“Jeremy Corbyn will raise income tax, but only for my ex-boyfriends,” quips Jess Green in her closing poem in Leicester’s Curve Studio. It’s a disarmingly funny laundry list of wild, vain hopes about Labour’s most radical leader in a generation, a warning of pedestal-raising wrapped in charming self-deprecation.
Taken at face value, such a line would – and indeed, the name of the show already has – raised more tedious, baffled, outraged accusations of a personality cult in the darker corners of Facebook comments where “why can’t he just snap his fingers and stop Brexit?” still passes for informed discourse. Green is an artist and activist permanently inhabiting the task of bringing nuance to a political scene that spent the entirety of the Blair-Brown-Cameron years trying to purge itself of it, and A Self-Help Guide could be the magnum opus of that mission.
Backed by an expanded and superbly effective incarnation of her Mischief Thieves band, Green’s poetry is at its best here – forceful but earnest, simultaneously full of banner-raising rhetoric and quietly thoughtful observance. She’s a slice-of-life artist who doesn’t sieve out the grit of what life actually is. She makes a point of highlighting that not every poem about Corbyn, but this actually undersells the incisiveness of her writing – even the material that isn’t about politics is actually about politics, because in the end, everything is. Green delves into reality and casts light on the intersections. She sets the wider scene of fragmented, downtrodden austerity Britain, painting the all-too-familiar picture of a country screaming for the party of the workers to come up with a socialist agenda. When she’s not praising the man himself, she’s putting Corbyn’s politics in context, re-imbuing them with the heart and intent that, let’s face it, pretty much all media except a few local arts magazines have been keen to strip away, obscure and misrepresent.
Towards the show’s close, Green makes a heartfelt plea for left unity, citing the best chance in decades to have a government with the willingness and plan to actually take on the big problems. It hammers home the actual point of the show – the title istongue-in-cheek, Jeremy Corbyn isn’t perfect, and there’s lots more work to do, first and foremost making it clear that there’s no personality cult to be found here. Green speaks with the voice of the swelling Labour membership whose unified voice is the real power behind Corbynmania. A Self-Help Guideisa Labour of love, performed by one of the people who’s strived so hard to make that happen, and for and about the rest of them – not just the man at the top.