Approaching Bristol Old Vic I’d forgotten that BOV had been renovated, I’d got so used to sneaking round the back of the theatre, it felt like a whole new world. Red light and exposed brick work entice theatre goers inside the building, it felt like the theatre has finally got the upgrade it deserves. It was a fitting welcome back for two of Bristols poetic giants; Dr Edson Burton, writer historian and curator, alongside Miles Chambers, Bristol City’s first Poet Laureate.
Curry Goat and Fish Fingers is a collaboration between these two men sharing and comparing their life experiences. Exploring identity through geography, spanning Trowbridge, England to Jamaica, landing firmly in Bristol ‘city of paradoxes’. As two successful Black men, role models in our community sharing the pain of not fitting in ‘here or there’. Both men reflected on having a love-hate relationship with Bristol, visually represented by pulling up their hoodies and ‘hiding’ in shadows, while police sirens rang across the stage. Flipping the script as the stories tumble onto the stage of how they met each other at a Black writers’ group at Kuumba arts many years ago. We are reminded by Miles Chambers that he has told these stories of prejudice thousands of times and yet, here he is, still telling them. Why? Because it has not simply gone away.
Personally, I would have liked to linger a little longer in the poetry, savouring the words, slowing the performance down and fast forwarded some of the questionable dancing(!). The rapport between the two men was warm and generous, I wonder what some improvised poetry would be like between them – I felt at times it would be a joy to see them communicate in the now, in front of the audience.
The highlights for me were Chambers’ poem about a father – it brought tears to his eyes and mine. Then with a glint in his eye and a belly laugh, he told the audience he didn’t write it about his father, he just wrote it for a friend.
Edson recounting how he was called out for being an ‘English boy’ on a Jamaican beach. Why? Because he walked too fast; why would you need to walk so fast on a beach in Jamaica? Edson talked about standing out, sometimes ‘tolerated’ in England in his own church, as a child, the brutality of that memory told with dignity and poise that brought a vulnerability and strength to the room. This was compounded by the physicality of the two men, Chambers being vastly taller and wider than Burton – a comic double act.
Although individuals with their own stories, seeing the pair perform together compounded the issues raised. Shared experiences of the prejudice still in our city, the family that knew a different culture, the fathers that were absent, church, the love of music, smiles, love, friendship and a hankering for Curry Goat and Fish Fingers.
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