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Orlando Fringe Review: Jem Rolls Off the Tongue

May 14, 2014
Jem Rolls Off The Tongue at 2014 Orlando Fringe

Jem Rolls Off the Tongue at 2014 Orlando Fringe

Performance poet Jem Rolls has been in 93 Fringe Festivals, but Off the Tongue is his first time in Orlando … and it’s about time this gangly, graying Brit graced our stage with his volcanic presence. He begins with an intriguingly spiritual verse equating the audience with an object of worship, then follows that “industrial-strength sycophancy” with some self-deflating quips and a virtuoso string of captivatingly comical prose poems.

There’s rarely a regular rhyme scheme in his pieces, which he says “exist in the immediate … the moment, the now,” but there are plenty of propulsive rhythms, which he pounds out with wild-eyed intensity and spectacular vocal projection (despite sweating and coughing through his preview like a tuberculosis victim). Subjects range from the English perspective on world history (“we won, we won, we won, we won”), his ability to read birds’ thoughts (“we used to be dinosaurs!”), the world’s most unlikely reason to end a love affair (“we broke up because the sex was too good”), and why Machiavelli was really a “softy.”

Rolls has a practiced raconteur’s gift for wordplay, building an entire poem out of Spooneristic couplets, and his wide-ranging rants riddled with quirky Britishisms sometimes sound like Monty Python’s classic “Travel Agent” routine. Untrained ears may have occasional issues with his allusions and accents (he even warns before one poem that it will be “shrill and silly”) but you don’t have to understand every syllable to enjoy his “world’s first backstage poem” about a surreal linguistic insurrection. Toward the end, Rolls asks, “I’m glad that’s all over, aren’t you?” Nope!



Big Word Performance Poetry – Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Length: 60
Venue: Brown
Price: $11 (+svc. Charge)
Disc.: None
Rating: 13+ -

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