June 20, 2018

Edinburgh Fringe: Moraletry – Poetry, Morality and Will Smith v Putin #moraletry

Fighting moral decline – just after lunchtime

One of the joys of a big arts festival like the Edinburgh Fringe is happening by a venue and finding something interesting is about to start. I was passing the Banshee Labyrinth on Niddry street at 13.38. According to the publicity posters outside they had something called Moraletry on at 13.40. That’s the sort of timing I like. I had no idea what it was, and even less once I’d read the blurb which described it as ‘a cross between John Cleese, John Betjeman and Mother Teresa’. That didn’t make anything clearer. The only hint I had was that the programme classified it under spoken word. It gave no indication that I would soon be voting whether Putin or Will Smith was the most moral and who should be at the top of the moral-e-tree.

Moraletry is an hour of comic poetry starring Gary from Leeds and Richard Purnell. They are two poets who came to Edinburgh last year with their well-received show The Long and the Short of It. in 2013 they have returned with grand ambitions – they are trying to make poetry more moral. The need was spotted when Pope Benedict resigned. Gary from Leeds was ‘saddened that even the leader of the Catholic Church couldn’t be bothered to put an honest shift in [and] realised that someone had to step into the moral breach’. The two poets have taken on a big challenge, but they are both full of the enthusiasm that a new movement needs. Performed in a small arched cellar with a leader in pseudo-military garb there were overtones of a revolutionary meeting. I came out almost convinced Moraletry could change the world. You can see how people get brainwashed.

Their status as a duo sets them apart from many of the other acts in Edinburgh. Purnell writes longer poems whilst Gary from Leeds performs shorter ones, but they both have a similar ironic, satirical approach. The dynamic between the two performers is complex. Each writes their own poems, but this year’s show is more co-written than before. As well as writing from their own viewpoint they are inspired by each other’s work to produce new pieces that dovetail together.

Moraletry or moral poetry is a huge topic. Where some Fringe shows can feel dragged out to fill the time available, there is plenty here for the two poets to work with. Reducing moral decline is a lot to get through in an hour, but it gives them leeway to veer in any direction they wish. Purnell approaches the Arab-Israeli question through supermarket shopping. ‘Poetry gives the chance to tell stories with universal meanings,’ Purnell commented afterwards. Gary from Leeds dispassionately declaims about El Hadji Diouf. Camus pops up. There are diagrams, images, votes and a moral-e-tree. No amount of explaining will do, you’ll just have to go to the show to find out what a moral-e-tree is.

Moraletry may grow into the biggest grass-roots movement the world has ever seen. Political candidates may stand under its banner. Judges may defer to Moraletry experts in court. However at the moment Moraletry only has 2880 results on Google. Get in at the start of the movement and help spread Moraletry around the world.

The Banshee Labyrinth

Niddry Street


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