REVIEW – Ross Sutherland, Standby for Tape Back-up


By Isabella Fraser

One man, his late grandfather and a videotape. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but Ross Sutherland’s one-man show, Standby for Tape Back-up, is actually a cleverly crafted multi-media piece: a spoken word poetic journey with a smattering of rap thrown in (and the videotape of course). Writer and performer Sutherland has been developing this piece for the past year and this shows in the heartfelt connection he has to his material.

The premise sounds simple and at first, the multi-media aspect of this piece is: two screens show a tape playing shows that are recognisable from childhood while Sutherland addresses the audience. Growing up and the sense of self that comes from memories, a time and a place that we all recognise, are interwoven in this piece. However, it is only as the images change and blend or rewind and repeat while the soundtrack increases in volume and range, matched in perfect timing with Sutherland’s poetic storytelling, that the sheer complexity of the elements becomes clear.

Sutherland himself comes across as an amiable, mildly rambling teller of tales. This is deceptive. Director Rob Watt has guided the journey of the material perfectly, allowing layers of meaning to subtly simmer underneath. It comes as a surprise to realise half way through the show that actually this performer is not meandering; rather he is precisely synchronised to the key elements of the tape on display, the sounds matched to the tape and the beat of his spoken word. He is a genius storyteller hiding in plain sight: he weaves a spell over the audience, by rhythmically explaining the details of a life being laid open for inspection over and over until the detail has become clear and the lesson of the story is revealed.

Spoken word is a growing area of performance in this year’s Fringe. The reluctance of the packed audience to move at the end of this show, demonstrated the impact not only of the story that had been woven, but the power that Sutherland’s use of this type of word play has.

Standby for Tape Back-up runs until 24 August (not 11) in the Demonstration Room at Summerhall at 20.30. Running time is 1 hour.

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