Category Archives: Theatre

The Power of the Word

12-16 October

Kevan performs at the Bristol Story Cafe

It’s been a particularly rich ‘bardic week’.Wednesday night my friend Ola and I performed our show ‘Tales of the Desert, Desire and the Red Thread’ at the Bristol Story Cafe, held above the funky wholefood shop, La Ruca, in Bristol. I started things off with a bit of Rumi, then my Garden of Irem story, finishing with Phaethon and the Chariot of the Sun’, a Greek myth which explains how the deserts of the world were created. Ola then stepped up to the plate to regale us with the tale of the Woman who gave birth to the Moon – a story from her collection, ‘The Firekeeper’s Daughter’. Mine were inspired by my novel, The Burning Path. Escaping Bristol, we wended our way back to the genteel suburbs of Bath.

On Thursday I caught up with my friend and co-writer, Terry James. We listened back to the recording of the Dymock Poets Story read-thru – a week on. It was magical, hearing our words brought alive by the ‘company’. Lots of exciting emails have been whizzing back and forth recently about famous directors and actors who might become involved. Can’t say any more than that at present!

Friday night I treated my partner to a mystery night out – taking her to see the master storyteller Abbi Patrix and his talented percussionist partner Linda Edsjö at the Playhouse in Cheltenham – part of the mega Litfest on at the moment. A small entourage of us went over from Stroud, in Fiona’s ‘bardmobile’ – following the moon along the scenic Birdlip route. While climbing to our seats in the stalls I commented to an elderly lady heading in the same direction: ‘This literature lark keeps you fit!’ She replied ‘Nothing can keep me fit!’ It was AS Byatt. We got chatting about her new book Ragnarok – which she was talking about the following day. She was a charming lady – unpretentious and approachable; as was her fellow Booker Prize winner, Ben Okri, who also happened to be sitting in the same row as AS, two rows down from us. Afterwards, enjoying a post-show drink and discussion in the bar, I bumped into him on the way out. We shook hands and had a brief discussion about the wonderful show, which I called ‘Shamanic’. ‘The perfect word for it,’ he said. He asked my name, and what I did. He had a lovely graceful presence. Meeting two writers I admire in one night – I went home happy!

The next day I popped into town and enjoyed the atmosphere of market day – bumping into friends old and new on the High Street – feeling I am lucky to live in such a lovely, friendly place with a vibrant, creative community, stunning countryside and great pubs! Later, I paid a visit to my local, the Crown and Sceptre, joining the Saturday afternoon crowd watching the match. I supped my Budding in its mug and perused the papers – it’s one of those pubs where you can have a quiet read in the corner and no-one thinks you’re an alien with two heads. Along with their weekly nights of ‘stitch ‘n’ bitch’; Up the Workers Wednesdays; bikers & poker night, they also have the occasional arts event – eg a film show with live soundtrack or the up-and-coming book launch. I talked to the landlord Rodda about holding one their for my imminent book, Turning the Wheel.

That evening I went to the Lorca in England finale at Whiteway Colony Hall – which had links with the Spanish poet and his Civil War comrades in the Thirties. It took some finding along the dark backroads – the weird no man’s land that is the ‘Cheltenham triangle’. Eventually we pulled into the carpark in time to hear the jazz – Lorca’s poems set to music, against the backdrop of an impressionistic ‘Lorca-mentary’ made by a local film-maker. In the summer, a competition for the best Lorca poem in translation was held. Tonight the shortlisted poems were read out – by the entrants who could attend (one had come from Paris), or by local Rimbaud, Jeff Cloves, and the judges – two American poets, flown over especially for the event. The suitably international winner was announced (an Italian living in France). Another well known local poet, Philip Rush MCed the whole event in a witty and informative way – a cool school-teacher daddy-o. The rioja flowed as we hobnobbed with the crowd of poetry-lovers afterwards. It’s not often one goes to a bilingual poetry reading – and has a good night. The whole thing wasn’t so ‘worthy’ as to be dull – it had a slightly anarchic air to it. The archive footage of the Wall Street Crash and soup kitchen queues, the spectre of Fascism and the fopdoodle of the media made the whole thing eerily resonant. One could imagine Lorca being at home with the protesters around the world who took part in a global anti-austerity/corporate greed demos today. Power to the People!

And today – Sunday – there is the Stroud Short Story night at the SVA. Words galore! What a place to live!

