ArtsFest is invariably a tremendous occasion, 3000 performers, 600 events at 50 venues over two days. It is also renowned for its eclectic bill. This year was no different. It is also riven with risk. Have the right shows been matched with the right venues, at the right time? And free audiences tend to be uncommitted audiences. How many will turn up is unknown, how many will stay is uncertain. It was against this backdrop that the Decadent Divas made their debut performance, outdoors on a warm, but blustery Saturday afternoon which threatened squalls.
As a regular on the Midlands poetry circuit over the past few years it has been fascinating to see how the form, and performers, have evolved. However good the piece, the performer and the performance, there is a limit to how long any individual can hold the attention of an audience unaccompanied. Of late, two trends have been emerging. The one person variety show has been gathering momentum, as have ensemble themed performances. This was an example of the latter.
The Decadent Divas comprise Lorna Meehan, Laura Yates, Charlie Jordan and Maggie Doyle , in ascending age order. All established poets in their own right, they came together to perform material created for the occasion reflecting the experiences of women in their 20’s,30’s,40’s and 50’s respectively. A large crowd gathered on the MAC terrace for the show with numerous poetic luminaries in attendance. Each performed a self-penned piece about their own decade, with some linking chat, hosted by Charlie Jordan. It worked well. Sat behind a table with their own microphones, and fortified by a bottle of wine, it was a bit like watching a poetic version of Loose Women. A gusting wind, and some ominous drops of rain, must have been disconcerting for the performers, but their professionalism shone through as they romped through an accomplished, amusing set.
The audience was not only substantial in size, but also diverse in age profile. As each performer delivered their section , you could see the audience members who identified with that decade warming to it. Each performer met the expectation of their counterparts in the crowd admirably, and the excellent amplification ensured that all could be heard. The half hour flew by,with the rain that threatened only arriving after the proceedings were complete. Well written and well executed it was an unqualified success.
What interests me most about this show is not simply where it is now, but where it can go. Already it has been booked for Rhymes on 21st September at the Station PH, Kings Heath. Indoors, and with hand held ,rather than fixed microphones, I anticipate that the ability of the individuals to stand, walk and perform will add an extra dimension to the material. In turn, that will also increase the opportunity for cross-diva interaction. There is no question that they have found a rich formula , the detail of which is open to evolution, revision and change as time goes on, and crucially, revisits by their audience.
Gary Longden 10/9