Dim the lights, bedeck in red: female poets illuminate the Labyrinth

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As Fringe venues go The Banshee Labyrinth has got to be one of the strangest in the whole of Edinburgh.  It’s not so much the dinginess, the walls covered in posters or the vague smell of wet brick (these are all pretty standard features) but the dim green and red lights, the large images of shrieking women (that would be the banshee) and the plastic disembodied limbs that count as ornaments that really single this place out as “unusual”.  Still, as the headquarters of PBH’s Free Fringe spoken word section this is, perhaps, to be expected, with a plethora of strange and thought-provoking events on offer showcasing everything from Rob Auton’s hilarious but bizarre one-man Sky Show to late-night Taste of Spoken Word cabaret hosted by James Bran. 

As I took my seat for the afternoon, all-female Other Voices: Spoken Word Cabaret I was, however, immediately reassured by a friendly welcome and by the fact that the (admittedly tiny) room soon filled to overflowing.  The event is hosted daily by poet Fay Roberts who is also the person responsible for all 72 acts in the spoken word section of this year’s free fringe.  The cabaret is different every day and this time it featured six poets.

Slightly oddly, the room was “bedecked” (Fay’s word, not mine) in red cloth and fake flowers. The decorations certainly made the room feel cosier, if a bit like a Victorian brothel, and the featured poets had all made an effort too by dressing up for the occasion.

Curating an hour-long show is a different challenge from a night’s worth of entertainment but there was still a rich variety of styles and viewpoints on offer.  Lucy Ayrton was a natural storyteller as she exposed the facile nature behind modern versions of fairy tales and re-educated us with some of the more gruesome originals. Her poetic style was warm, light-hearted and calm, her story about a princess who falls in love with the wrong knight mesmerising, but her choice to sing some of the poem did not quite work.

Sophia Blackwell’s poetry had a lovely conversational style, at times was very funny, and her nostalgic poem about making a mix tape very accessible. Open micer Ann Domaney’s understated delivery of a poem poking fun at stock reactions to homosexuality – “I’m very much in sympathy with the straight cause, yes I have friends who are straight” - was a delight.

Rachel Amey is an accomplished poet whose imagery was rich and multi-faceted. She delivered several long poems on a variety of themes, some of which I loved, including her last one on the importance of love and her observations of young girls on the high street with “souls bigger than their boots”.  Some other poems, although technically strong with tight rhymes and detailed visual observations, were irritating because of their slightly preaching tone and aggressive political sentiment.

All the poets at this short but enjoyable event were interesting, talented and fresh. If the quality of acts is like this every day, it’s well worth checking out.

 

◄ After midnight: when the Tongue Fu band start playing

Kathleen Jamie maps out new landscape at book festival ►

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