Review: Roll Over Atlantic

Rosa Price 14 November 2017

This one-man show from poet John Agard sees him playing Christopher Columbus, the voice of the Atlantic Ocean, a native shaman and a mosquito. Each of these is done extremely well. I was a little apprehensive in Columbus’s first monologue, which was repetitive and leaden, but with the introduction of the Atlantic Ocean itself, the show gained a depth but set off and highlighted Agard’s wit. The set piece in which Agard, from behind a tribal mask, laments for the original names of the islands of the West Indies is poignant, and is extended enough that its power really grows and settles. Some of Agard’s poetry for those ancient voices is really beautiful. The rapid pace of the show, however, means that not everything gets that necessary time, and some of the order of its pieces is rather arbitrary. Columbus repeats the same few ideas; charitably, this could be a condemnation of the impossibility of a justification of colonialism which is not entirely rapacious, but actually it comes across as a lack of invention. Columbus can only compete with the more marginal voices at the end of the show, where he mourns being sent back to Spain.

The songs are of varying strength: the music gets better as the shows goes on. Only two (one about mosquitos, one about Old World diseases) are anything other than inconsequential, but those two are very funny. The piece’s strength – its eccentricity and eclecticism – also means its structure is very loose. Its variety is impressive and entertaining, but also makes the show a baggy monster. The bare set, with a lifebuoy hung at the back, a glowing globe and a shaman mask at the front, worked well, as did Agard’s symbolic costume items rather than full costume; the design played off the show’s fluid feel. The pre-recorded voice of the Atlantic worked surprisingly well, but much of the amplification was, however, sometimes painfully loud in the tiny space of the Corpus Playroom.

Witty, silly, serious and moving by turns, the show’s staggering variety is its biggest weakness. Agard tries to pack too much into it. Its flaw is the structure, which is pulled between Columbus as a man and the idea and history of the New World, and can’t quite spend enough time on either. The show doesn’t quite come together as a whole, but its parts are accomplished, entertaining and ambitious.