Standing centre stage in a dress and a dodgy blonde wig, Mark Grist jokes that this is what two guys with Arts Council funding really look like. It’s doubtless meant self-deprecatingly but, in my opinion, it’s a good use of the money.
Even when not showing off their verbal trickery, Grist and Mixy are warm, honest and touching.
Not because Grist looks good in a dress (though I’ve seen worse…) but because this is a genuinely excellent mix of amusing and educational. Grist and his partner Mixy (collectively the Dead Poets) have chosen their Top Eight deceased legends of verse and it’s up to the audience to pick which four of these they want to learn more about before settling on two for the titular deathmatch rap battle that closes the show.
Our line-up was virgin poetess Christina Rossetti, ex-Laureate Ted Hughes, father of hip-hop Gil Scott Heron and surprise outsider Jon Clare, a local hero from the Dead Poets’ native Peterborough. Each of these received a short poetic summary of their lives followed by a piece from both Mixy and Grist explaining their feelings towards them.
This format is an excellent one because, as well as being very engaging stage presences, the Dead Poets are fantastic poets and rappers. The range of different styles on display here was fantastic. As well as standard flowing verse, Grist presented a univocal, a poem where only one vowel is used throughout, lasting at least ten verses: a Herculean feat. However, topping this for sheer balls was Mixy’s tribute to Scott-Heron, a freestyle rap created on the spot from ten words given him by the audience (can you think of a rhyme for ‘Heisenberg’?)
Even when not showing off their verbal trickery, Grist and Mixy are warm, honest and touching. Through his tributes to Rossetti, Hughes and Scott-Heron, we get an insight into Grist’s upbringing in the Northern isles of Scotland, his first attempt at getting stoned and his first crush. Mixy gives us his experiences of racist parents while dating and the trials of a freestyle rapper who has to admit his home streets are in a town called Milky Nook.
After the genuine emotion on display elsewhere in the show, the final battle between Rossetti and Scott-Heron was almost a bit of an anti-climax; a little pre-prepared. However, from its 8-bit visuals to its costumed ending, this is still a fantastically amusing show and one that might actually teach you something too.