Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
Yesterday evening we went up to the Southbank in London, to the Royal Festival Hall's Purcell Room, mainly to see a poet whom I've only just begun to read and admire: the Californian Robert Hass. He and five other poets from around the world were reading there to celebrate the launch of Poetry International Magazine. I already had a copy of his "Apple Trees at Olema" and I was looking forward tremendously to hearing the poet reading from it. His reading didn't disappoint me at all, except in its brevity - only one long poem. He said he was nervous of following the Egyptian rap artist who preceded him in the running order, but the density of Hass's imagery and the warmth and humanity of his work had totally the opposite effect for me. It seemed to me that the rap artist's songs had taken up a disproportionate amount of the evening.
When the evening finished, I felt I had to go up to Robert Hass (we were both in the front row) to tell him how much I loved this book "Apple Trees" and that he certainly had no competition as far as I was concerned! To my surprise and delight he took from his bag a copy of his translations of the haiku of Basho, Buson and Issa, "The Essential Haiku" and asked me if he could give it to me! Of course I accepted and had him sign it. What a nice gesture, what a charming man, what a wonderful poet!
I very much enjoyed Carolyn Forché's reading of "The Lightkeeper": a gentle but emphatic reading. She is also the author of the foreword to "Remnants of Another Age" by Nikola Madzirov, the eminent Macedonian poet whose reading was first on the programme.
Madzirov's poems about displacement and the provisional nature of life, Anne Forché suggests, are rooted in his background as the son of refugees from the Balkan Wars of the last century. His beautiful voice in the original Macedonian language, with some stanzas inserted from the English translations, is something not to be forgotten. We bought his book and found the poems on the page full of remarkable images, derived from twenty-first century images as often as from Balkan life and countryside. His meditations on the ephemeral are gentle and strong, secular and spiritual at once.
So we came away with 40% of our feelings positively engaged by this Poetry Society sponsored event, where Robert Hass, Carolyn Forché and Nikola Madzirov were fully worth seeing. If only a more well-prepared and experienced person could have been assigned to lead us through the evening, it would have been fully a 50% success - or even more.
This month I shall be mostly ... completing my editing of the Pop Up Anthology 2014, a highly eclectic collection of poems from the people who have read at the spoken word nights at the Bar des Arts in the last year, and featured guests whom we've booked for events up to December 2014. This is the second one. Last year there were 50 contributors and this time there will be at least 63, not including myself and Dónall Dempsey.
It's the morning after the night before ... That's to say, the morning after the brilliant evening that was the Keystone Pub Poetry Slam and the morning before what is going to be the amazing night of Dónall's Birthday Bash and Pop Up evening at the Bar des Arts!
We knew that a Slam is a risky event until it's established - what happens if nobody enters? We were getting worried by yesterday afternoon when we'd had three people email to say they had to withdraw (to be fair, one was coming up from Devon and the railways were horribly disrupted). That left us with seven competitors on the list and we went ahead. We managed to start on time though another poet and two key members of the lovely Dirty Carols (our headline act) were delayed. It looked as though our competition would be limited to only five poets - but all was well - and three unexpected last minute entries made up for two more no-shows. We decided on unusual slam rules - up to five minutes for each entry. And we were off!
Tracey Marion was first up, with her great poem about recovering from anorexia (that poem will be published in the next Pop Up Anthology). Then we had Cat Randle with her poem about the whole idea of poetry Slams!. Pete Jardine told us some fantastical stories, Andy Low recounted a poet fight, blow by blow, a kiss at dawn and a beautiful descriptive poem about still lake. Jen McGowan had a cautionary tale from Africa about talking skulls and Roya Hamid mused delightfully upon words and their magical sounds. Janis Haves ranted with enormous style about her frustrations in the office work place. Geoff Pimlott's quiet rant on the subject of his mother-in-law's conversational powers captured the intensity of dementia. Last up came Paddy, with poems that he'd written and rewritten in the hour or so before he read them!
