The Lowry has slotted Writer's Retweet into the ‘Why Not Try’ section of its programme. But then the hit and miss approach of The Writers Collective (poets Dave Viney, Kieran King and Benny Jo Zahl) suggests they too might be uncertain how to classify the show.
The first act is structured in stand up comedy style. Support act Tony Walsh sets a high standard with an epic 20-minute tribute to Manchester and its surrounding districts. Like the city it celebrates the poem ‘Raindance’ is both shamelessly populist and swaggeringly ambitious.
Walsh mixes snippets from Manchester pop anthems and football chants with references to famous Mancunians, specific events (Munich air disaster) and even bus routes and names of venues to capture the atmosphere of the city. The effect is highly evocative but Walsh is not content to achieve a superficial reaction and manages to provoke deeper, less comfortable, feelings. A snatch of "Live Forever" is followed by the stark comment: ‘Die in Christies’.
The second act has a more theatrical style with a narrative during which each of the cast performs three poems at key points. There are mixtures of styles and approaches and the poems are both humorous and moving with Jo Zahl’s pieces on rough sex and the dangers of introducing children to reading being particularly fine. The format of the second act is more familiar from television than theatre being structured like a sitcom in which the cast play exaggerated versions of themselves. The trio awake after a boozy weekend to discuss damage limitation after reports of their misbehaviour at a writers’ retreat circulate on twitter.
It is an imaginative way of presenting the poems and director Dominic Berry sets a suitably cheeky loose style with flashbacks being revealed by handwritten signs and scene changes quickly achieved by filmed inserts. The use of crayon drawings by children is an excellent way of showing the drugged debauchery of the trio.
But while the cast as individuals perform their own works with style and conviction they lack the fluid interaction that trained actors have when working together. Their interchanges feel a bit stiff and self-conscious. Rod Tame brazenly hamming it up is not the only element of self-indulgence in the show. Having revealed the excesses of their retreat, the cast seem to lose interest in the concept and just announce a final round of poems leading to a carelessly low-key conclusion.
Writer's Retweet is an ambitious attempt to push the boundaries of poetry slam/comedy but it is let down by a surprisingly lack of commitment to the concept.
- Dave Cunningham