Observations: Poetry scores with Scrabble

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The Independent Culture

Who knew Scrabble could be so exciting? It is normally the kind of game you might play with your gran, but poetic theatre collective Pen-ultimate are putting on their first full-length play, A Night on the Tiles, at the Contact Theatre in Manchester and giving the board game a whole new underworld spin. The plot revolves around Harry "The Hackney Hacker" Jones, a 78-year-old ex-SAS gangster who returns from retirement. He decides to gather the biggest Scrabble players from around the world together for one last, big, high-stakes game.

A send-up of several gangster movies mashed together (think Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Kill Bill and Fight Club), the entire show is written entirely in rhyming verse and aims to be a light-hearted play on linguistics. The five-person collective, which formed three years ago and specialises in off-the-wall poetry sets, includes Martin Stannage and Ben Mellor, who recently won the Radio 4 Poetry Slam.

For this, their first play, the group hooked up with US hip-hop theatre pioneer Will Power, who came over from the States to work on the script.

"As several hip-hop artists are in the collective, people assume it's a hip-hop show but we call it poetic theatre," says Ali Gadema, who plays the Hackney Hacker. "It's a shout-out to old-school British comedians like Peter Sellers and Peter Cook,"

4 to 13 February; www.contact-theatre.org



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