I, Idiot – Jem Rolls
Edmonton International Fringe Festival
Stage 13, Old Strathcona Public Library
4 of 5 stars
Last show: Sat. Aug. 25. 4:45 pm.
Review by GRAHAM HICKS, Hicksbiz.com
The English language has taken a beating these last few decades.
English literature – the great classics of the language – are skipped over in school.
Teachers no longer know the rules of English grammar and composition. In fact, they are now a second or third generation of fuzzy generalists when it comes to the teaching of English (as a small part of social studies; political correctness is given far more weight). None of them studied Latin, the language that explains grammar so well.
At the hundreds upon hundreds of shows at the Edmonton Fringe, theatre that leaves you delighted with the language – unless it’s true-to-the-original of Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, James Joyce or Shakespeare – are near non-existent.
Shows that use f**k and its variations in every other sentence are a dime a dozen.
Except at the solo shows of performance poet/story teller/comedian Jem Rolls.
Rolls is a throw-back, to a generation of Englishmen who as students were probably caned if they couldn’t recite all the tenses, split their infinitives and didn’t know the proper propositions.
I haven’t a clue as to Jem Rolls’ background – other than his accent is English, as are many of his references. All I know is the gangly, wispy-haired 56-year-old artist brings a solo show to the Fringe just about every year that gives one hope for the possible use of the English language for beauty, turn-of-phrase, exact nuance and stage poetry.
I don’t go to Rolls’ shows for plot or enlightenment – I go to enjoy his mastery of the language, his puns, his turn of phase – “bury my art at wounded me” or “sex is something unmentioned going on in the unmentionables.”
I, Idiot starts with the thesis that both Jem Rolls personally and the entire human race are more-or-less idiots, that the brain is an “unrecyclable plastic bag, filled with other plastic bags.” Rolls then proceeds, through a series of generally hilarious inter-linked thoughts and skits, to demonstrate what an idiot he is, trapped in the same head for 56 years, and what idiots human beings are in general. "Melania Trump," asks Jem. "Is she inscrutable, or is she just thinking they're all idiots?"
It’s not so much the humour as the mastery of the language that’s so enjoyable – though the humour, the “verbal bouffant” (as Rolls as terms himself and his act) is wonderful stuff.
And if the story wanders somewhat, if the dramatic intent makes left turns without signalling, that’s fine by me, because when I leave a Jem Rolls show, I’ve had a glimpse of the potential beautiful still inherent in our maligned and mangled language.