Richard Purnell is having a bath.

richard-purnellLibraryIn anticipation of the scratch night for Bathtime – his new, darkly comic poetry show about love, death and bubble baths – Richard Purnell shares his experiences during the creation and development of the show…

Standing at the top of the Royal Mile, at the fag-end of the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe, limply flyering alongside a serially glum Gary From Leeds, surrounded by fire-breathers and beatboxers blithely rinsing tourists of their hard-earned, we realised

we are surrounded by gimmickry. Gimmickry. Not even disguised. The kind of gimmickry that comes right out with it and says:

“Hi, I’m a gimmick! You know what I am. And you will succumb.”

Me and Gary – Gary and I – didn’t have a gimmick. We had irony, which isn’t quite the same thing. And poetry, which is the polar opposite.

Rob Auton had a gimmick. He had a show about the sky and called it The Sky Show. He took the whole sky and owned it. Since then, he has moved on – brilliantly, but if we may be frank, somewhat empire-buildingly – to faces. Rob Auton is the Steve Jobs of poetry.

Now, brace yourselves for Karl Schultz. The great comedian had a show called Start The Karl. Like start the car but…start the Karl.

Presented with such incontrovertible evidence, we knew that if we were to come back to the Edinburgh Fringe we must come brandishing gimmicks like a rookie fireman brandishes his hose.

Gary came back this year with a show called Yeti. A solo poetry gig about the world’s most anti-social species. Gary got his gimmick on. With it, he got his punters, and he got on Radio 2.

Where was my gimmick?

Initially, I had an idea for a show called Having a Bath – Cockney rhyming slang for having a laugh. Believing Cockney rhyming slang too nuanced for my needs, I decided to make it literal. To actually have a bath. Clever, but not properly clever. Edinburgh Fringe clever.

Back in London, I holed up in Peckham Library. Thinking I was writing hack material designed for the hungover Edinburgh punter before he goes and gets pickpocketed by Russell Kane, I wrote a quite good short story.

The story was gently romantic, and gently cynical, with a bath-related twist. When I tried it on the mic, people liked it. They liked the romance; they loved the bath. The bath was the star.

A gimmick was born.

Encouraged, I wrote more. I wrote a lot more. Playfully dark stories, laced with pro-bath propaganda. Eventually, I realised that I didn’t have a lot of little stories. I had a show.

Trouble was, there were lots of characters saying stuff, stuff which I would have to say on stage. Being primarily a poet, with little acting experience, I knew that to bring my coming-of-bath story to life I needed help.

Annoyingly (for the bigot in me) that help came in the form of a supremely talented Aussie called Wil Greenway. I had seen his remarkable storytelling show, Vincent Goes Splat, and was captivated. It was full of little details you think about the next day and go, blimey. He put me in touch with his director, Kellie Tori, responsible in no small part for those details.

With inexhaustible patience, Kellie got me to do some relatively precise waving of the hands and pulling of faces – acting, the less pedantic among you might call it – and, about a year after deciding upon my gimmick, Bathtime has arrived.

Bathtime, supported by Apples and Snakes, is at the Free Word Centre, Thursday 9th October, at 7.30pm.
Tickets are £5 and available from

Richard Purnell is a poet and storyteller. He hosts The Bus Driver’s Prayer, an offbeat night of wordsmithery at Kahaila Café, Brick Lane.
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