After an introduction and warm-up from resident ‘Word of Mouth’ host Byron Vincent, Molly Naylor charmed the audience with some tragicomic poems and stories that raised smiles and laughter, whilst managing a few deft detours into poignant territory en route.
Following her set was Toby Thompson, whose powerful performance far exceeded what was expected from someone still only 18 years old. Recognised by the RSC and indeed quickly recognised by those packed into the basement of Bristol’s Old Vic tonight, Toby has some real talent. His slightly nervy introduction to the room melted into an increasingly confident recital, with each new line snowballing in ever-growing gravitas over the course of his uniquely tumbling, off-beat delivery.
Following a few poems and a great response, Toby parted the spotlight before Byron introduced the evening’s main act, Mark Grist, who took the stage to applause from a crowd now thoroughly warmed-up in spirit, and given the intense heat that was building in the cavern-like basement, warmed-up in temperature too.
I was a little late to the Mark Grist bandwagon; two million people had already seen the famous ‘Teacher vs. Pupil’ rap battle he starred in on YouTube before I managed to cross paths with it about 6 weeks ago. For those yet to see it, it’s brilliant; highly explicit, but brilliant. (See it HERE)
In an unlikely turn of events, only days after I first saw the video I noticed that Mark (aka ‘Teacher’) was soon heading to Bristol to perform his show, ‘Rogue Teacher’. At the time, I presumed this show must have been the general basis on which he launched himself into the rap-battle spotlight, but I was wrong; this was actually his response.
Still trying to come to terms with the whirlwind, ‘viral’ success of the video and the impact it’s had on his life, it was fascinating to hear Mark’s behind-the-scenes insight into the unexpected rollercoaster ride of public reaction that he faced. That he was so unprepared for (and at times near-troubled by) it's international impact, especially the lewd nature of some of the rhyming, was an unexpected and interesting twist to my expectations.
Contextualising his journey with early poems, photos and childhood memories, Mark offered a wide window through which the audience could peer into his younger years and beyond. From there, an insight into his former teaching career proved perhaps even more interesting, given his passion and aspirations to genuinely change the lives of children for the better (aspirations that on reflection sound a little too rare in many teachers I’ve spoken to). Such goals sounded all the more noble given the gauntlet of evil-sounding characters opposing his progress along the way, not to mention some of the crazy behaviour of the kids themselves; the school trip to the local ‘pleasure beach’ sounded particularly challenging!
Using us as guinea pigs before heading to Edinburgh for the show’s big, summer run, Bristol enjoyed a near-finished cut of Mark’s autobiographical journey from "cabbage head" youngster to YouTube sensation. Whilst I'd just expected an extension of the cyber-swagger present in his ‘Don’t Flop’ battle-rap appearance, the narrative he offered the audience was much more interesting and textured than an hour of ‘rap bravado’.
Full of laughter and insight, ‘Rogue Teacher’ is as much an absorbing story as it is a collection of poems, packing in as much humour as it does poignant reflections. Given the quality of work and the likeable stage presence of Mark Grist himself, I can award ‘Rogue Teacher’ a solid ‘B+’.
8 / 10