I'm coming down with something, so my voice is terribly sore. And last night I hosted a climate change themed cabaret night in a venue that can only be described as acoustically unsympathetic. During the course of the gig my voice gave out more and more; by the end I'd open my mouth unsure of whether anything would come out.
During the course of this morning a series of people at the event the gig was part of came up to ask how my voice is. It's very nice of them. But sympathy isn't usually the reaction you're looking for after a show.
Never mind my voice, what about the material?
So today feels as apposite a day as any to be launching a new podcast series. A big thank you to Exeunt Theatre Magazine for giving me the push to make this happen, and in particular to the support of Catherine Love.
The Faraway Tree is a series of conversations about theatre and other worlds. In each episode I'll talk to someone new about theatre (and the world) where they are. These will mostly be from around the UK, with the occasional foray into internationalism when I'm working abroad. Where they come from will be dictated by my travel itinerary. If there hasn't been one from where you are, Exeunt aren't giving me travel expenses, so you need to persuade your local theatre to book me.
Andrew Haydon has written before that his reviews of international work get far fewer readers than his reviews of London-based work. This seems peculiar given that it's the internationalism he's known for, and it's the internationalism which gives him his particular perspective. This podcast, like Andrew's dispatches from Europe, is an invitation to hear from the world beyond London, and I hope people will heed both of those invitations. There are several theatre podcasts I admire hugely, but I can't help but notice that most of the people on them have the same accent, and are discussing work made within the same few square miles. This isn't intended as a corrective to that limitation, but I hope it'll be a useful addition.
The first episode is a conversation with the Glasgow-based writer and performer Kieran Hurley. We spoke on the day of the referendum on Scottish independence, so we talked a lot about that. The conversation also danced to identity, 7:84, music and identity again. We probably talked about capitalism too, although I don't remember that specifically. We certainly talked about the uneasy relationship between culture and state politics. I enjoyed it immensely.
I've also recorded one with the Middlesbrough playwright Ishy Din, although I need to do a bit of editing on that before you can hear it. So the next one will be from Manchester, followed by Lancaster, followed by wherever I am next.
Hopefully by then I'll have my voice back. Especially as the first comment to roll in on this first episode on twitter was this.
And this time I don't think I can say, never mind my voice, what about the material. As I hope to have expressed above, here voice is part of the material. The different voices you'll hear alongside mine - and I don't mean voice in the farty literary manager sense, but in the sense of the sounds you make with your face - are all produced by different perspectives, different experiences, and different relationships to the business of remaining alive in this world.
Let me know what you think.
Oh, it's here, by the way.
We're in Middlesbrough working on our seventh Story Hunt, the last of this year. Story Hunt is a storytelling show, a walking tour of things that are no longer there, of a town's ghosts. The people and places no longer to be seen. The buildings burned and bulldozed.
It's always a spooky and thrilling experience. The electric shock of pasts made palpable and present always galvanises. The archaeology of past towns buried under present is mystical and each town becomes a layered set of palimpsests, where disappeared buildings flicker into presence and long-dead people flag down cabs outside Wetherspoons.
Now that we're doing it in my own home town, though, it becomes powerful in strange new ways. The ghosts we're touring are my ghosts. I remember that place. I was robbed in that alley. I once got kicked out of that pub, and kicked in in that one. I had my first kiss out the back of that cinema. Further back, the Irish navvies chased across the fields by irate locals are my ancestors, and the irate locals chasing navvies across the fields are my ancestors too.
Midway through the project, we put up a booth in the town centre and swap stories for tea and biscuits. It's a way of taking the temperature of a town, and spotting common themes. We usually end up with a couple of wartime stories and often some youthful derring do at some forgotten nightdive. This, though, is the first time someone called David Bye has come in, announced himself as a distant relative, explained that he's taken the family tree back 400 years and told me I'm Norwegian. I don't suppose that will go in the show, but it does show how research for this show is inescapably also research into myself.
Last week, following a lead, I stumbled across a YouTube documentary made by someone I was at school with. He died four years ago. Every day something new brings me close to tears.
I never liked my school, but the news that it had been knocked down last year still came as a shock. Five horrible years, rubble. Good riddance. But also - another anchor, another of the dwindling list of things that moored me to this town, gone. And I drift a little further.
On booth day, we get lots of stories about where people's grandparents met. Seldom are more than one or two genuinely interesting. Here, the grandparents that met in that demolished dance hall are my grandparents: to me, that's inherently interesting. In other towns a school demolished, a dance hall disappeared, are of academic interest unless there's a good story attached and I can make poetry out of it. In that case it goes in the show. Otherwise, no. In this town, every little detail has that sting, that condensed heft, of poetry, before I've even attempted to alchemise it. I can't tell the piquant from the piffling.
My own perspective is always very present in Story Hunt, as in all my work. It's quite clear to the even moderately attentive audient that I'm on the side of protestors, of workers, of the oppressed and disenfranchised, and that I'm against capital and patriarchy and their attendant daemons. But that's usually an act of empathy or solidarity, a recognition of common defiance. Here, I don't feel empathetically. I just feel.
This makes the show a lot harder to write (which is also why I'm writing this instead). I don't usually have to worry about the distinction between what's of interest to me, and what's of interest full stop. I trust my instincts enough to know that if something is interesting to me, I should be able to make it interesting to an audience. Here, there's a whole lot of noise in with the signal.
The show might end up filled with a lot of stories about people I've loved and lost. It might end up as a lament for a town that no longer is, or has never been, or will never be. I might end up talking about a town only I know. It might be just like another Story Hunt, or it might be like that with added heft.
You can find out on Saturday.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will