Hopeless

Leyla Josephine
Leyla Josephine and CaroleW Productions
Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle

Leyla Josephine

There was a time when the boundaries between spoken word/performance poetry and theatre were clear and distinct. That time is long gone. No longer is standing in front of a microphone speaking (or ranting, or shouting, whatever; remember the time when some poets adopted a dull emotionless voice when reading their work?) enough. I remember some years ago seeing a spoken word artist imitating a PowerPoint presentation by sticking hand-written sheets of A4 on a wall and I thought, “there’ll be scenery and music next.”

Now a poet and poetry slam winner like Leyla Josephine can call herself a theatre maker as well as a poet. And why not? Theatre is, after all, such a broad church—from farce to tragedy, from musicals to solo shows, from Shakespeare (himself, of course, no mean poet) to Agatha Christie, from opera to mime, and now taking in circus—so performance poetry is really a neat fit.

And Hopeless is definitely theatre, combining Josephine’s poetry with narration and reminiscence, with movement and with the use of props—a duvet becomes (among other things) a range of hills and a small lamp the sun and between them they take us through a whole day, whilst the mic stand (for she does use a mic at times) is dressed with the tattered old jumper which belonged to her great-grandfather, representing—him, of course.

She begins the show wrapped in the duvet on a bed. She doesn’t want to get up. She refuses to get up. From off-stage the stage manager tells her she has to, the audience is here, waiting. Reluctantly, after a lot of "encouragement", she drags herself out of bed, “drag” being the right word for life holds no attraction for her, everything is, as the title says, “hopeless.”

Through her poetry and direct addressing of the audience, she takes us through her desire to stay in bed all day, eating mint Viennettas, through her attempts to find meaning in her family’s history, through a recreation of a significant moment in the family history, through conversations with an aunt…

It’s a fascinating journey, made more so by the mixture of styles which make up the performance, styles which interact seamlessly with each other to enable us to share in not just the facts but the emotions.

A little doubt creeps in. Is this all true...?

And is everything hopeless?

Now, that would be telling. There are no spoilers here.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan