Madam Scarlet’s Poetry Speakeasy – 24/10/14

speakeasy2-Reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

We’re not 100% sure where we’re going. We’re not really sure what’ll happen when we get there (but we reckon words and cocktails will be involved). We do know that when we arrive at the secret location we have to say the word ‘flibbertigibbet’. And we think there’s a reasonable chance that when we get there we’ll be raided by the fuzz. After all, this poetry lark is illegal and this gathering is certainly illicit.

Attending this event was a touch confusing and more than a little shady and illicit; which is appropriate, given it’s a spoken word experience set in a world where poetry has been made illegal and people’s thirst for verse must be quenched in various illicit establishments. Enter Madame Scarlet’s Poetry Speakeasy: a house of ill repute, but excellent elocution – where poets purvey their lyrical moonshine in an environment that’s a little bit speakeasy, a little bit music hall and little bit like a high-class poetry-brothel.

And, in the spirit of the world they so wonderfully built, we’re writing about each performer in the style of Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies (a wonderful and catty publication that’s well worth a read).

Dolores LeNoire – a glamorous and hospitable host who is clearly experienced in the verbal arts. After the entertaining rigmarole of gaining entrance to her establishment, she ensures all her guests are well looked after and welcomed with a cheeky word and well-placed innuendo. She has a clear talent for guessing the tastes of her punters and pairing them with the right poet to pay their tokens and sate their lyrical appetites – and if you lack the stomach to approach your wordsmith yourself, she’s more than happy to make the approach herself.

Drama Lil from Stamford Hill – we advise shrinking violets and milksops to avoid gin-fuelled minx, as she is not one for the faint of heart. Self-described as “a redhead and a tomcat”, we can confirm that she lives up to this appellation and then some – her ways with words is wild, barely restrained by a gleaming gilt of sophistication, and even more powerful than the liquor she loves. She promised us intense and she did not lie, as her deft vocal chords and dextrous wordplay crafted an overwhelming love poem threatened to consume and spit us out. When she says “once I’ve conquered every inch of you… there’s nowhere more to explore” you will be equal parts relieved and heartbroken as not an atom of you is left un-versified. If you can afford the tokens, you’ll likely come back for more (once you’ve recovered).

The Able Seaman – this salty gentleman is good fit for anyone who enjoys joyous innuendo and a bit of tempestuously lyrical rough-and-tumble. But while outward appearances suggest a certain playful laissez-faire, with “sun on my neck and cabin full of men”, and a public performance that was full of innuendo and viscous liquids, he’s also perfectly able to cater to clients whose tastes run a bit deeper. When booked for a private performance, his words ran deliciously dark, as the terrors of the sea, with monsters and exquisitely described shipwrecks seen as a preferable to experience to our current government. His rich words were mesmerising and deep as the sea itself, capable of sinking even the sturdiest of mental ships with language that was earnest and atmospheric. It is certainly worth dipping your toes into his poetic depths.

Sir James Hammerton-Darcy – this formerly upstanding Member of Parliament is a conundrum in such an establishment. Clearly gifted in the verbosity department, his involvement in the ongoing poetry prohibition may put some off, while serve as a curiosity to others. Once you put the novelty aside, though, customers will appreciate his proclivities for verse, taking delight in its comic messiness. This political hypocrite now stands for “liberté, elgalité, and that other one” and while to call his ‘character’ upstanding may now be pushing it, his poetry remains outstanding so long as you don’t mind a bit of a laugh in the middle (or beginning or end).

Tallulah the Teller – this well-travelled lady has a touch or tragedy and more than a touch of magic around her eyes and, be warned, she will see right through you. A somewhat recalcitrant wordstress, she sat spider-like in a corner of the room, waiting for custom to fall into her web … which you certainly will if you stop to listen. If you spend your token on her then you’re in for a pleasingly intimate experience as she reads your destiny in the cards and tells your future in verse – she supplies an enchanting entertainment that might not be quite what you’re looking for, but will leave you quite spellbound. We very much advise you to sit at her table, crane in for meaning, and she will whisper it to you in a quiet, assured voice that leaves you breathless with anticipation for the future.

To summarise: it’s an amazingly conceived and well-executed event, mixing the shady and the glamorous with great gusto and aplomb. We especially loved the enigmatic nature of the event (the passwords and secret location), as well as the well-realised characters and the engaging format of choosing a poet for a private show. Credit must be given to Rachael Black, Emma Jones, Dan Simpson, Keith Jarrett and Amy Acre for their wonderful performances. While it wasn’t perfect – the event petered out a little (felt like it could’ve ended with a bit more flourish and drama), we were left wanting to know a lot more about the world (possibly a good thing), and some of the poets were a little handsy (ask first!) – it was a wonderfully intimate and inventive evening of verse. Well worth risking arrest for!