The title of the show we have just been to at the Rondo Theatre is, as they say on all the best web sites, a bit too NSFW to use as the title for this post. “Poetry can F*ck Off” is the brainchild of Heathcote Williams and Roy Hutchins, of The Poetry Army, both of whom have been long time writers and performers on the British Fringe and Alternative Theatre scene, as far as I can tell being a foreigner now in these parts. Williams’ career stretches back into the mid-sixties though. An interesting aspect of this show is that it was enabled by support received via the Crowdfunder web site which is a sign of the times. At least this “leftie” show can’t be accused of sponging off the taxpayer with some government subsidy!
The premise of the show is that poetry has been used to speak truth to power and to spark rebellion and revolution by the many against the few since time immemorial and the quotes span the whole range of written history across both time and space. “Ye are many – they are few” as Shelley wrote in the Masque of Anarchy his political poem inspired by the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. As one critic wrote of the show:
“The right words can get under the skin of those in power and spark revolution. Featuring the lyrics and verse of Jim Morrison, Billie Holiday, Sophie Scholl, Martin Luther King, William Blake, Arundhati Roy, Victor Jara, Gil Scott-Heron, Lupe Fiasco and many others, this is a celebration of those who have spoken out against tyranny while making our hearts pound.”
The performance used five performers altogether, one musician on guitars and percussions, Dr Blue, one male and two female actors passionately declaiming the verse with the whole being masterfully narrated by Hutchins whilst playing an electronic keyboard slung around his neck. The writers are clearly immersed in poetry, not only from the past but also the present with, for example, fascinating pieces of the poetry used by the crowds in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring.
We thoroughly enjoyed the evening and reviews I have researched have been almost uniformly positive but there is always one sourpuss. In this case I came across a scathing, mean-spirited, whingeing piece of the type that seems to be designed more to promote the intellectual credibility of the author than to accurately evaluate the production for a potential audience. Here is a choice selection of his appreciation:
“Poetry Can Fck Off does such a good job of ruining literature that it makes book-burning seem half-hearted. This ‘tribute’ is an all-out assault, doing more harm to poetic ideals than an elite task force of Plato, Michael Gove, and will.i.am could have done with ten times their budget. I’ve never wanted poetry as an art form to fck off as much as I do right now.”
Is it possible that I can have seen the same show Henry St. Leger, for it is he? And do you know what? This is how he condemns himself from his own mouth:
“Henry is a young theatre practitioner, poet, and Cambridge English graduate. He flirts variously with directing, playwriting, reviewing, and you, and has worked on productions in Edinburgh, Cornwall, Cambridge, and London. He is BroadwayBaby’s current Theatre Editor.”
Enough said, but not about the Rondo. I have written before about some of the events we have attended at Burdall’s Yard, which is a mere ten minutes walk west from our building, but even more fortunately for us, the Rondo, which is a delightful little theatre in Larkhall Village, is also about ten minutes walk from us. I have wanted to see something there almost since we arrived being on a mission to attend a performance at all of Bath’s theatrical venues before we leave, but nothing really seemed to capture my imagination until the current show.
I understand that most of the staff are volunteers from the Bath community and discovered that:
“The birth of The Rondo Theatre in 1989 sprang from the extraordinary generosity of Doreen and Wilf Williams. Having bought the building from St Saviours Church in 1976 to turn it into a concert venue and centre for the local community, they gifted the freehold to the newly formed charity, The Rondo Trust. Work started on a new bar, raked seating and a control room above the auditorium. In 1996 the theatre received a major lottery and sports and arts grant that enabled the building to be extended to provide dressing rooms, a backstage room, offices and a foyer at the front of the building. In 2003 the theatre received a second lottery grant to install state of the art lighting equipment.”
There’s hope yet.