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Mark Grist – Edinburgh festival review



The story I'm about to tell, says Mark Grist, is a tragedy – which isn't how internet sensations usually describe their overnight fame. Grist is the "rap battle teacher" who bested a 17-year-old MC in a face-off that went viral earlier this year. Celebrity beckoned; the adult world hailed Grist for putting a mouthy teen back in his place. But Grist tells us the tale behind those headlines, of an idealistic educator who aimed for the sky and ended up, by fairly low means, in the pages of the Daily Mail.

The story is told through a combination of chat, YouTube clips and – mainly – Grist's poems. He sets the scene with verses about his childhood crush and his despotic history teacher, then moves on to his own teaching career at a progressive Peterborough comp. But disillusion with teachers who seemed to hate teenagers kicked in, and Grist quit to try his hand as a spoken word artist. He certainly makes an entertaining raconteur, bouncing with enthusiasm as he recalls the money worries of the rookie poet and the university course he took that made rhyme a crime.

Grist rejected that advice: his poems are all about dense wordplay and internal rhyme. He sells them well, and they reveal an unpretentious man without a cynical bone in his body. So how did he end up cussing a 17-year-old's mum in public ("those nights out gathering STDs … ") and sparking a national hate campaign against this talented junior rapper? This show is Grist's conversation with himself about that moment, a thoughtful mea slightly culpa in which he re-commits to his love of words and his opposition to misogyny. That sounds like special pleading – but doesn't feel like it onstage, because Grist's heart is engaged and he has a great story to tell. Redemption starts here.

Rating: 4/5

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