Drunk With A Pen

Joseph J Clark is a poet on a mission. Time is precious to this man as time is words and the very second the audience are seated, in this black, curtained-off venue inside Sweet Werks 2, he commences his set. In fact, I’ve barely taken off my jacket and set down my drink and he’s off and – in truth – I’m caught a little off guard in more ways than one as from that second, and for the next 3,600, I’m completely transfixed. Clark commands attention from the get-go with the words “Churchill said he took more from the brandy, than brandy ever took from him.” References to Hemmingway and Wilde follow – the demon drink, it seems, keeps good company. And, as this first poem of Drunk with a Pen ends, Clark then introduces himself and his supporting logophile, Rachel Shorer.

This talented duo have lit up words and made them dance.

Shorer immediately throws open her front door and invites us into her living room (she is in fact about to do a poetry tour literally in people’s living rooms) as she sits us down and bares her soul with a powerful piece about her own experience of living with anxiety. Verses on friends sitting at her kitchen table, unfulfilling jobs, and tea and love all follow, and are undoubtedly worthy, but it is her tenderly raw and eloquently exposed reveal on anxiety that really unsettles and provokes reflection. Her delivery throughout is poised, confident and cadenced.

As Shorer signs off, Clark takes centre stage again and takes us through a total of 13.5 poems this includes the Churchill one at the start). Why 13.5? Because this, he informs us, is the alcohol percentage of a typical bottle of wine. Liquid nectar seeps into his work’s title and every part of his thinking and being – his verses reveal that he does, indeed, have a complex relationship with drink. He wants to celebrate its highs (seen especially in War Stories 2 and his fun take on cocktails) but also warn of its woes (particularly evident in his moving poetry relating to his father). Clark is an eloquent, talented performer and orator with some of his work demanding dynamic, linguistic gymnastics at times verging on rapping. He delivers all with proficiency, often at lightning speed. It’s impressive stuff, underpinned by his erudite knowledge of the range and effects of alcohol. Some of the work you may recognise from the 2017 Fringe but there’s a splash of the fresh too.

After another warm Spring day, the air inside this compact Festival venue is still and close and all at once I notice sparkles of dust, illuminated by the backlighting, floating around the room. It looks magical inside this setting and it actually feels a little magical too. This talented duo have lit up words and made them dance. And it’s not just because Shorer and Clark are skilled wordsmiths – there’s a candid poignancy to each poet’s delivery – they mean what they say and this honesty works. It’s really beautiful.

Reviews by Jane Beeston

Brighton Open Air Theatre


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Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

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The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
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Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
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The Blurb

Poetry for the drinking classes: Joseph J Clark performs 13.5 poems about drink and drinking. Earnest, endearing, and occasionally exciting poetry from the very bottom of the bottle.

Featuring a support set from Rachel Shorer.

"Performance poetry at its most accessible... a bit like being in the pub with a more interesting raconteur than you can usually rustle up" (Broadway Baby)

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