Jem Rolls One-Man Traffic Jam

Wes Babcock


Jem Rolls really does manufacture a one-man traffic jam with a gorgeous verbal pile-up that left me rubber-necking and slack-jawed as I left the theatre.

From the word “go” Jem does not stop. And I mean he goes. So much that at times he seems to choke on the words that are attempting to get out past a desperate breath. I’m not sure if this is an attempt to convey the desperate passion behind his racing critique of our traffic-jam culture or if he actually can’t bear to pause for breath. In either case, you may need to stop for an espresso on your way to the venue just to keep up.

Jem’s vast experience on the Fringe circuit has inspired him to create a unique performance just for us, the audience. Drawing on a fraught balance between his deep love for humanity and a bitter rage against our complacency, Jem puts himself through some of the worst of the world that we’ve made in order that we won’t have to, and so that we can think about it, and ourselves, critically.

The plot is beyond simple: Jem goes to the terrible-throbbing heart of a London shopping district and back on the bus, living through a traffic jam of ungodly proportions. The explicit plot is not the point. In fact, it serves the same roll as the bits of plastic in a kaleidoscope; fodder for a colourful and imaginative journey that reflects back on the source from a thousand angles at once.

There are a few areas in which this show doesn’t measure up to it’s own high standard. Foremost is the reality that despite Jem’s mesmerizing presence, the staging is misguided in a few places. I liked when it was simple, because the script and energy of Jem’s delivery was the absolute focus. When it best succeeds it is a thoroughly un-theatrical performance, and the attempts to move away from this were my least favourite in the show. I’m referring mostly to the radio announcer bit, which is a disappointment in comparison with the wit and power of the rest. I do like the moments when Jem changes pace to deliver a more formalized section of verse in an atmosphere of “theatrical” lighting, but I thought that hiding his huge presence behind the guise of this DJ was a misuse of his talent, and not a great way to introduce the show’s next theme. The rest stayed so close to the dashing thoughts of a man on a bus that this was too much of a break from the conventions created within the show’s represented reality.

Jem’s performance is frenetic poetry approaching prophecy, and he does things with words that will shock you in the best possible way. I never thought I could hear so many words in an hour, and if I did, I’d never have imagined they would carry such an important message on their passionate flow. This is language with power like it should have in every single utterance. Don’t miss this show: even when it doesn’t work perfectly, it’s a performance and a half, and cannot fail to impress.


Upcoming Shows: (Venue #5: ODD Box)

June 25 @ 20:30

June 26 @ 17:30

June 28 @ 15:00

June 29 @ 18:00


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