Tuesday, 21 January 2014
'Being Human,' Embrace Arts, Leicester.
Saturday 18th January
I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the stage production of 'Being Human' when I went to see the show in Leicester last Saturday. I knew it was a dramatic production of the ever popular 'Being Human' poetry anthology ed. by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe. I did wonder how the show would be structured - would there be a narrative? Would there be some kind of thread weaving the poems together? In a way I don't want to tell you and therefore spoil the sense of anticipation you might have. After all how do you perform a book of poetry?
Before the show itself I was kindly invited to take part in a pre-performance talk and the concept of performing poetry. It was co-hosted with the show's producer Jonathan Davidson and the director Steve Byrne. There was a great deal of lively discussion about the topic and I realised that there's quite a difference between the idea of actors reciting poems and performing them. In terms of performing a poem, why shouldn't it be performed? I know there was some debate at the Forward Prizes about actors reading out poems, but 'Being Human' isn't about reading out poetry, it's about the actors inhabiting the poem, making it real living and breathing through every word. If you know anyone who wants an introduction to contemporary poetry then they should go to this show. If you read a lot of poetry you should still go to this show! You will not have experienced poetry like this. The performances by the actors, Barra Collins, Elinor Middleton and Rochi Rampal, were superb and utterly right for the poems.
The play itself is 90 minutes of poetry and nothing else but poetry. There are a few simple props, but other than that it's the actors who perform the poems and allow us, an an audience, to be part of them. What I found most intriguing was the ordering of the poems in the play. Poems have been selected from the anthology so they tell their own story of what it is to be human, from love, parenthood, death, war, ageing and the adventure of being alive. The performances and the poems are alive and utterly convincing. It is good to be reminded of the creative scope of poetry and of how it can touch a reader and an audience. It's also good to be reminded that poetry is all about the poems themselves and how they act as a little truthful world of their own. Here's a poem which to me does that reminding, and it's from the first poem in the show, 'Ars Poetica #100: I Believe' by Elizabeth Alexander:
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?