Octagon comes to the Arcola for its world premiere having won accolades in the USA. The Octagon is a national poetry slam where poets compete with their words and rhythms for points from the judging panel and the respect of their peers. Although, at the end of it all, “the points are not the point, the point is the poetry” and the poetry here is loud and fearless.
The eight characters in this play all use poetry as an escape. We learn their stories as the play progresses and they speak direct to the camera of the unseen documentary crew following their journey to the Octagon. Their poems are born from their life experiences, hurts and injustices; one character pleads, “I want to write happy poems, is that a thing? Joy poems? Do poets get to be happy?”
The cast of young actors are strong, coping well with the fast paced writing that bounces between the characters, sometimes so fast it’s hard to keep up. The stand out performance for me was from Estella Daniels, skilfully MCing throughout, closely followed by Crystal Condie’s performance of ‘Malala writes to Miley Cyrus’.
The set is simple and does not distract from the words which are the main focus. The cast move among the audience, including them in the slam and encouraging interaction. The rules are explained so we know what’s expected of us as the poems come one after another.
The play begins in darkness, the stamping and clapping of the cast setting the rhythm for the rest of the show. The scene changes come with a bright flash of a camera bulb and the set is often plunged into darkness as the cast reset for the next scene.
Kristiana Rae Colón’s writing is tight, playing with words to touch on many important issues, personal and political. While there are no answers here, this performance gives food for thought on the role of creativity in protest. As Chimney says, “dear documentarian: the poets have taken your job”; if you want the true story, listen to those who are living it. The best way to appreciate this show is to take the advice of the MC and “LISTEN TO THE POEM!”
Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
Photo: Anna Soderblom
Octagon is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 17 October 2015. Click here for tickets