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Regular news and insight from our many poets, writers, educators and facilitators

15 June 2019

Posted by Aiysha Jahan

Archives Alive

A theatre is a magical place for writers. And it isn’t just the shows – there’s inspiration everywhere in a theatre, especially in one that has been around since the 1920s. The first Saturday back after the half term we dug into the Mayflower archives to find treasures  that inspired a poetry session – our fingers were coated in ancient dust by the end of the day! 

A week on, we were back in the archives to find a stack of seat plaques that had been stored after the recent refurbishment. There were plaques dedicated to people who predated the theatre, opera addicts who always sat in a favourite seat and even one remembering a ‘Noel Goodwin (But not the Times opera critic)’. Quotes from famous poets like Shelley – 'Music when soft voices die vibrates in memory' – and, of course, Shakespeare proclaiming ‘All the world’s a stage’ were in there too. So much to kindle our creativity!

In the first session of the day, the 11-14s, the plaques were valued and traded like a stack of Top Trump cards, with much bargaining for some of the more mysterious dedications like ‘Crunchie the Clown – Portsmouth 327482’ (we spent a good few minutes googling that one to no resolution!) When the dust settled, everyone got to writing their pieces of flash fiction. 

Shelley’s lines inspired Amelia’s first-person account of a theatregoer who can’t stay away from the ‘wonderous stories’ that allow her to escape the world and that continue to ‘vibrate in the memory’ long after they're gone. In Katie’s story, Noel Goodwin morphed into a ‘friend of the theatre. An enemy of the opera critic’ after he had spent too many years overshadowed by his nasty twin brother.

Noel Goodwin proved popular in the 15-18s session too. There was much hilarity as we listened to Sophie's story about ‘Noel the 1st’ talking to Noel the 2nd’, with ‘Noel Goodwin, not the Times theatre critic’ eventually slapping ‘Noel Goodwin, the Times theatre critic’ for all his years of suffering. Harry’s descriptions of a clown who ‘felt like some inverse butterfly, shedding his colourful circus attire and embracing that brown cocoon of normality’ drew us into a story about a circus that had closed down because of competition from the ‘glitzy cabaret of the theatre’. A touch of magic realism appeared in Eva’s story about a thoroughly forgettable man ‘so unnoticeable, in fact, that this itself was noticeable’ who sees his name on a memorial plaque on the seat in front of him. And Sam wrote of a man who had grown up with the theatre: ‘Empire, Gaumont, Mayflower, all had changed, but it didn’t matter. He always had seat G20’. 

There was much writing and sharing, and we look forward to doing it all again next week. 

Until then, Write on!

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