Stories to Save the World

26-29 November

A flurry of fabulous events over the last few days – a feast that I’m still digesting…

Thursday I was invited back to be a guest panelist in the Cafe of Ideas, this time held in Bath at Chapel Arts Centre – once again discussing narrative and its impact on things. The audience was ‘intimate’ – it was hard to compete with a Hollywood movie star turning on the lights – but it was a quality event nonetheless, with a thought-provoking discussion evolving from questions from the host, Pete, and the audience. I talked about one of my favourite themes, the Hero’s Journey, and cited as an example the event up the road: the celebrity switch-on of Bath’s Xmas lights, relating it, with a nod and wink, in mythic terms (the discussion had been largely dominated by economics – perhaps not surprisingly as a banker was on the panel)… A benighted land devastated by the great dragon, Recession, needs a hero – fortunately one lives close by (until recently a house in the Circus, and Midford Castle). A man called Cage comes to aid of the townsfolk, who have gathered together in anxiety – hoping their prayers will be answered. Cage is the Lightbringer – with his electric power he banishes the night and, all hope, the dragon Recession, bringing prosperity and happiness to the town once more. The tills rang out and the shopkeepers lived happily ever after. The end.

Narrative is all around us – the myths we live by, the consoling fictions, the grand narrative that dominate the Way Things Are. By being aware of them, we can work with them, even change them. Certainly change our own. The world needs different ‘stories’ to live by, because the ones we have are clearly not working.

And without narrative, life is meaningless – we are storytelling creatures, pattern-makers. Story is how we make sense of the world, our messy lives.

And even the storyteller needs to be to told a story now and again – to simply listen and be held by another’s narrative.

On Friday I went to see a play of my friend and fellow gardener, Svanur – a two-hander called The Big Deal, followed by a play called The Small Print – a brilliant ‘double-act’ (the two talented actors played different roles in each – a suicidal woman and an ‘angel’; a Council worker and an inquisitive old woman). As great concept often are, it’s very simple – a play in a pub – but I haven’t seen it done so well before. The staging, production and direction was all professional. The show is going to Clifton, Bristol, later this week – the Lansdown Inn, Thurs-Sat. Worth catching!

Saturday was the event of possibly the year – Heaven’s Gate, Stroud’s first festival of storytelling, poetry and music, co-organised by my friend Jay Ramsay and Rick Vick to celebrate William Blake’s birthday. It was a night of a thousand bards (but only one bar – which unfortunately closed before I could get a well-deserved beer … waiting til after my set, which wasn’t until gone eleven! It had been a long-haul – a Bard Day’s Night) I was performing along with a fantastic line-up including Robin and Bina Williamson (they bumped into me while looking for the venue); Phoenix (the supergroup of Stroud – Jay and friends); Kirsten Morrison; Aidan and his lovely pianist companion from Prague; Anthony Nanson, storyteller; William Ayot; Paul Matthews and a host of other poets – plus, most magnificently of all, Irina Kuzminsky, who had come all the way from Melbourne to launch her book, Dancing with Dark Goddesses, published by my press, Awen, with an incredible dance-recital tour-de-force. After the gig, I popped the champagne to wet the baby’s head with Irina and Angela, the designer – a fab team effort, as was the evening in a larger sense, a collective act of art. Everybody shone and the audience were very supportive and appreciative – the Sub Rooms, a large venue, were packed out. A fantastic success!

I performed a story I wrote especially for the event, The Gate, inspired by Blake’s phrase – Heaven’s Gate (reclaiming it from its associations with Michael Cimino’s ‘disasterous’ overbudget flop). I responded to Rob Hopkins challenge in a recent Resurgence:

there are a paucity of stories that articulate what a lower-energy world might sound like, smell like, feel like and look like. What is hard, but important is to be able to articulate a vision of a post-carbon world so enticing that people leap out of bed every morning and put their shoulders to the wheel of making it happen.

This, coupled with Blake’s gate, was my inspiration, and that is what I set out to do with my simple parable, which I kept deliberately ‘light’ (following the notion that we can enter the kingdom of heaven as children – by letting ourselves be ‘held’ by a story, in a state of Keatsian negative capability, or Blakean innocence). The response was very positive. I believe art, at its best, is a gateway (rather than a mere mirror of the world) and get us closer to achieving this goal. We need stories of hope and deep beauty to defeat the gloom, the paralysis of despair, and the denialists.

The next morning we had a post-gig breakfast in Costa (the only cafe open in Stroud on a Sunday. We would have preferred lovely independent wholefood eatery, Star Anise… Instead, we turned this chain into the Left Bank of the Cotswolds for a couple of hours, as the surviving bards gathered). We were all wiped out from an epic night – but this broke down any remaining barriers. There was warmth, there was awen – and something wonderful happened. For a little while, the gate opened… Such a huge act of love will not go unnoticed by the universe! Well done to Jay, Rick and all those who performed and made it happen. Absolute stars, all of them – shining beyond the light pollution of the mainstream, the gaudy dazzle of the Media. Blake would have been touched by such a show of artistic solidarity … the City of Art descended and Albion’s children shone.