ADC, Mon 6th May, 8pm
Hipster types like to rave about the poetry slams that have been popping up all over the place like highly educated moles. But who needs them? Anthology at the ADC offered something a lot more substantial. Directors Helen Charman and Quentin Beroud had a very simple idea: get a bunch of Cambridge luvvies together in the ADC bar (directors and producers as well as actors) and ask them to perform some of their favourite poems. It was an anthology rather than a poetry contest; the readings were published favourites, not new material. This actually made it much more varied and interesting than a slam poetry night, which usually falls somewhere between stand-up comedy and freestyle rap in its literary quality, and tends towards the bold, the brightly coloured, the fast-paced, the easily understandable, rather than the deeply felt, the ambiguous or the thought-provoking sort of stuff that makes for the best poetry.
The ADC did their best to create an intimate and relaxed atmosphere. The lights were dimmed, sheets of smutty limericks lay here and there, well-loved poems plastered the walls and lollipops were strewn generously on the tables to get us in a good mood. You could feel the camaraderie among the theatrical crowd—the dozen or so who were actually performing made up about a third of the audience—and it was hard for this not to rub off on the rest of us. The evening was broken into two halves: first the actors read poems they had chosen themselves and then the audience were encouraged to bring their own favourite poems for the cast to interpret on the spot. Audience participation can sometimes feel like a gimmick, but this time it fitted perfectly with the friendly mood of the evening.
Actors can bring all kinds of things to poetry that you just can’t get from solitary reading. Some declaimed their booming verses in deliciously plummy Lawrence-Olivier cadences (if anyone could get away with this, it was the ADC stalwart Ed Eustace, reading Matilda “by my grandfather Hillaire Belloc”). Others, such as Zoe Higgins and Yaseen Kader, went for a performance as naturalistic as possible, reeling off their poems like a spontaneous slice of everyday conversation. Betjeman’s A Subaltern’s Love Song, as interpreted in Atri Banerjee’s suggestive tones pregnant with innuendo,was a huge success with the audience.
There were funny bits from Oliver Marsh and Victoria Fell, but there were also heart-rending bits from Lanikai Krishnadasan Torrens, darkly humorous bits from Poppy Damon and dramatic bits from Aiden Nowlan. It was a chance to discover hidden gems, both for the most seasoned Engling and for the ignorant rest of us. As a bit of a Wordsworth geek, I found Wendy Cope’s Nursery Rhyme parody, chosen by Oliver Marsh, a real treat. The directors suggested at the end that they hoped Anthology could become a regular ADC fixture. I hope this happens, not least because this review will look utterly pointless and a bit silly if there’s no second performance for me to recommend. But I also hope Anthology or something similar returns because it helps bring great poetry out into the open as something for everyone, and because the performers themselves seemed to have so much fun in putting it all together.