Northern Stage, Newcastle
Rowan McCabe is a poet and has been for some years. It’s his job—but he can’t help wondering what poetry is for.
Two years ago, he decided to become the world’s first door-to-door poet. He would quite simply knock on doors, introduce himself—in verse—and offer to write a poem for the occupant on anything that interested him or her. He chose a number of streets in Newcastle, Gateshead and Stockton in areas which included some of the poorest (and, he was warned, roughest) in the region but also other areas which included some of the most expensive houses—and even a mosque.
He wondered too, can you trust strangers? A weird stranger with long hair and wearing a suit and Doc Martens, for example, who comes knocking on your door offering to write a poem (what!?) for you?
Door-to-Door Poetry is the story of this project, which attracted Arts Council funding and radio and TV interest, including an appearance on BBC Breakfast.
The show's format is simple: there’s a bare stage with a map or photos of the street he’s talking about projected onto the back wall. He has two props: a briefcase (about which there is an interesting story which he reveals to us) and a cat sitting at the back of the stage at stage left. It’s not a real cat, of course, or if it is it sits remarkably still for an hour and ten minutes! There’s one sound effect—the ding-dong of a doorbell as his finger jabs the air in front of him.
In this almost bare setting, McCabe tells us all about the project and shows us some of the stories, interspersing very relaxed and conversational narrative with the poems he wrote as a result of his calls.
It’s sort of lecture meets monologue meets performance poetry, with a light comedic touch. But don’t let the comedy fool you; there is seriousness there too. People are very much the same, whether in wealthy Darras Hall or in the Byker Wall of fearsome reputation, even if they are not interested or have, as one person told him, “got some bacon on.” They will listen—most of them—and seem very willing to trust this strange poet at the door.
Interesting, entertaining and, for those who are not really sure what poetry is all about, whose memory is of wandering lonely as a cloud amongst a host of golden daffodils, a good introduction to what it is today. OK, he is not Milton (a reference to the show there!) but then every playwright isn’t Shakespeare. And in his time, Keats was dismissed as that “cockney poet” (no comparisons intended).
His short regional tour is now finished, but McCabe will be taking Door-to-Door Poetry to the PBH Free Fringe in Edinburgh in August, after which he is hoping to have a national tour.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan