Performance poet and playwright Kate Tempest bring Brand New Ancients to 2013 Edinburgh Fringe

  • Edinburgh Festival Guide
  • 15 July 2013

This article is from 2013

Brand New Ancients

credit: Katherine Leedale

Brand New Ancients is ‘everyday epic’ which finds heroism in the ordinary people

Kate Tempest doesn’t like to stay in her comfort zone. At only 26, she has already found success as a rapper, performance poet and playwright, gaining acclaim for her politically infused, impassioned writing coupled with a likeable, unpretentious stage presence. She started performing in rap battles at 16 before becoming a regular on London’s performance poetry scene, has supported Scroobius Pip and John Cooper Clarke and has twice been a slam winner at the Nuyorican Poets Café in Manhattan. Her writing hasn’t stopped there. In 2011, she was commissioned by Paines Plough to write her first play, Wasted, and this March she won the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry with her second play, which is now heading to the Traverse.

Brand New Ancients is described as an ‘everyday epic’ which finds heroism in the ordinary people all around us. Told in verse over a live score with tuba, cello, violin, drums and electronics, a work-in-progress version was performed last year at Edinburgh’s Summerhall. Since then it had a full run at Battersea Arts Centre, where it delighted critics.

Writing plays hasn’t always been on the cards for Tempest though, and it wasn’t until her first commission that she began to visit theatres regularly. While some performances left her cold, others inspired her. ‘Jerusalem [Jez Butterworth’s 2009 Royal Court production] blew me away. I didn’t realise I could feel like that sitting in a room and watching a story unfold. I didn’t realise it could make me feel like being at a gig, or being engaged with music and poetry; the way it goes straight for your gut.’

Having performed at so many gigs where the atmosphere is more intimate and the feel of the room so important, Tempest has been keen to keep a sense of this for her theatrical endeavours. ‘You know it’s almost as if everybody [in theatre] is part of this game that we’re all playing; that the audience isn’t really there and I don’t actually like that. I want the audience to feel like if they weren’t there then this thing wouldn’t be happening.’

From a distance, Tempest’s move into plays has looked effortless, a natural step for this talented writer, but her achievements haven’t come without some challenges, a steep learning curve and a few leaps into the unknown. ‘I think it’s really natural to be like, “oh no, what the fuck am I doing?”’ she says. ‘But it’s also quite natural to have a real hunger and compulsion to try and get better, or try and do new things. I never thought I could write a play, I never thought I’d write a book or write a poem, but I knew desperately that I wanted to write. You have just got to start with that feeling, just honour the conviction that you have and not think too much about how wrong it could all go.’

While the process might have led Tempest through unchartered territory, there does seem to be one place where she always feels very comfortable, and that’s on stage. ‘Sometimes it’s the safest place for me. When I get on stage suddenly everything makes sense again. It allows you the space to receive your work. It can be quite spiritual.’

Brand New Ancients, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, 0131 228 1404, 20, 22–25 Aug, 11.15pm; 21 Aug, 11.30pm, £18–£20 (£6–£15).

Brand New Ancients

'The gods are in the betting shops, the gods are in the café. / The gods can’t afford the deposit on their flat … / Winged sandals tearing up the pavement. / Me, you, everyone, brand new ancients.' Poet and rapper Kate Tempest tells an everyday epic over an exhilarating live score played by tuba, cello, violin, drums and…