Festival of the Spoken Word – A Review

‘In reality, we are pan narrans, the storytelling chimpanzee’.
Terry Pratchett

In the late Terry Pratchett’s The Science of Discworld IV, human beings are defined as pan narrans, the storytelling ape, who exist in a dimension known as the ‘narrativium’. The author, who died in Broad Chalke, Wiltshire in 2013 was often inspired by the power of storytelling, indeed by the power of the written and spoken word. This seems like a productive place to commence our narrating of the Festival of Spoken Word on 14-15 July 2018.

Rupert Everett’s, The Happy Prince, a gripping new drama about Oscar Wilde’s final years opened the festival. For this film, one he directed, wrote and starred in, Everett has earnt some of his best reviews to date. It was even the subject of a recent BBC documentary. A screening of the film was followed by an inspiring interview with Everett, who spoke firstly about how ‘tenacity counts above and beyond’, and the film, which took ten years to create, was certainly the result of ‘putting my all into it’.

When questioned about Wilde’s use of language, Everett commented that though some are works of genius, much of Wilde’s rhetoric is ‘fruity’ and sometimes even overstated. Instead, Everett is inspired by him as a character: a vain stair, blind to the outside world and ultimately undone by his own vanity. Wilde was only forty-six when he died. ‘What next?’ Another asked to the answer of ‘no idea’. Everett was an advocate for enjoying a project, and not rushing constantly forward. ‘It’s an amazing feeling when people enjoy your work’ he admitted, adding ‘it was great to have ten years in a way, you need a lot of help as a first-time director’.

Caroline Goyder’s talk Communicate with Confidence, Influence and Authority marked the Sunday segment of the Festival of the Spoken Word. Goyder is a leading voice coach and keynote speaker, with over fifteen years of experience providing training to celebrities, teachers and broadcasters. Her discussion was particularly relevant to the so-called ‘iPad generation’, an entire age-group of people unable to make eye-contact with one another, a skill lost potentially due to our obsession with our screens.

Local author and playwright Barney Norris was brought up in Salisbury. He spoke about his voice-driven work in the differing fields of fiction and theatre. With readings from his latest novel, Turning for Home, Norris, a passionate proponent of the power of the spoken word, encouraged audience members to find their own voice.

Edward Fox reciting John Betjeman

Acclaimed actor Edward Fox OBE recited from the Collective Works of Poet Laureate John Betjeman including ‘Indoor Games Near Newberry’, ‘The “Varsity Students” Rag’ and ‘The Wykehamist’. ‘A poem can be your best friend’ Fox proclaimed, ‘and like Schubert, Betjeman is profound and witty in a very small space of time’.

Like a demon-king Ben Haggarty – one of the world’s leading storytellers – strode around the barn in a long coat, declaiming a fascinating tale as he went. The Devil, The Tsar & 3 Dry Biscuits, a tale he claimed to have learnt from a man he met in a café in Moscow Road, London, who had been a soldier in the army of the Russian Tsars. Thereafter Haggarty moved onto an unusual explanation of Greek myths that had people gripped in terror and delight in equal measure on the edge of their chairs. Later in the evening Haggarty performed The Fate We Bring Ourselves, a very adult finale to our festival, called ‘brutal, unsettling and bloody brilliant’, by TimeOut.

The penultimate event was East Meets West, a showcase of the most exciting young ambassadors of the spoken word from London and Bristol, many contributing to the young poet corner who wrote free-flowing, improvised poetry for festival goers throughout the day. Such an activity consolidates the importance of story-telling, retaining a flexible mind able to communicate with other human beings and the world around us.

Over the next few weeks Messums Wiltshire is continuing our ambitious festival programme with the Alexander Whitley Ballet (27-28 July) and the series of Material: Wood related workshops and events. See more via the links below.

Talk/Supper Club with Alexander Whitley: https://messumswiltshire.com/talk-with-alexander-whitley/
Alexander Whitley Dance Company: https://messumswiltshire.com/performance-alexander-whitley/
Events for Material: Wood: https://messumswiltshire.com/exhibitions/

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