(Metro Arts Theatre Basement)


Lyrics improvised by Peter Rowe

Professional production

Performers: Peter Rowe (lyrics) Terri Delaney (vocals) and Linsey Pollak (WX5 windsyth)

It’s amazing what can come out of a box! Sound-wise, listeners are treated to the huge range of nuance Linsey Pollack draws from his electronic Windsynth a reed pipe attached to a synthesiser. On a deeper symbolic level, poet Peter Rowe challenges them: “I want you to be sure that you let yourself out of that box that you’ve got yourself locked in” as he shares in song his journey from out of his “box”. From this song’s opening words: “A boy locked in a room in the dark, so lonely and scared and so confused” we know he describes his own 30 years’ alienation and frustration as a Down syndrome with restricted speaking ability. But this is no pity party; he uplifts rather than depresses, telling how his life opened up with the use of facilitated communication (FC) to “speak” by tapping the letters on a keyboard and his significant creative talent burst out in poetry, song lyrics and a published children’s book. Type the name qwerty and you have a clue to this performance, for the name follows the keys of the computer keyboard.

Imagine if you were unable to speak, to express even basic needs, let alone the deep thoughts of your mind and soul. Imagine the frustration. Then again, imagine the release if someone gave you a key to unlock the door of all those suppressed thoughts and feelings. This is Rowe’s experience, which he shares generously, inviting us into his world.

It’s innovative there’s probably nothing like it in the world. It’s improvisation taken to the nth degree. For whereas jazz musicians improvise their riffs, words are the catalysts to kick off whatever takes the moment. As improvised performance goes, this surely reaches new heights. As Peter improvises his lyrics, Terri Delaney is a central interpreter; she holds Peter’s hand as he indicates the words on his FC and translates them into immediate song. The process works on complex time frames; even as she improvises a phrase, she’s reading the next. The performers are completely on the edge, never knowing what each performance will bring as they walk on stage. This means taking risks, of making themselves vulnerable.

Linsey performs solely on the windsynth, though he’s well known through decades of performances and workshops for his unique flair for making musical instruments from various house and garden objects such as the garden hose panpipes, the watering can clarinet, rubber glove bagpipes, carrot flutes and clarinets, chair flutes, broom clarinets. These instruments have featured in many of his shows such as Out of the Frying Pan, Knocking on Kevin’s Door. In qwerty we hear a full range of woodwind sounds (flute, saxophone, clarinet, windpipes as well as rhythm and keyboard harmonies), all from a pipe plugged into a box.

Terri Delaney projects a warm, rich and full blooded voice often reminiscent of Cleo Laine, at times with a tinge of Shirley Bassey. Her range is wide and projects effortlessly in the intimate basement theatre. Yet all through the performance this is Peter’s voice we hear; the other performers are sensitive to his message and don’t intrude. At the end of the 90-minute show, we suddenly realise that the “normal” speakers almost entirely restricted themselves to the musical; even with banter back and forth, Linsey spoke only a sentence or two and Terri largely translated into song. What they do transmit, apart from the music, is their deep respect for Peter as an artist in his own right, their warmth and empathy. This gives us a rare opportunity to be involved in a very special creative relationship.

The trio of performers have developed deep rapport, having worked together since the “Horse to Water” project in 2004 and received standing ovation at Woodford Folk Festival. That they’re obviously also good mates, means more when we know how special this relationship is. Peter’s dry humour shines through and he obviously revels in the opportunity for taking the piss: “And don’t you think these two people with me are quite talented…I have to carry them sometimes but I’d be lost without them ganging up on me”. This defuses overly confronting reactions to self-revelations how, sitting in a box alone, in the dark, alone in the dark he cried: “Do you hear me? I’m in here….” We feel his sheer enjoyment of the magic of release: “Suddenly there was light, there was joy!” That he could say things he’d wanted to say for 30 years, like “thank you… what is that? Why?… I need to go to the toilet… I don’t understand…I love you.” All with a likeable humility: “I’m feeling a bit nervous and out of my depth down here in the basement. Is it OK?”

Yes, Peter and Terri and Linsey much more than OK.

Playing July 15 and 16, 2006 at 8.15pm)

Duration: 90 minutes, no interval

— Ruth Bonetti
(Performance seen: Fri 14th July 2006)