Roll Over Atlantic

Written and performed by John Agard

Directed by Mark C Hewitt

Music by Thomas Arnold
performed by Thomas Arnold and Richard Durrant with vocals by Pam Hewitt

Crosspath production developed in association with LLL


Roll Over Atlantic is a satirical revisiting of the voyages of Christopher Columbus. Whether glorified or vilified, Columbus, by his accidental ‘discovery’ of the so-called New World, gave a kickstart to globalisation, bridging Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, and joining forever the fates of these separate hemispheres and eco-systems. Telescoping the voyages, Agard, brings his irreverential wit from page to stage, fusing elements of calypso, cabaret and the absurd, as he variously takes on the voices of Columbus, the Atlantic, a native shaman and The Mighty Mosquito. Written in verse and performed against a background soundscape of Atlantic murmurings and symphonic mosquito buzzing, Agard takes his audience on a fantastical, fanatical historic voyage that still bears relevance to contemporary issues.

Roll Over Atlantic (along with a number of other productions by intercultural performing arts company, Crosspath) was researched and developed at the LLL rehearsal space. 

About the writer

John Agard was born and educated in Guyana. He came to Britain in 1977 and is an internationally recognised poet. He was winner of the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2012. Other awards include the Casa de las Américas Prize (1982), Paul Hamlyn Award (1997) and a Cholmondeley Award (2004). His book, 'We Brits', was shortlisted for the 2007 Decibel Writer of the Year Award and he has won the Guyana Prize twice. In 1989 he became the first Writer in Residence at London’s South Bank Centre. In 1998 he was poet-in-residence at the BBC and in 2007 at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

His many collections of poetry for children and adults, include Playing the Ghost of Maimonides, Travel Light, Travel Dark and Alternative Anthem (all Bloodaxe Books), The Young Inferno - a spin on Dante's classic for young readers which was awarded the 2009 CLPE Poetry Prize - and Book (Walker Books) in which Book tells its own story. He is on the current GCSE syllabus and performs his work widely across Britain as part of GCSE Poetry Live. He was the first poet-in-residence at the South Bank Centre in 1993, at the BBC in 1998, and at the Greenwich Maritime Museum in 2007.

He has written verse plays for the Little Angel Marionette Theatre and recently collaborated with composer Orlando Gough, writing lyrics for the offbeat requiem, Dead Head, premiered at the Brighton Early Music Festival 2010. He has written four plays for Crosspath: The Pied Piper of Londinium (2010), Calibania (2011, still in development), Puff (2013/2014) and Baron Samedi & Maman Brigitte (2014, still in development) as well as developing his one man show, Roll Over Atlantic (2015)

See John perform Alternative Anthem on YouTube

Reviews and interviews

???? London Literature Festival review, Southbank Centre, October 2016

"Ever thought about Christopher Columbus much? Apart from a quick mention during history at School, I can honestly say I’ve never given that much thought to the the discoverer of the ‘new world’. And yet, I could be making a huge mistake by dismissing old C.C., as John Agard points out rather brilliantly in his one-man show Roll Over Atlantic which I caught at the Royal Festival Hall.

Following a wonderfully funny and whilst not entirely flattering, at least honest introduction, Christopher Columbus (John Agard) comes onto the stage dressed in a curious mixture of modern day and fifteenth-century clothing. As Columbus tells his story, John takes on the role of Columbus himself and tells his story. The first point concerns Columbus’ origin and despite many countries and historical fantasists claims, the chap was a Genoese weaver’s son. Blending a mixture of historic fact and satire, and utilising the medium of poetry, song and the disembodied voice of the Atlantic ocean, John takes the audience with Columbus on his voyage to find a new route to the Orient. Over the period of around ninety minutes, we discover that the journey was long and hard,with talk of mutiny growing more vociferous as time went on. Ultimately, Columbus’ voyage would probably have been successful if the American continent hadn’t got in the way. As Columbus explores the area he has stumbled upon, there is a truly magical scene where John is behind a mask with a single blue light on him, naming each island Columbus visits.

I don’t want to give too much away, as this is very much a show to be experienced, but John delivers an interesting take, not only on Columbus and his driving forces but, in a really remarkable and memorable scene, he examines the lives of one of nature’s smallest and most deadly predators in wonderful detail.

Roll Over Atlantic is good fun and actually quite educational as well. Apart from the production itself, the programme has lots of interesting quotes from historians that shed a lot of light on the effect Columbus’ accidental find has had on the world since 1492. The production itself has a nice friendly feel about it. There is something about John which is instantly likeable and as soon as he arrives, he has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Mark Hewitt’s direction was superb as the performance looked and felt so naturalistic. The music by Thomas Arnold worked well and the songs were nicely fitted into the narrative so that the whole production flowed nicely.

All in all then, I really enjoyed Roll Over Atlantic which was well researched, nicely put together and presented. This is a show that feels like it would be suitable for a variety of audiences and venues and I had great fun watching it."

Review by Terry Eastham (

Read the online interview in Prospect Magazine