Saturday, 24 July 2010

Hatherleigh Festival

Another week, yet another festival... this was rather special though, as I was going to support Deor of Widsith and Deor Theatre in his other aspect as Matthew Hammond The Stand Up Philosopher. We had performed at the Tally Ho! pub before, a couple of years ago - a storytelling show called 'North and East and Down the Road' in the gardens, after a willow workshop by other members of the Collective. From that, I knew it was going to be very crowded! As it proved. Arriving early in the beautiful July evening, with an amazing golden light over the moor and shafting into the churchyard, there was a marquee in the square opposite the pub, and the two armchairs by the fireplace were free, so that was where we had the book stall. Liv Torc (slam winning Wondermentalist and host of Taking the Mic) turned up later, and the show began - she braving the packed and rowdy pub crowd to do the first set and introduce the next. Not the easiest of venues and audiences! And she did well despite the obstacles.
Then it was the Stand Up Philosopher's turn, and he started with Kant's 'What is Enlightenment?' - reactionary or revolutionary? It was amazing, and he did actually capture the attention of at least half the pub! with the rest dipping in and out (although as an essay is a narrative, it seemed a pity in the sense that with philosophy, it's good to catch beginning, middle and end! as one rather leads to another!). However, after that, he performed Marx (and one of his trademarks is to perform to some degree AS the philosopher/writer in question). As Kant was stuffy and a trifle cross, but thunderous about how emphatically he meant it, Karl Marx on the other hand was done (as Matthew likes to surprise people) as a young man, full of passion and yelling into the microphone in a way that actually caused moments of silence (in a pub as as packed and full of drinkers and diners as that!). It was hugely impressive, and ended as a call to arms.
After that, came a singer, Nicola Clarke, who did well, (though I reflected, it was an easier environment for music than spoken word). Then after the interval, the three acts in the same order. Again, Liv started the second half, managing against the wall of noise to be heard and to entertain. The second Stand Up Philosopher set comprised Cicero and Aquinas. Cicero was lordly and earnest as he told us of how he had lost his life in Ancient Rome, and of the ideals of the Republic, how it had paved the way for our latter day constitutions, and exhorting us not to turn our backs on our own systems lest anarchy prevail! And Aquinas was done as a duologue - as Tony Blair requested of Aquinas exactly what was involved in the mythical 'just war'? and so showed how it was that Britain ended up invading and occupying Iraq - just what the philosophical and historical 'justification' of that action was - again, parts of this - as well as making folks laugh at the banter between the two characters - made the pub go silent. The show ended with another excellent set of music from Nicola, and all in all, how could a show set in such an environment (the opening of the Festival, hordes of noisy people up for fun and piling in after the Silver Band) have gone better?
The crowd even requested encores! as at the end of the Stand Up Philosophy (and as they do make you think), Matthew (having begun with a couple at the start) asked if anyone wanted more Anglo-Saxon riddles (from the C10th Exeter Book in which are also found the poets Widsith and Deor) and 'YES!' came the roar of reply. So he told two more, and finally - all impromptu - said 'My colleague here does them properly!' (meaning only that I stick to the word order of a single translator generally, rather than improvise on the original) and so I got up sheepishly and performed the celestial Riddle whose answer is thought to be (and almost certainly is) the Sun and Moon. I could see the link - as people had to give thought to what they were listening to with philosophy, and had to listen to the riddles in order to think up what the answer might be, but was surprised and pleased the mixture worked. Hats off to the Stand Up Philosopher!

And all power to Liv Torc who also did a tremendous job in a tough brief having come straight from work in Somerset and like ourselves, hot on the heels of festival work, and in her case one of them hundreds of miles north! It's harder work than it looks, being performers.

Big thanks to Jamie for booking the Stand Up Philosopher, to Daniella and all the Hatherleigh Festival team for their hard work making it happen!

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