jem rolls ONE-MAN TRAFFIC JAM (jem rolls) 2014 Toronto Fringe Review


For years, I’ve heard raves about jem rolls at the Fringe, and so I eagerly selected jem rolls one-man traffic jam as one of my Toronto Fringe Festival picks for this year, and I was clearly not alone in my excitement. The house at Tarragon Extraspace was packed at 3pm on a Friday, everyone enthusiastic about the “Godfather of Scottish poetry.” I wish I felt as enthusiastic afterwards as I did beforehand.

jem rolls one-man traffic jam has a story to it as well, the poet’s retelling of his choice to plunge himself into the heart of London’s Christmas mania so he can tell everyone about how awful it is: “for you,” he tells the audience repeatedly, “for you.” It’s at least in part a show about making a show (which is not my very favorite), though it also passes through evolution, time, space, physics and the peculiarities of transit systems in assorted parts of the world.

rolls is a wordsmith and a seasoned performer – the language flows out of him in a seamless and unending stream, so tightly packed that it’s mind-boggling to imagine him memorizing it all. He’s got a gift of wordplay, and some of his connections and ideas are unique and fascinating. After a while, though, I started to feel as if I were trying to drink from a firehose – I couldn’t process what I was hearing fast enough, and the words just kept coming, fairly shouted by rolls at a rate that bordered on alarming. His confidence on stage is enviable, but I kept wishing he would stumble, or cough, or pause for any reason so that I could catch my mental breath.

Eventually, especially during the clearly poetic parts – hollered gruffly without pause – I started to check out and just let the sounds wash over me. It’s possible that I’m just not swift enough to be up to rolls’ work, but if a performer is going to say interesting things on stage I want to be able to hear them, and after a while in this show I simply couldn’t anymore. Though his verbal pyrotechnics are impressive, and the finale is dazzling, I found myself more limp than alert by the end. Perhaps his earlier work is better, but this did not thrill me overall. Though I really do agree with him about Nebraska.


jem rolls one-man traffic jam plays at Tarragon Extraspace, 30 Bridgeman Ave

show times

July 07 at 06:45 PM
July 08 at 10:30 PM
July 09 at 09:15 PM
July 10 at 07:30 PM
July 11 at 12:00 PM
July 12 at 01:45 PM

Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.

 To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.

Photo of jem rolls provided by the company