Writer: Various (Poetry Anthology Being Human, Published by Bloodaxe Books, edited by Neil Astley)
Director: Steve Byrne
Reviewer: Lettie Mckie
The Public Reviews Rating:
“Poetry is the human voice…and are we not of interest to each other?” So this showcase of a new poetry anthology succinctly seeks to show us in a charming and understated event which was part poetry recitation, part dramatic performance.
Published by Bloodaxe Books Being Human brings together the work of significant poets over the last century, from all over the world. Part of Words on Monday a weekly programme of spoken word hosted by Kings Place, the evening was a two part show including three actors who presented the work of several dozen poets from the anthology.
Interweaving stories of love, loss, desire, despair, hope and everyday life these poems were performed rather than read, the actors inhabiting the stories told through the muted rhythms of poetry that was largely written in free verse. Benedict Hastings, Elinor Middleton and Barrett Robertson, dressed in plain, modern white clothes sit round an ordinary kitchen table presenting their poems like dinner party guests telling anecdotes, delivering witty punch lines and profound asides to an audience captured by their poise and naturalness.
The stage of Kings Place’s modern high ceilinged hall was unadorned apart from simple pine furniture, minimal props and a white sheet that acted as a backdrop for video projections. This bare stage dressing allowed the audience to focus more intently on the words being spoken, the staging was not intended to create a scene but rather facilitate the audiences’ ability to take in the words which it was being offered. Haunting music, singing and subtle snippets of film all helped to create a mood of focused listening.
Largely this toned down approach was successful although at times the performance could have down with more variations in pace to stop attention wondering. Particularly in the second half some of the choices were less effective, such as the decision for some poems to be recited in semi-darkness. The use of a white table cloth being turned into a hijab for Middleton to wear however was a very clever decision, and brought the poem it illustrated Hijab Scene #7 humorously to life.
The main strength of the event was exactly those moments when the performers caught so accurately onto the sense and rhythm of a poem that they breathed life into the words. Conjuring up the stories told within them, they held the audience through a mixture of clear delivery, characterisation and direct eye contact. Other highlights included Romantic Moment by Tony Hoagland and How to Cut a Pomegranite by Imtiaz Dharker.
Director Steven Byrne weaved the performances of poems so seamlessly together that the enjoyment of the whole will largely come down to which parts individual members of the audience paid particular attention to. This performance married highly accomplished poems with simple but clear and heart felt delivery, quiet and thought provoking, this was the perfect cultural Monday night out.