EFR - Reviews of Jennie Benton Wordsmith

Jennie Benton Wordsmith

Wed 5th – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Katie Heath-Whyte

at 16:47 on 17th Aug 2015

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Susan Harrison’s comic creation, Jennie Benton Smith, is an adorable, bonkers bundle of fun. Jennie Benton Wordsmith is the character’s spoken word show, which is helped along by her gawky best friend Auburn Joe. Together, they strive to bring powerful messages of social change to their audience, standing firm against the monotonous tide of their Year 10 classmates. A stand-up character routine turns into a delightful story of friendship and love, as Harrison’s cleverly constructed show keeps its audience laughing and ‘aww’ing throughout.

Jennie is tiny, feisty and funny, a Tunbridge Wells teen disguised as a ‘peculiarly androgynous’ gangster from the hood. She bounces onto stage with enough energy to power the room’s booming speakers, which in turn provide the backing to a series of hilarious raps and poems which perfectly capture the voice and mind of a slightly off-the-wall 15 year old. If you’ve seen

enough comic poetry to last you a lifetime this Fringe, don’t discount this show just yet - whilst providing much entertainment and humour, these pieces are only part of the show’s charm.

The narrative which arises when things go awry, and the daring and inventive use of the audience make Harrison’s achievement unique. Harrison never breaks character, and is ready to work with anything her audience gives her. Auburn Joe is a wonderful co-star, lovable and sweet in his awkwardness.

Occasionally, Harrison’s jokes fell flat, some perhaps pitched too narrowly for a wide-ranging audience, and these prevent the show from producing truly outstanding comedy. But by the end of the show, it seems that the stand-up image is merely a sideline for a highly developed and well-structured play - a play that touches as much as it amuses, and entertains from beginning to end. Never boring, Harrison’s brilliant acting and winsome characters will not fail to put a smile on the face and a perhaps a tear in the eye of her captive audience.

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Dominic Spirra

at 16:50 on 17th Aug 2015

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Jennie Benton Wordsmith presents a young and manically energetic androgynous spoken word artist from Tunbridge Wells, navigating her way through life as an upper middle class rapper. Flavor Flav meets Joanna Lumley in this fast paced wordy race, spitting spoken word diatribes that deal with everything from Facebook rejections to crisps, scatology to stick insects.

Written and performed by Susan Harrison, utterly unrecognizable in her multi-layered tracksuit and knitted beanie, the show conveys a skillfully orchestrated act presented under the guise of continual, loveably awkward mishap.

The show opens with Jennie bouncing around the stage spouting dialogue interspersed with tuneful raps to distract from the absence of her ‘hype man’, Auburn Joe (Dylan Kennedy), who is running late. The character is unique yet relatable enough to become at once both strangely familiar and immediately memorable. Various phone calls are received from her foppish sidekick explaining his delay and the audience is eventually involved in the search.

The show is at its best following the arrival of Joe, stumbling into the venue and onto the stage in a similarly fetching tracksuit - picture Hugh Laurie posing as a car thief. The masterfully awkward interaction between the two is hysterical, matched only by the purposefully uncomfortable moments of audience participation. The show’s pace is driven by the minute and unrelenting hyperactive female bouncing ball that provides its focus, perpetually unpredictable, one moment discussing anal love beads, the next offering the stunned audience olives.

At its core the show concerns two love stories - one between Harrison and the dictionary that sits ever present on the stage and the other between Jennie and her sidekick Joe, that is remarkably touching. Although the laughs are not perpetually consistent, Harrison’s combination of physical presence and total commitment to the character presented keep the audience on edge and provide compelling viewing from start to finish. There is real skill both in the writing and the performance of this, and I was particularly entertained by Kennedy’s Auburn Joe who was mesmerizing in his shaky disposition. Superb timing and sharply intelligent social observation, this hour is a must view at this year’s festival.

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