The Mariner's Song

Sat 4th – Sat 18th August 2018

reviews

Martha Crass

at 19:22 on 6th Aug 2018

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‘Spoken word poetry’. Hmm. I can’t say I’ve ever explored this particular genre before, and initially I’m a little apprehensive about what might unfold. More so when I notice that this is a one-man show. I worry that an hour of intense boredom awaits me, and I try to remain inconspicuous amongst the audience of six, concealing my notebook behind the seat in front.

I needn’t have worried. From the first word, a commanding, gentle, ‘listen’ with which Rajan Sharma opened 'The Mariner's Song'. I realised we are in very capable hands. I can’t say I was able to follow every twist of the narrative, and perhaps this was because so many different strands and tales of mythology and mundanity overlapped, but this almost wasn’t important. Sharma transported the audience from land to sea and back again, and along the way it seemed purely incidental that we encounter characters such as Jason and the Argonauts, or a myriad of strangers at a bustling market.

The set was near enough bare, with a stool and a bottle of water wrapped in brown paper which. The water, presumably placed there for utilitarian purposes, was used by Sharma in between sips to create slow moments of pensiveness. He was utterly composed, and thankfully, somehow, the show’s existential musings never fell into pretension, but rather retained the sincerity with which I imagine they had been written. At times the performance became urgent, heightened, as the climax of one chapter rose and then faded into the next.

The only other item on stage was a neutrally-patterned scarf whose soft flimsiness allowed it to take on the form of a bed, or a sail, or thunder, in any number of imaginative ways; and often Sharma used this prop for emphasis or to illustrate a series of events. The subtlest change in voice indicated the appearance of different characters, and with just a few understated gestures he conjured up young lovers, children chasing seagulls, seagulls chasing children.

It is rare to see someone so at ease on stage, especially so when six pairs of eyes are very visibly trained on them. In fact, Sharma used this intimacy to his advantage, at times choosing to direct the story to each audience member in turn. This wasn’t as scary as it sounds. With every word Sharma was welcoming the audience in, inviting them to listen and, in the performance’s final words, actually instructing the audience (rhetorically, of course) to share their stories with him.

With a different writer, or even a different performer, this could have been underwhelming. Tedious, even. But thanks to the gravitas, warmth, and skill Sharma brings to this piece, it is easy to enjoy. This is wonderful storytelling, and when I say that this would make the perfect bedtime story, I mean it as a compliment.

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Molly Stock-Duerdoth

at 10:06 on 7th Aug 2018

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In ‘The Mariner’s Song’, KinkyFish’s Rajan Shama spins an epic tale linking his character’s 21st-century ship voyage with the journeys of mythological travellers. Alone on the stage with only a scarf and a stool as props, Shama’s Mariner invites us into a picture painted “by his own mutterings”, but mutterings is certainly an understatement. The poem itself flows with a rhythm true to its ancient predecessors, and the delivery runs seamless and confident for the entire 50 minutes - quite an accomplishment in itself.

The tale begins with a retelling of episodes from ancient stories of Orpheus and Jason, which are then revisited as the narrative moves into the Mariner’s own life, focusing on his experiences crewing a ship and his relationship with his grandfather. Although the weaving of ancient and modern may be more entertaining if you are familiar with the style and mythology, Shama ensures not to isolate any of his audience. No knowledge is assumed, and the Mariner is clear that these are tales of “the great unknown”.

'The Mariner's Song' is a reminder, too, that mythology and verse storytelling have their origins in this sort of general entertainment. That said, with minimal visual aid it can sometimes be difficult to concentrate on the story. The rhythm takes time to adjust to, and it is easy to lose focus during the more complex sections. Helpfully, after a perhaps overly grandiose opening, when the story becomes more personal to the protagonist, humour is not sacrificed in pursuit of epic grandeur. There are laughs when Star Trek is reformulated as “stories of starships boldly going where no one has gone before”, and when the Mariner’s crewmates are given endearing epic epithets. Comparing his sea voyage to Jason’s, the Mariner demonstrates how tales can enrich your own experiences. A storm becomes the literal wrath of Poseidon, the lines between myth and reality blurred, and there is a moving moment when, after his grandfather’s death, the “funeral rites” they perform remind us how we use ritual to cope, just like the civilisations which came before.

The intimate venue creates some difficulties. Shama works hard to invite the audience into the story, referring to them variously as the “bravest of all men”, and “my crewmates”. The eye contact he makes directly and frequently with individual audience members can be a little unnerving, especially when split across such a small crowd.

Although not as funny or politically relevant as much on offer at the Fringe, ‘The Mariner’s Song’ is quite simply very entertaining, and proof that the verse storytelling, although a novelty which takes a while to get used to, still holds power.

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Comments

Stefan Wilkerson; 10th Aug 2018; 12:40:08

Went and saw the the preview of this. Rajan Sharma, through his writing and acting, takes you along with him for this personal journey of family and the seas. Best show we’ve seen so far at this year’s Fringe.

Sotiris Nicholas; 11th Aug 2018; 13:29:04

A breath of fresh air at The Fringe. Rajan Sharma apparently wrote this act himself... And it is incredibly well written! A must see for any fan of 'spoken word', or in fact anyone looking for anything other than just comedy. Very well performed and imaginative use of minimal props. I will definitely be keeping an eye on Rajan's shows and hopefully he'll be in Edinburgh next year again. Many thanks

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