Venue: York Theatre Royal
Running: 25th May
Sometimes, not often, there is an event so startlingly brilliant that the regular format for a review can be completely abandoned, and the writer can feel absolutely no shame in gushing five hundred words of ebullient praise for the evening’s entertainment. On 25th May, the Studio at the York Theatre Royal hosted five of Yorkshire’s most talented and prolific Spoken Word Artists (that’s poetry to you and me), and the resulting tidal wave of creative prowess could not help but leave the audience reeling at the sheer diversity of form, performance and emotional input into their oeuvres. The evening was a part of the Theatre Royal’s Yorkshire Season, which has been, and will continue to showcase the finest of Yorkshire’s talent, past and present.
The MC for the evening was Henry Raby, whose own poetry is a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous. Underneath the wild gesticulation, and metaphors that seemed to give the poems a breadth that spans the physical, metaphysical and quite frankly comical, there is always a heartfelt message; something that grounds the poems in a reality felt by every member of the audience. His unbridled verve never allowed the evening become stagnant (which, being an event where people Stand and Read Words, is a very real possibility), in spite of the varying rhythmic pace of each of the featured poets.
The poets themselves were curated (if that is permissible poetic terminology) with such precision that the audience were directed through the emotional journey of each poet, ranging from the deeply personal, to the social reactionaries, to the mind-bogglingly comedic. By pure coincidence, the three female poets seemed to write poetry that engaged with the audience on a far less superficial level than the two males, so that the interspersion of the men amongst the women varied the tempo and allowed the more hard-hitting of the poems to be offset by those which aimed only to amuse.
The opening act took the audience on a whirlwind tour of Doncaster, Hull, and (almost exotically) Battersea as Sally Jenkinson, Jim Higo and Lucy Ayrton took to the stage to give the audience their marvellously diverse approach to life, the universe and everything. Jenkinson’s mellow tones painted a beautifully simple picture of the quintessentially quotidian, and brought a sense of sublimity to thoughts and feelings that most would pass off as trivial. Next, “raised on a diet of Punk and Socialism” (with an entry like that, who couldn’t fail to be impressed?!), Higo upped the intensity with his paradoxically manicured bawdiness. Where his rhymes lacked the technical complexities and free verse elements of the other performers, his quick-fire wit and ability to sustain humourous anecdotes kept the audience nursing their aching sides.
But the true show-stoppers emerged in the second half. The two final performers could not have been starker contrasts to one another, nor could their poetry have received more different reactions. Where Raph Attar’s performance of such opuses as ‘Dave the Dinosaur’ brought the roof down as he single-handedly crafted raps with entire backing tracks using only a few suggestive beats (and repetition of the word “strawberry shortbread”), Genevieve Carver stunned the room into complete awe-struck silence with her devastatingly honest and truly emotional poems. I can think of very few theatrical events where two such differing artists can sit alongside one another.
The Theatre Royal is well-known for presenting the best of touring English theatre, and often provides a touch of professionalism amongst the hive of amateur dramatics, but Words and Whippets has wonderfully redefined the term ‘amateur’. These poets are not amateur because they are untalented, rather their blinding success as amateurs is a testament to their passion. If this evening is anything to go by, it should remind us that no matter how brightly the lights on the West End shine, we should never ever miss the things that sit right on our doorstep.