It’s an intriguing concept, though not a new one: if you could write a letter to your future self what would you want to tell them? Henry Raby, poet and performer, uses the idea as a springboard for a series of spoken poems covering both his childhood and his hopes for the future. He invites the audience too to use the provided pen and paper to write their own letter to their future selves during the show. True it’s a little gimmicky, especially where mock-profound topics to write about were picked out of a box, but Raby’s charm kept it just the right side of awkward.
Raby reminisced with warmth and without either the self-congratulation or the faux naivety which can haunt solo artists talking about their early years. These were raw, often funny memories of teenage parties ruined when someone took out an acoustic guitar and using four cans of deodorant before going on a date with a girl. The rhymes sometimes were a little contrived; mist rhymed with kiss and water with torture and Raby might have been freer to display his lyricism had he dispensed with such a narrow rhyme scheme.
Raby’s background in protest poetry was plain to see. It’s unfortunate that at the beginning of the show when discussing his early childhood memories he employed a pace and volume better suited to exhorting men to man the barricades. Much of this may have been nerves - the audience was small and the room suffered from severe sound leakage from what appeared to be a rave next door - but it was an awkward disjuncture between style and content. He eased into the performance but particularly in his more political poems still had a tendency to lapse into a declamatory style. His easy charisma was on display as he invited the audience to share their letters; had he let this into his spoken word performance more it would have helped create the atmosphere of enchantment that his poems deserve.
At his best there were glimmers of Simon Armitage in his wry Northern observations. Raby is an artist still developing and quite literally finding his voice, not yet quite the man, but definitely a boy to watch.