REVIEW: Stutterpop – The Queen’s Speech (Smoke Labours Productions)

Brooks gives bravery added meaning.

Stutterly Memorable [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]

Brooks gives bravery added meaning.
Brooks gives bravery added meaning.

The subtitle of the performance “The Queen’s Speech” is an apt description of the show. In many plays there are pivotal, poignant and powerful moments that you love or remember. For us it was the honesty and plain spoken humanity of the whole evening that will make it memorable, when all those ‘amazing’ shows we have seen have faded, even when we swore they would be etched in our memories.

Sam Brooks’ personal and autobiographical production is unique, in that what he may sometimes struggle to say on a day-to-day basis was spoken loud and clear to the audience tonight. So many elements of the show ring true about how stutterers are treated in social situations. The literal ‘timing’ of Brooks’ monologues was so familiar in the way that people cut stutterers off finishing their sentences, supposedly to save them embarrassment, but more likely to hide our own social awkwardness of what to do in unfamiliar territory. And that is why watching the audience response tonight was particularly pertinent to gauge how people were reacting to someone wearing his heart on his sleeve and bearing his soul on stage. It was not only gut wrenching but at times so obvious that people were not sure how to react to playwright and star of the show Brooks.

I know for a fact that this work was called “Brave” when it first hit the fringe earlier this year but I will happily go the extra mile to call it fearless. Even without a stutter I’m definitely not willing to stand on stage to reveal all, so I literally take my hat off to Brooks for his courage and the downright raw rendition we were treated to tonight.

Using a different guest every night to help Brooks tell his story is a great device and on opening night we were graced with the presence of Billy T nominee Eli Matthewson. Being a very candid story that provides the audience with great insight into the frustrations of being struck by the stutter, it was great to see that Matthewson had an acute understanding of Brooks the person not just Brooks the playwright. I’m not sure what the rest of the nights will be like but certain mannerisms and gestures that Matthewson impersonated on stage could only come out of him knowing Brooks on a personal level, given, I was told, the script was only available to him late that morning.

If you’ve ever been tongue-tied and nervous speaking in public or in a meeting, think how that would feel every time you opened your mouth to contribute to a conversation, to get a job, to charm a potential lover, to berate misconduct or to express the stupidest banal pleasantries? And especially if it takes longer than people not empathetic to your situation are willing to wait for. How much wit and charm and horribleness are not heard and appreciated because of the impatience of us all? It made it even more moving that the rotating cast is utilised and given the licence to speak on Brooks‘ behalf. And Brooks directing the actor throughout was genius in regaining control over how he communicated on his own terms, not others.

The lip synching that Brooks does is an absolute delight to watch. His fabulous poise and dramatic delivery is deliciously delightful. Adam Ogle was vital to this piece and expressed fake and real musicianship as well as linked the whole piece together with a cheerful disposition that was heartfelt. Likewise the Brooks Dancers, led by choreographer Louisa Hutchinson, gave it their all and added to the spectacle that unveiled and unravelled around Brooks.

But the beauty of the whole piece is that Stutterpop is not only about Brooks’ experience with stuttering, he gives us a whole lot more. He shares a string of embarrassing milestones which often people keep tucked away in the back of their closets, but not Brooks – he is definitely out and proud with his triumphant ‘failures’ as he refers to them.

I guess the ultimate test of a good performer is when there is a technical failure that just cannot be resolved, which was the case for Brooks’ final soundtrack that forced him to sing a song that he hadn’t expected to have to do. Once again Brooks turned ‘failure’ into an opportunity making the finale even more powerful than he may have intended. His hesitance to sing was definitely unwarranted as the audience already loved him. Instead of allowing the technical mishap to get the better of him, Brooks‘ reaction demonstrated the whole premise of his show.

Presented by Smoke Labours Productions, Stutterpop – The Queen’s Speech plays at Q Vault until 29 Aug. Details see Q

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