Sunday Part 2

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.

 

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Interview with Joe Sellman-Leava (Monster)

We sent interview forms out to our artists, and we’ll be sharing their stories here on the blog. Next up:

Joe Sellman-Leava by Scott Tyrrell

Joe Sellman-Leava by Scott Tyrrell

Your Name

Joe Sellman-Leava

Name of Act

Monster

Website

https://www.worklighttheatre.co.uk/

Twitter handle

@joesellmanleava

Instagram handle

@joesellmanleava

Video

Facebook Page

https://www.facebook.com/WorklightTheatre/

How did you get into poetry/ spoken word?

Most of my work has been in theatre, though I’ve always written poetry too, and performed at events like Apples & Snakes. I brought my show ‘Labels’ to Glastonbury in 2017, and – although it’s technically a play – the use of storytelling, poetry and other textual forms like news headlines and political soundbites meant that it felt right at home in the Poetry and Words tent.

Who are your influences/ idols?

Spalding Gray, Julie Taymor, Bryony Kimmings, Holly Hughes, Tim Miller, Sarah Kaye, Bobby Baker.

What’s the one thing you’d like people to know about your work?

The piece I’m bringing this year, ‘Monster,’ is a shortened version of a play by the same name. It’s a narrative about masculinity and choice, layered with multiple voices: including Mike Tyson, Patrick Stewart and Shakespeare.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in spoken word/ performance poetry?

Set aside time to make work. Set deadlines for your work, especially ones in front of an audience! And read/watch/experience other work, including in other disciplines.

Who are you looking forward to seeing/ what are you looking forward to doing at the Festival?

So many! I’ll see as much as I can at Poetry and Words, but outside of that the people that spring to mind are Janelle Monae; The Cure; Aurora; Stormzy; Bastille; Kate Tempest.

Have you been to Glastonbury Festival before?

Yes

What’s your stand-out memory of the Festival?

Watching the Foo Fighters in 2017 – I was completely blown away! Dave Grohl had everyone in the palm of his hand, and they all had such an amazing rapport with each other.

What’s the one thing you simply must bring with you to the Festival?

Ginger nuts and apples – best festival breakfast you could eat!

What advice would you give someone visiting the Festival for the first time?

Take time to wander around, as well as to stop and take it all in now and again.

Have you performed at Glastonbury Poetry&Words before?

Yes

What’s your standout memory of performing at the Glastonbury Poetry&Words stage?

Some friends from the office I used to work at were watching, and one of the bosses was in tears by the end. That felt really special.

What advice would you give someone performing here for the first time?

Enjoy it! The noise from other tents, plus the fact that people may wander in and out, might feel a little distracting at times, but focus on connecting with whoever’s there at the time, and the work you’re performing, and the rest will take care of itself.

What words would you use to describe your work/ your act?

spoken word, theatre

What do you like best about doing whatever you call whatever it is that you do on stages?

Connecting with people.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

I can’t wait to be there, in such wonderful company!


You can see Monster at 15:15-16:00 Sunday at the Glastonbury Poetry&Words stage. Read our previous article about him here.

Introducing: Joe Sellman-Leava, Sunday showcase: Monster

Joe Sellman-Leava
Back to perform with us is Joe Sellman-Leava, 15:15-16:00 Sunday. If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

‘This is a story about a boy. And a girl. Some of it’s true. Some of it isn’t. But I’m not going to tell you which is which.’

“Following the success of the multi award-winning Labels (Winner: Scotsman Fringe First), internationally acclaimed Worklight Theatre present a startling new play about the conflicting masculinities we perform. Writer-performer Joe Sellman-Leava blends together vastly different voices (including Mike Tyson, Patrick Stewart and Shakespeare!) into a one-man epic where heroes clash with villains, men become monsters, and truth and fiction collide.

“Joe Sellman-Leava is an actor and writer from Devon, based in London. His plays Labels and Monster have toured the UK and internationally since 2015. He is currently writing a new play, Mosley & Me, about British Fascism, and recently finished touring with Rain Man (Bill Kenwright). Joe is also Worklight Theatre’s artistic director, with whom he has co-written several plays including How to Start a Riot and Fix.”

Reviews:

★★★★ “Brimming with earnest, intelligent energy and jumping between threads seamlessly, deftly reconstructing scenes, arguments and interviews with nothing but a pair of red steel chairs for a set” The Stage
★★★★★ “Beautifully written… a stellar performance” West End Wilma
★★★★★ “a powerful and timely exploration of masculinity in crisis” Theatre Bubble

Fay’s words:

Setting myself this challenge to write something about each of the artists performing at Glastonbury Poetry&Words from my own perspective has got me questioning a few of my assumptions: 1. That everyone on the stage would be a performance poet/ spoken word artist of some kind. 2. Everyone would have a few videos lying around the internet that I could have a look at – and, more pertinently, listen to – so I could gain a solid impression of them and their work. 3. Okay, audio, then. Soundcloud, Mixcloud, Bandcamp, BBC, podcasts…?

Darn. Well, we live and learn. Or vice versa…

Anyway, most of Joe Sellman-Leava’s videos on YouTube are in relation to his show Labels (well-crafted trailers and crowd-funding updates for the most part), and suddenly all my assumptions fall under the heading: ironically meta. Amused chagrin aside, this is what I’ve learned: JSL has a voice and a directness of presence that had me doing a double-take during the first part of a 20 minute excerpt of Labels when he tells the audience that he’s 25. That seems far too young for the assured performance I’m witnessing (despite the ages of many of the recent Hammer & Tongue finalists, for example, let alone a fair number of our artists this year, it seems that my age is showing… more meta-irony?). It turns out that his voice (in various senses of the word) is also incredibly fluid, switching up accents, tone, and straight-up impersonations with an eerie speed. His main performance is earnest and deceptively straightforward, a well-crafted likeable nervousness slowly revealing well-honed anger, compassion, and determination leading to a meticulous, nuanced interrogation of the underlying factors leading to society’s labelling, compartmentalising, and assumptions, particularly with regard to race. I didn’t finish watching the excerpt of Labels for the slightly complex reason that I was enjoying it far too much and abruptly realised that I didn’t want to find I’d committed to something I was doomed in the ambition to experience in its entirety. As it was, nearly fifteen minutes had passed by and it felt like five at most. He speaks and writes with a regard for the rhythm and texture of language that demonstrates his spoken word influences, which is bound to make this piece of theatre another excellent fit for P&W, and I, for one, am very much looking forward to watching Monster later this month.

Sneak preview: