Reviews Published 10 July 2018

Review: Saul Williams at the Roundhouse

He wants to be heard: William Drew responds to American poet and rapper Saul Williams’ appearance at The Last Word Festival.

William Drew
Saul Williams, The Roundhouse.

Saul Williams, The Roundhouse.

Part 1

If I say to you that I’m going to a poetry recital
On a hot summer Saturday night
You may think me a little precious
A bit of the eccentric about me

But if I tell you that it’s spoken word
You might be like “oh word”
And I’d say who says word?
Are you being serious?
And you’d say
I don’t know
Am I?

And if I tell you that it’s at the Roundhouse
Part of a festival of spoken word
Called The Last Word
And this is the headliner
The one, the only
Saul Williams
And you’re like

And I tell you that Saul was blowing minds with poetry
Slamming hard
Before Kate and Innua were in nappies
In the mid 90s he was winning slams
At the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe
And even though you’ve never heard of that
You’d say
That sounds cool
And it does

And now he’s a rapper too
And you’d say so you’re going to a hip hop gig?
And you’d say why didn’t you say that in the first place
And I’ll say I don’t know what the deal is
Let me see
When I get there

Part 2

And inside the seating will be cabaret and there’ll
Be a curtain raiser where everyone seems to be
Grabbing the mic
Spitting their own deeply personal bars
Standing up on their chairs wherever they are
Like speeches in rhyme at a wedding
But we’re all strangers here
Aren’t we?

And when it’s time for Saul’s entrance he stays off
While images
Of marches
Of fists
Of Martin
Of Angela
Of Malcolm
Of Donald
Flash up on the screen
Saturated political tumblrs
Woke internet binges
And his voice booms from off-stage
To the hard club beat
And when finally he emerges…

Well this is awkward
Was he expecting this cabaret seating?
The empty spaces all around
The way he is screaming into the mic
Right now
Suggests not
This crowd
This cabaret seating won’t absorb
What he is giving

Not a crowd, the audience remains seated,
Are bombarded with sound, with images
It is incessant
A call to action and an existential scream
Seesawing between mobilisation and nihilism
To a banging club beat
Emma Goldman would feel this revolution…
In theory

And Saul wants us to feel it too but he isn’t going to beg:
“Y’all just gonna sit there then?”
He asks but it’s more of a statement than a
A few souls stand blocking the sightline of others
But we’re not in a club and there’s no pretending
The beat..

He starts to recite
And he has us gripped
“I stand on the corner of the block slangin’ Amethyst Rocks”
This is how he started and it shows
Every word is crystal, piercing
They land, they cut
We are with him
We are all in the room together

And when he hits the winning ace
It’s game, set and match
Whether we remember the prison yard scene or not
We know the power of those words
Could save a man from a shank
Or a beating
They shoot off these walls
Cast a spell
Sends shards into all our narratives

And this is what makes him different
In a world full of people wanting to be liked
Being vulnerable and knowing that they will be
Taken to the bosom of the audience
He doesn’t need that
He doesn’t care
If we like him
He wants to be heard
He wants to be remembered
He wants to be that splinter
You think you never quite got out
Dissipated into your bloodstream.
He is
The word.

Saul Williams was performing at the Roundhouse on June 30th as part of The Last Word Festival. For more details, click here.


William Drew

William Drew is a writer, narrative designer and dramaturg based in Brighton. He makes work at the intersection between live performance and gaming as Venice as a Dolphin and a Coney Associate. He is Associate Dramaturg of New Perspectives in Nottingham. He spent several years working in the Royal Court Theatre’s International and Literary Departments and has been a script reader for the National Theatre, Hampstead and Traverse Theatres. You can find out more about his work here:

Review: Saul Williams at the Roundhouse Show Info

Cast includes Saul Williams



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