Birthday treats – poetry and post-show talks

Been a bit quiet on the show front whilst I’ve celebrating a particular anniversary (I turned 29, for the 11th time if anyone’s counting…) but I was pleased to have been treated to a couple of special evenings out with Helen McCrory and Helena Bonham Carter reading poetry and a return visit to West Side Story

“Time to look, time to care, 
Some day”

Front row tickets to something with Helen McCrory? It’s the stuff birthday dreams are made of, and so I was delighted to get to go to Allie Esiri Presents Women Poets Through the Ages at the Bridge Theatre. And not only was there McCrory action, there was a reunion of evil Harry Potter sisters Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange as Helena Bonham Carter was also on the bill.

The night was a whistlestop tour through the history of women’s writing, curated by anthologist Allie Esiri and featuring readings from McCrory, Bonham Carter along with Pippa Bennett-Warner. And it was pretty fricking fantastic. Truth be told, I always think I’m not really one for poetry so when I do get to hear some, I’m usually blown away by how good it is and with interpretations of this quality to hand, the words truly sang.

McCrory’s rendition of Carol Ann Duffy’s Mrs Icarus was the standout moment for me, a perfect blend of the physical and the poetic, though Imtiaz Darker’s extraordinarily powerful The right word ran it a close second, and the collective effort on Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise was truly electric too. I enjoyed being reminded of Jenny Joseph’s Warning, a perfect fit for iconoclast Bonham Carter, a poem to which I wrote a response and was published myself back in high school! And numerous writers I’d never heard of came to life beautifully too, Esiri’s Macmillan-published anthologies A Poem for Every Day of the Year and A Poem for Every Night of the Year look well worth an investigation.

And a return visit to the Royal Exchange’s excellent revival of West Side Story showed the production to be in even better shape than when I saw it last (and I loved it then). Everything clicks just that little bit better, runs just a tad smoother as Aletta Collins’ corking choreography spearheads an effervescent esprit de corps which is pretty much irresistible.

I loved getting to stay for the post-show talk, with an impressively huge proportion of the cast giving up their time to participate. And they spoke with insight and intelligence about a range of issues – the joys (and challenges) of performing in the round, how contemporary knife crime fed into the interpretation, the thrills of getting to play the same character from start to finish and plenty more besides, which I’ve no forgotten. Sadly I didn’t have the balls to ask my question, which would have been do they agree with Stephen Sondheim that the songs in the show are in the wrong order…!

West Side Story finishes this week and is sold out but never fear, it shall return to the beautiful Royal Exchange next year.

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