Modern-epic-spoken-word-theatre-rap-come-poetry-mesmerising-musical-soap-opera. It seems impossible to say exactly what Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients is, except perhaps, a tour de force. The crowd at The Contact Theatre in Manchester weren’t easily categorised either, ranging from track-suited teens, to shirt and tie University professors, and everyone in between. Yet this is part of Tempest’s charm – she speaks to everyone, and at all levels, she elevates the ordinary to the heroic, and re-defines the theatre as a shared and exciting space for all.
Kate warned us of the intensity of what was to follow, but I’m not sure anyone took her seriously enough, and her casual comment that she was “going to tell us a story” is quite facetious in retrospect. What we got was nothing short of an epic, delivered seamlessly over an exhilarating live score that had us white at the knuckles, hanging off our seats and off her every word.
Normal people, warts and all, are recast as ancient Gods, as we follow the lives of inner-city London neighbours across two generations. Brand New Ancients is an emotional marathon, a lyrically jaw-dropping piece of craftsmanship entwined perfectly with Nell Catchpole’s musical composition, which seemed to breathe with Kate’s every word.
The gravitas of “godliness” comes hurtling back to reality when we realise that true strength is possessed by real people, in their gritty struggle against the horrors that life can throw up. In a vivid and violent scene of near rape in a closed pub, you can almost smell the damp yeasty breath of the perpetrator in the flare of neon light. You can almost hear his trousers unzip under the howl of violin and heavy moan of tuba. Teetering at this precipice, hearing the crescendo of drums, we are struck with the power of words and music, the intensity of feeling produced so skilfully by so few on stage. Brand New Ancients is original, intoxicating and hauntingly powerful and I urge anyone to go and see it.