Thursday, 21 March 2013

Poetry in the pub and an opera in a warehouse

I still haven’t been to Sadler’s Wells or the Royal Ballet or the Royal Opera House and I can’t remember the last time I saw a play (as in, I literally can’t remember, but I’m vaguely convinced it was 12 months ago give or take six) but London being London, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been out getting cultured.

Last Thursday we joined my friend Jenny for a night of poetry, spoken word and comedy at the Roebuck pub in Borough. It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I had to guilt LB into coming along but even he had to admit afterwards that it had been mostly great and only occasionally awkward. The event is called Bang Went the Gun and it has quite the cult following. And for a night of poetry, it was pretty raucous. As the compere said in his opening salvo, this is the poetry event for people who don’t like poetry.

Before handing the stage over to pundits from the floor, a line up of professional poets and comedians and comedic poets took to the stage. There were some skin crawlingly earnest moments from the “bisexual goth with cancer” and the winner of last week’s open mic session - a professional wanker who read a love poem inspired by wikipedia entries about war and a triptych of self portraits based on body parts. Others though were fantastically irreverent and just so absurdly clever, including a monologue about a poem inspired by David Attenborough’s Antartica documentaries, where a depressed sponge and his friend, the mentally ill crill, are confronted by David Attenborough himself, who has decided to hide in the sponge. It sounds a bit ridiculous but I think that was the point.

Down a dodgy Shoreditch lane in search of opera
Every reading, every performance got a rousing reaction, thanks to the milk bottles full of rocks and rice on the tables that the audience is encouraged to shake with abandon. There is nothing restrained about this poetry event and the sheer racket means that even the less successful acts get a supportive response.

Like a lot of these kinds of events, it’s a bit of a lottery what kind of evening you’ll get but  we were sufficiently entertained and impressed enough to say afterwards that we’d go back so I think that can be considered a success.

And then on Friday we went to the opera. In a warehouse in Shoreditch. I’m a sucker for novelty value outings - mostly when it comes to cocktail bars (Step back to prohibition! Climb down this ladder! Enter through the fridge!) - but something appealed to me about an immersive opera experience the involved sofas and free beer and it wasn’t just the £11 cost of the ticket.

For £11 it doesn’t really matter if you don’t get it/don’t like it/don’t think it’s great because fuck it, it’s £11. The opera was Puccini’s La Rondine and the whole event was a collaboration between Opera di Peroni (yes, the beer) and GO Opera. Each scene flowed into the next, moving about the different parts of the warehouse, set up to be a living room, dancefloor, bedroom...

I think opera can feel quite cheesy and over-the-top a lot of the time, there’s not a lot of room for subtletly, and so sitting on a plush white sofa, having an aria belted out but inches from your feet with all the overdrawn “acting” felt a little school playish. But as an experience - the music, the canapes, the relaxed atmosphere as people stood around watching the action with beer in hand - well it was pretty cool. And I’d probably posit that as far as opera-going crowds go, this one ticked all the diversity boxes.
My appetite for these kinds of experiences has really been whet now and I’m enjoying the thrill of discovering them almost as much as the thing itself.

London can really be such a flirt sometimes.

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