I miss compere Dominic Berry’s final first entrance of the day (look, it makes sense to me, shh) while I’m picking out the slices of bread that don’t have (visible) mould for my sandwich (nearly typed sadwich; interesting parapraxis).
Gecko takes to the stage immediately making his guitar singing like a harp. It’s his tenth performance at Glastonbury Festival 2019. “Round of applause for me still having some kind of voice!” It’s an excellent voice – all down to Vocalzones, apparently, though I suspect good rehearsal and technique, but what do I know? He’s ludicrously talented, and I don’t have the guitar vocabulary to convey it. Like all the amazing guitarists I know, his fingers tease out sounds almost unconsciously, even while he’s talking to us (I’m trying to avoid cliché here about his instrument being an extension of him; how did I do?). He’s able to switch up between performance and very spontaneous audience banter, the wit and compassion in the songs bleeding straight out into other interactions (example: the wind blows a heavy barrier over at the side and he immediately breaks off to ask: “Is everyone okay?” – seems small, but it’s classy as hell, to my mind; then goes on to make a joke about how it’s his low-tech equivalent of Stormzy’s fireworks). His songs veer between silly, passionate, meaningful, sweet, and witty, and reflect all sorts of genres (which is pretty miraculous considering he’s just one dude with a guitar. One well-engineered encore later, he leaps off the stage to perfect timing.
Dominic sits cross-legged on the stage to give us a small poem while the technicians set up for Joe around him. It’s different from his usual stuff, in metre and subject – Glastonbury and new friends. It’s just lush, and I want a copy.
Bringing us the Sunday showcase – Monster – is Joe Sellman-Leava. He enters to a slowed version of the Friends theme, and a blatter of the slogans of toxic masculinity. It’s a story about a boy and a girl, and the boy (Joe) learning something from the girl (who he won’t name), and a play (Troilus and Cressida), and confusion and violence… He immediately switches up voices quickly, which helps later with the placement of the first conversation. It’s rapid-fire and a clearly not chaotic, but definitely disorientating. Joe is talking to his girlfriend as he tries to learn lines for the play, researching male (specifically inter-gender) violence, and he switches between the conversations, the play, reminiscence of their first meeting, the research (Patrick Stewart talking about his father’s violence against his mother, Mike Tyson talking about his relationship with various women), the rehearsals, showing us how violence can underpin even the smallest of interactions (mother and father, son and mother, boyfriend and girlfriend, male director and (virtually) silent actress), and – arguably – the limitations of Method.
And then it takes a left turn into the director and Sally talking about something that appears to be this play itself, and we slalom even quicker between reminiscence, quotes/ impersonations, conversations (arguments?), Shakespearean soliloquising, rehearsal, domestic interactions, but his voicing and placement with the spare set of two fold-out chairs assist us to see it, hear it, follow it, live it. And slowly, my own fear builds until I’m catapulted out of the tent just as the insidious voice of the director pushes for Joe to do unspeakable – yet spoken, here – things to the actress? The character?
“There is a fascist, a rapist, and a monster inside all of us, because no-one is innately good.”
“I’ve lost myself, and what remains is bestial.”
The inevitable course of this series of dilemmas and conflicts spirals into a break-up.
Patrick Stewart’s story is my story. And Joe’s story is my story. And fulminating, seemingly irresistible rage doesn’t just happen to men. But they’re both right – while anger isn’t, violence is a choice. Making that choice is important, and has to be made every day if the toxic legacy is to be left behind. This is a spoken word show. It’s all true. It may not be factual but, like all good art, it’s true.
Dominic gives us another of his Glastonbury poems from his time as Poet in Residence 2017: We Are Mud. It’s glorious and fun and loving, and a perfect come-down after the intensity that’s just gone before, after he walks us through some Toby Campion-inspired deep breaths in chorus.
Poet in Residence Vanessa Kisuule takes to the stage in… well, basically, yet another fabulous, glamorous outfit. How? How?! She always looks extraordinary, and it’s, as ever, a lesson in attitude and joy in yourself making a person look magnetic. ANYWAY, she starts with one of her recent favourites: Not Worth Shaving Your Arsehole For, complete with intricate introduction. Increasingly hoarsely, she gives us a touching ode to motherhood, then one to octopodes (I love them even more now). Her grandmother puts in an appearance now, divided by speech, Vanessa not having the language of her family, but loving her through the tales and fables told. And finally, laryngitis just about failing to throttle her, a list love poem to female camaraderie – proper friends and club friends (“babes, love, and pumpkin… don’t text back, babes!”). She tells such spare, vivid stories with her gorgeously textured lyricism – this is the perfect efficiency of poetry spun by an absolute master.
2017 Glastonbury Poetry&Words Slam Winner, multiple slam-winner, and Bard of Exeter Jackie Juno floats to the stage in layers of frilly white, resembling a very happy, earthly cloud, explaining that she’s from Totness, where you’re never more than a few feet from a homeopath. She starts with a terrible tale of fluffy white lighters. This woman who advertises tarot readings in the poetry campsite and professes a great love for trees (lovely poem), calling out to Lord and Lady during it, inducing the audience into evoking the spirits of thirteen British trees, she has the older pagan’s mild disdain for modern hippy culture, especially the consumerist element. I want to ask her how she feels about Glastonbury and its many, many stalls. Maybe I will later… She gets us one-two’ing to complete her poem, complete with many terrible puns. Her enjoyment is infectious, and the audience are chuckling along, especially to her anecdote about being booked for a “mini Glyndebourne”. The rhymes that follow are a fabulous send-up of the mangled diction of the intensely upper classes.