(everyone’s links to follow tomorrow!)
Where to start? I don’t know but I’ll try to do it briefly. For years now I’ve wanted to do a show north of Birmingham and having finally got the chance, the lovely people at For Books’ Sake suggested I might want to consider Three Minute Theatre at Afflecks as a venue.
In what seemed like a mix of fate and extraordinarity, John and Gina, the lovely people behind this marvel of a venue, not only said yes but welcomed us with open arms, so much that when I turned up to meet them for the first time on the afternoon of the gig they felt like old friends.
I’ll be devoting a whole piece to this place, but for now I’ll just say that it’s a dream venue – a perfect underground lair with its urban art tables, electric guitar wall-hangings and leather sofa on stage; yet with top notch professional sound and lighting. I think everyone agreed we couldn’t have had a better setting for what turned out to be a remarkable night. And their ginger wine and lemonade became an instant cult hit.
Venue was just the first problem I had to face putting this together. There was the little matter of a line-up. New Libertines gigs have lots of performers. I didn’t know lots of performers in Manchester. I did know a few, however, who were in the vicinity. But Laura Jarratt, Rachel Genn, Elizabeth Baines and Michael Stewart all fall into that category of “way more talented and successful than me.”
Nonetheless, when I did the cheeky thing and asked them they all said yes. And the wonderful poet Paul Askew agreed to come from Oxford. But five writers don’t make a show. Yet again, For Books’ Sake came to my help. Not only are they the best thing on the web. They’re pretty much up there in real life as the tippest toppest people you could meet.
With their help I found three more stunning acts to round out our programme: Claire Robertson, Sarah-Clare Conlon, and Sian Rathore. And then it kept going – the people behind Manchester’s top spoken word night Bad Language all pitched in for open mic (thanks again to FBS!). eight cuts favourite Neil Schiller turned out to be available to read. It was getting overwhelming.
There was also the date question. Rather, there wasn’t. I had one date free. January 23rd. A Monday. The only piece of advice everyone shared with me was to avoid Mondays. Mondays are promotion hell. Super. But Monday it was, and with Veronika von Volkova’s amazing poster in place, I was ready.
But I had no idea what to expect.
What we ended up with was the most receptive, friendly crowd (of around 50-60 at its peak) I can remember. Not only did they take everyone to heart and genuinely seem to enjoy it all (or, at least, the ginger wine), they were remarkably generous with their applause and their laughter – reacting in just the right way in just the right places to
And if Paul Askew’s The Crow had sides properly splitting, nothing could have prepared anyone for the reaction to Sian Rathore’s mesmerising, machine-gun hypomanic piece of messianism “I’m so jacked.”
Talking of Paul’s Crow, it quickly became clear that there was something of a bird theme to the night (I felt I should take everyone out for KFC afterwards). We had Michael Stewart, author of Not the Booker winning King Crow pairing up with Paul, Elizabeth Baines, author of Too Many Magpies, and the open mic gave us pigeons, starlings, and chopped chicken.
But the night was more than Sian’s brilliant but unsettling humour, Paul’s glorious absurdism, Laura’s porcelain-delicate emotions, and Rachel’s achingly painful observations.
Michael Stewart’s exquisitely-crafted Couples poems untangled relationships with the deftness and care of a scientist unravelling starnds of DNA.
Elizabeth Baines gave us a remarkable piece of what could best be described as gentle observational nihilism as meaning’s attempts to push above the parapets of the practicalities of life are repeatedly crushed.
Claire Robertson’s performative storytelling took us on a remarkable all-sensory journey as she integrated the pages of a scroll, props, the collective consciousness and her own body to reflect upon the cycles and fulness of life in the Year of the Dragon. It was an all-encompassing tour de force that immersed us in a collective dream.
Sarah-Clare Conlon edits Quickies: the night’s best-selling book – a collection of delicious filth. And her flashes featuring sex toys and uniforms disrobed were a heady mix of subtle, sensuous and smut, pitch-perfectly delivered.
And the open mic was a box of treats stuffed to brimming. Neil Schiller kicked off with beautiful, haunting prose read to perfection.
Bad Language‘s trilogy of Dan Carpenter,
David Hartley and
Fat Roland offered respectively Batteries, which felt like a 21st century take on Bright Lights, Big City in more senses than just being in the 2nd person, and was a serendipitous counterpoint to Metropolis, which had been showing on the screen behind the stage before we started; The Supermarket exploded, a series of post-consumerist satirical microfictions; and Bigger Than This, a quietly heartbreaking piece of nostalgia.
Ben of the Green proffered an extraordinary piece of what he later described as 4% Dada which featured a digeridoo rendition of Inspector Gadget. Just for starters.
And Anna Percy left the audience stunned with three pieces that probably resonated most with what I’ve been trying to achieve in recent work. The quiet brutality and emotional depth of her poems was deeply affecting.