And then it was time for the judges' scores to be counted while Louise Etheridge read her gorgeously sophisticated smut and the wonderful Dirty Carols harmonised their tuneful way through Louise's righteously angry and comical songs about issues that concern us all very deeply, such as the incredible and suspicious survival of Debenham's and the vagaries of the Arriva Bus Company! The place was in an uproar by the time the prize-giving began, with most of the audience weeping, mostly with helpless laughter.
It was a very difficult decision for our randomly picked judges - all the entries were brilliant in their own ways - but the tiny first prize went to Tracey, the even smaller second prize was won by Janis, and Pete won the infinitessimal third prize. All the other performers walked away with diplomas, Pop Up 2013 books and big smiles.
We're hoping to be back at this great venue, the Keystone, in the future - we love the atmosphere, the courtyard garden, the piano, the decor, the attentive audience (the crowded bar became an appreciative audience as soon as the poems began) and the genial landlord, Richard Jaehme. Oh what a night!
... as the old song says ... OK it was June... and it was bustin' out ... but our series of poetry events in Guildford is in full Pop at the moment with three shows in the the week between 9th to 15th July, two of them Firsts.
Last Wednesday was one of the Firsts - Pop Up Poetry was asked to collaborate with Apples and Snakes (South East) on Wordplay, a spoken word cabaret at the Bellerby Room in G-Live, part of the Guildford Fringe Festival for the first time. We were proud to present four of our own stars, Anna Kahn (who performs regularly on London stages), Louise Etheridge and Eddie Chauncy (Guildford poets) and Dónall Dempsey, poet and host of our events at the Bar des Arts. Apples and Snakes provided acts by Anna Freeman and Adam Kammerling for the second half of the show. Everyone had an amazing evening.
We were lucky to have Elizabeth Molineux, an ace photographer, at the show, and I'll hand you over to her blog - she says it all, with wonderful pictures too, Here's the link: http://www.elizabethmolineux.com/ and here are some of her photos, with her kind permission.
... well, perhaps not easy, but a lot more fun than the other seasons in Britain. I love the season of summer festivals and open-air theatre productions that we're into now. In Surrey we're fortunate to have a lot of great old houses and castles with grounds that adapt beautifully to productions of Shakespeare's plays.
On 5th July I was lucky enough to be at BurntOut Theatre's production of "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Clandon Woods Natural Burial Grounds, near Guildford. In this idyllic corner of the Surrey Hills, an audience was treated to an afternoon of pure entertainment. In a meadow full of daisies and ladies’ lace we sat beside a still green lake while wit and an improbable story of young lovers and a villainous plot played before our delighted eyes.
The BurntOut Theatre Company specialises in productions of classic drama in unusual settings. This production, directed by Clemmie Reynolds and James Ball, of Alison Skilbeck’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing” transposes the action from Renaissance Italy to Surrey in the 1920’s, The play takes on a new resonance...
[All the photos below are published with permission from © Marina Leigh unless otherwise stated.]
We loved the way that the male contingent (in the first scene, Don Pedro (Alexander Scrivens) leading his party home from the war; in the second half, Dogberry leading the Watch) was always seen in the distance minutes before they arrived, marching down the long winding path to the lake; Boraccio and Conrad as dodgy private detectives; the way Benedick is duped, to great comic effect, while doing his laundry. The singing friar, James Reynolds, enhances one of the more pedestrian speeches in Shakespeare’s text. Leonato is rewritten as Lady Leonato, convincingly played by Emily Swain.
I'm pleased to hear that the BurntOut Theatre Company are to receive Arts Council funding - it's fully deserved.
I would like to apologise for two errors in my first posting of this review, now corrected. James Ball, not Alexander Scrivens, was the co-director and played Verges; Alexander Scrivens, not James Ball, played Don Pedro and Seacoal.
They're taking "Much Ado" to Wintershall, Guildford on 15th - 20th July 2014 - get your tickets here
The photos below were taken by Dónall Dempsey on 5th July 2014