest explores how their lives resemble those of figures from Greek legends. She speculates that “the gods are in all of us”, but rather than suggesting that this elevates us, she considers how close the Greek gods and heroes were to being ordinary people.
From the moment this scratch performance begins, Tempest creates a wonderfully informal atmosphere. She describes seeing a room full of people there to hear her poem as “a bit mental” and tells us how working with the BAC meant being locked in a variety of rooms to respond to the space. She searches for a sincere way of thanking the audience for being there, trying phrases and discarding them for not sounding like she means them. When she gets too hot, she kicks off her shoes to reveal polka-dotted socks. She is delightful. An hour in a packed room with her feels like a one-to-one conversation.
Tempest blends rap and performance poetry, and it’s absolutely clear that she revels in her words. As she spins her intricate tale, skilfully illustrating how little there can be to choose between Greek myths and lives worthy of a soap opera, she uses language that is often deceptively simple and sometimes unexpectedly complex. Whatever the register, it all sounds equally at home in her mouth because it seems that she loves and believes in every word.
Having been tested out in front of the Summerhall audience, Brand New Ancients is due to be developed into a full-scale piece at the Battersea Arts Centre, complete with a live band. If this scratch is anything to go by, it will be well worth seeing. Let’s hope the finished work finds its way back to Edinburgh’s own exciting new multi-space venue.
Brand New Ancients is a scratch performance at Summerhall on 11th of August at 23.00 (1 hour). It will run at the Battersea Arts Centre from 4 – 22 September. Further information here.