Writer: Chris O’Connor
Director: Rod Dixon
Poet: Matt Abbott
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
The evening’s programme at the Live Arts Cafe in Barnsley was an excellent example of a range of performance and social initiatives coming together to reach out into the community. The Live Arts Cafe itself is an informal monthly meeting at the Digital Media Centre organised by Creative Recovery, a name that sums up the group’s philosophy. The Life and Soul is a short play staged by Red Ladder as part of the company’s Red Ladder Local Scheme, which takes specially commissioned or adapted plays into non-theatrical venues. Finally, Civic on Tour is an initiative by the Civic Barnsley which was responsible for curating a programme which built on the regular Live Arts Cafe meeting to present the poetry of Matt Abbott followed by The Life and Soul.
The result was a serious examination of important and life-changing issues, with more than a touch of crusading zeal, but also with diverting and entertaining elements. Chris O’Connor’s play drew attention to the neglected area of mental health among young men and the shocking suicide figures while Abbott’s poems provided a sombre, but politically vibrant, account of the state of the nation.
A large room at the Digital Media Centre was laid out with tables and chairs in informal groupings and at the start of The Life and Soul Richard Galloway, as Jim, the only character, breezed in with his pint of lager and treated the audience as the regulars at his favourite pub, addressing his jokes (mostly bad, but well told) to individuals and generally being the life and soul of the party. His father, he told us, was the same. Sadly, he drank himself into an early grave, but it was a great funeral, with all the relatives coming over from Ireland.
Jim was at his most ebullient in Galloway’s vivid impression of the rapidly changing emotions of a fan at Elland Road, but gradually what he called “the cloud” began to take over: boredom with a nice steady job, excessive drinking and failed love life didn’t help, but were probably more symptoms than causes. The powerful intimacy of Galloway’s performance put over the dark reality below the cheerfully matey exterior and opened the way for discussion of the mental health issues afterwards, though there was no formal Q&A session.
Ultimately, the subject matter of The Life and Soul was grim and challenging, but there were a fair few laughs along the way. Abbott was more explicit about adding a spoonful of sugar to the medicine of his picture of depressed, intolerant and badly governed Britain today. About every third poem was a less serious, more personal effort, full of comic detail and sometimes bizarre rhymes, on topics such as the Megabus – as a poet, apparently he can’t afford trains.
The main strand of his performance, however, was based around Brexit and the approach of this country to the plight of refugees at the Jungle in Calais where he spent some time as a volunteer: the politicians ignore them, one section of the press brands them as criminals. From this base, he also covered areas such as the NHS and the closing of the last deep mine at Kellingley with powerful emotional and political conviction.
Reviewed on 1 November 2017 | Image: Contributed