Fraff, a review by Joan Burnett. A trustee of Liverpool Pride and long-term staff member of FACT in Liverpool, Joan programmes LGBT film and is part of Queer Film Network UK, aiming to promote LGBT film to wider audiences. Contact on: firstname.lastname@example.org
All the best adventures come as a surprise and Fraff at St Helens Central Library was definitely both a surprise and an adventure. Billed as a night of “stand up, sit down poetry”, it offered a sparkling – and I mean SPARKLING – array of performers bent on making us laugh til our wigs blew off. Fraff is part of Take Over Fest which is turning an unsuspecting St Helens into the Capital of Off-beat Culture for 3 months and as the first event, was a brilliant launch into the world of Scottee, our compere for the night and the curator of the Festival overall.
He’s a wonder is Scottee: an empassioned campaigner for the rights of everyone to be respected and included in society, performer, comedian, poet and wearer of the most glitter that can be assembled onto one human body. Hilarious and serious by turns, one of the most memorable poems of the night was his, read from his smartphone documenting the night someone tried to put him down for his exuberant body shape – big mistake. He had us all writing our own poems too – this was a night for audience involvement – and read the more outrageous out with shocked aplomb.
Sitting in a municipal library without an alcoholic drink on a Friday night sounds like a recipe for extreme worthiness, but believe me and my partner laughed so much that alcohol would have rendered us completely unable to function. Barbara Brownskirt , the queen of straight-faced poetic lunacy, got us under way. The Poet of the People, fuming in her brown kagoul, brought roof down with her love poem to Judy Dench “the only woman who makes any sense in this world”. We knew we were in good company.
Barely recovered from Barbara’s assault on our expectations, we were battered into comedy submission and for one member of the audience, literally dry-humped into taking notice, by Rhiannon Faith and her stories of romantic and reproductive woe. Feminism dressed pink fur fabric and space-age silver is not to be ignored.
Ginger Johnson sashayed onto the stage with her tales of backstreet Newcastle and a knowing wink or two – incredibly glam and touchingly tender-tough. It was impossible not to have huge affection for everyone performing and when Bourgeois & Maurice came on, Bourgeois barely able to see through the thickest false eyelashes I have ever seen and Maurice’s beehive hairdo teetering on the improbable, it was a given that everyone would soon be “singing” along to their spoken song lyrics – never has the exhortation to die been so readily received.
The evening ended with the doyenne of Greater Bolton (where Manchester is these days) Sophie Willan. She was the epitome of the evening really – funny to the point of making you faint but with a humanity so powerful that the laughter became a way of exorcising all our demons. It’s easy to play the “stock-Northerner” brought up by a fierce granny and alcoholically challenged into whimsy, but Willan’s sudden observation that heroin addicts have two great qualities, creativity and determination, evidenced by her mother’s six mile ride on a child’s bike to pick up her stash, was enough to bring us all up short and remind us laughter is only ever a breath away from a crying jag. Willan’s ability to get the whole room doing the wiggle dance, including the Mayor, was miraculous. The one last poem from Barbara Brownskirt and the evening was done.
The library was rockin’ and at the end no one wanted to leave. It was a lovely touch that the performers came out and mingled with us all, chatting and laughing. It really was a totally inclusive and warm-hearted evening – as far away from the cliché idea of a “poetry reading” as you could possibly get. TakeOverFest carries on into December, so there are plenty more chances to be “taken-over” and made to laugh, cry and wiggle to your heart’s content.