Henry Rollins @ National Theatre
Henry Rollins is now 51-years-old, and while there may be no band behind him he has continued to tour the world with a microphone in hand. The term 'Spoken-word' may make you think of bad poetry recitals, but it is a more apt term than comedy for his approach. Rapidly firing off anecdotes – sometimes deviating in the middle of one to another, then resuming the first without missing a beat – his show comes across as just a guy talking about things he has seen and done, and his views on the world. It just happens his discourse is so energetic and over the top that you wonder if he should be on Ritalin.
As people were still finding their seats they were treated to the stylings of man with the exact opposite persona to Rollins. Rhys Nicholson is dry and slow, neither of which proved to be negatives as he delivered deadpan one liners like the star of an action film. Some were absolutely painful to hear, which only seemed to add to their amusement factor. Nicholson is a master of his art.
After a small break, Henry Rollins took the stage. The evenings topics – which ranged from American politics and history, his own experiences travelling abroad, and 'Tales From the Black Flag Days' – followed the path of a brain storm session, yet were seamlessly integrated. Starting with apologies for his countries indiscretions and asking that Americans please not be judged by their government's actions, he discussed some of the current problems the USA is facing and historical points of relevance. Ridiculing the circus that was the Republican Primaries, he heavily criticised Mitt Romney's attempts to come across as an average American and Rick Santorum's general ineptitude. A number of times during his USA101 Lecture he would quote detailed sections of the American Constitution or famous political speeches. These moments lead to a sudden change in audience behaviour, as heads ceased to be held back in laughter and edges of chairs became sat on in genuine interest.
Rollins' critique of politics and government progressively expanded globally as he talked about experiences in China, Vietnam and Syria. He would paint a picture of how each countries local citizens would live, and as with his homeland asked that a country's people not be judged by its government's actions. Particular attention was given to his journey in North Korea, where he illustrated many elements of the countries situation foreigners may be unaware of. He spoke of Kim, his North Korean tour guide, in great detail, illustrating a good hearted family man who loves his car-key hiding son and has a poor understanding of the principles of joke delivery. Perhaps feeling it was time to raise the mood after the harsh realities of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Rollins regaled the room with a few travel stories intended solely to entertain. Particularly hilarious was a recount of how he ended up eating rats with some snake hunters in India.
Whether talking about the big trench coat bastard who took a young girls eye out at a Black Flag show or presenting his view on serious social & political issues, Henry Rollins is an adept raconteur. Though in no way preachy his performance was comparable to a sermon, full of parables intended to encourage optimism in the future, challenge his congregation to challenge themselves and others, and encourage compassion. His performance was also completely dissimilar to a sermon as almost every line was yelled with great volume and energy.
Following over two hours Rollins took his leave. As the audience members who weren't trying to stimulate blood flow back to their arses followed his lead there was an intense vibe in the room, almost like after a punk gig. It was the energetic atmosphere of people who have been inspired.
BY OSCAR SCHIESSER
LOVED: Seeing Rollins' discomfort at recalling the taste of rat-liver.
HATED: My new glasses, everything looked weird.
DRANK: Before arriving at the venue.