Tim Key: Single White Slut

at Arcola Tent, Thursday 13th March 2014

*Originally reviewed for Exeunt*

Here’s a little game. Is the following (a) a poem or (b) a text message?

“Taj Mahal great. Poverty bad.”

If you answered (b), give yourself a pat on the back. The message was, apparently, sent to Tim Key by his mum when she visisted India, though it’s symptomatic of a show where, though poems are ‘announced’ and ‘read’, a poetic vein runs throughout. Key tells us stories, asks us questions and recounts information in a way which lilts and soothes, managing to be tightly structured and completely free at the same time, ensuring you’re never quite sure where the ‘poetry’ begins and the ‘comedy’ ends.

Key’s aim is, he says, to make poetry recitals appeal to “lads”, so that they’d go and hear some verse with the regularity of “going for a curry”, and by referring to us – affectionately – as “twonks” for turning up to see poetry in a tent, he’s already halfway there. Single White Slut is a contemplation, through poetry and prose, of masculinity; of Tim’s, of ‘lads’, and of owls.

He begins by reading a list of the women he’s slept with (including a Perrier judge and a casting director, apparently), and recites some brutal but hilarious anecdotes about his success (or not) in the bedroom. Though no one is exempt from his jokes, Key always ends up being the butt of them.

Key’s process has matured in recent years, as Single White Slut demonstrates a clear intention of purpose and continuation of theme, as faux-earnest moments of dance by a mysterious woman who keeps emerging from Tim’s “actual bed” tie the whole thing together elegently. So, too, has the poetry truly found its feet, as each here is written on a pornographic playing card and contains a story in miniature, most with a neat and giggleworthy punchline.

An air of the unexpected runs throughout most Tim Key shows, but nowhere has it been as pronounced as here. Stood on a circlular stage in the middle of the Arcola Tent, Key calls upon female audience members to join him on his bed in order to talk about their past. He riffs beautifully, managing to twist words to make the banal sound bonkers, and sometimes subverts the pathetic, puppyish persona we know him for in order to extract laughs. Audience members, too, choose poems to be read; no two shows are the same.

As if to comment on the show’s ideas of masculinity, Key remains intensely self-aware, referring to himself as a “film star” throughout and joking that “In a way, we’re all a part of the ‘poetry boom’.” The show’s climax is story of dubious veracity about him and Anne Hathaway, allowing him to comment on himself and his preoccupations, showcasing a vulnerable and honest side of manhood. And then, in a moment, the veneer’s back up and he’s joking about owls again. It’s a gorgeous and hilarious oscellation, and embodies all the contradictions and humour the show’s title promises.

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