Question: what makes Interrobang? different from all the other many spoken-word events that adorn Edinburgh’s literary calendar? To answer, ‘well: not much’ might seem churlish, but that’s no criticism. The quest to find a unique selling point for spoken-word is past its sell-by date, since all purport a similar brand.
Evenings where writers perform their own work follow a pattern, whether they are curated events, open-mic evenings or a combination of both. They will always, inevitably, be a mixed bag. Another question, then: what makes Interrobang? worth the entrance fee?
This is a different territory. The hosts of Interrobang? – Ricky Monahan-Brown and Beth Cochrane – have much experience of performing their words (and music) on stage. From showcasing writers from Edinburgh University’s Creative Writing course to appearances at the International Book Festival, they both have good credentials. Despite their easy-going rapport and presentation-style, each event is carefully and thoughtfully planned.
For this show there was an added element. In collaboration with the new publishing company, 404 Ink, this was a spoken-word plus book-launch event. The editors of Issue 1 ERROR – Laura Jones and Heather McDaid – were equally well-prepared, introducing their contributors and plugging the book to good effect.
This brings us to the performances, where ‘delivery’ becomes a tricky thing to review. Writers, it has to be said, are not always best at reading their own stuff under dazzling stage-lights. Microphones are not the friendliest bits of gear, and gauging timing on the page is not the same on stage.
There were engaging, entertaining, and sometimes disturbing stories from the two hosts plus two of the 404 contributors – Christina Neuwirth and Chris McQueer – who were both evidently new to performing their work. The two ‘volunteer’ guests from the audience were seasoned performers, and Jen McGregor’s (also a contributor to 404) amusing story of a ketamine-addicted Rudolf, Shine On, fitted the ‘War on Christmas’ theme perfectly.
The evening was peppered with musical renditions from Ricky Monahan-Brown’s other performing venture, Nerd Bait: pre-recorded music by multi-instrumentalist composer, Paul Walker, to which Monahan-Brown and Stephanie Wortel-London rendered Christmas songs with a dark interpretation – only marred by the imbalance of music and vocals. Another U.S.P. was the regular slot of “Jacques Tsiantar’s Big-Two-Hander,” where this zany script gave further opportunity for participation from two hardy audience-members.
The clincher, however, was the final writer, Gavin Inglis. A veteran performer, with stage-presence, delivery, charisma, and vocal clout with or without a microphone, Inglis demonstrated two other vital elements in spoken-word performing. Brevity and clarity. Both of his stories (one, also in 404’s Issue 1) were delivered with sleek ‘professionality’ worthy of the entrance fee alone.
The thing about spoken-word shows is this: there’s something for everyone. Everyone can be part of it – whether an invited or volunteer performer, first-time reader, audience-member, amateur, professional, or published writer. And if you don’t want to hear these writers reading, you can always buy the book.
In fact, you should: it’s worthy of the asking price, with or without microphone.
Photo courtesy of Olivia Vitazkova/Reverine Photography