Whistle by Heart

I have been working with my director James Grieve and allowed myself to be persuaded to learn my show, a whole hour of it by heart. I am fifty four years old and seem to be destined to spend much of my remaining time looking for things I have put down somewhere. Early in the Whistle Show process, I remember Sarah Ellis (my producer) suggesting that I might think about knowing the opening and closing poems by heart and being terrified of fluffing these key moments.
James was prompted by me doing the show in London and Norwich and both times, carting the book around, but only occasionally glancing at it. My argument was that I was able to perform with more confidence knowing the text was there. He argued that it looked odd and smacked of insecurity.
On Thursday I give it a go. We do a run through with book in hand, looking as little as possible. Having an hour of material in your head is a strange feeling. The benefits in giving a performance is palpable. It’s two months until Edinburgh and I’m fired up. I still can’t quite believe I can do it. I get a chance to test if I really can in Colchester next month and I ma nervous about that. Doing it in rehearsal is one thing.
This is of course a show, rather than a reading. An interesting discussion with Glynn Maxwell and Simon Armitage over a drink after their reading for the Writers’ Centre. The general consensus seemed to be that to perform from heart, can be distracting and become the focus. It can also appear to be showing off and alienate some audiences, who are resistant to show-boating. A couple of days later, Andrew Philips did a small reading with some of the poems by heart – a recent thing for him. Andrew’s modest and engaging character, no-one could ever accuse him of showing-off. It went very well and people commented on how impressed they were, but it was a topic of conversation afterwards – perhaps the main one. He had drawn attention to it, as it was new for him. Perhaps the answer is just to do it, without drawing attention to it. Kei Miller the Jamaican poet, deliberately takes his book on stage and reads from it even though he knows the poems; this is to counter preconceptions and make it clear he writes for the page. You can here him here So my inevitable hedged conclusion is that it depends on the context, audience and performer. Knowing the work well, certainly helps in giving a confident reading.

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