Pros: Focused moments of poetry had us enraptured, questioning everything we had been told and everything we might tell.
Cons: Some of the light-hearted and humorous moments felt a little flat.
The Last Word Festival at Camden’s Roundhouse promises a spotlight on themes of ‘Home, heritage, mental health, politics and musical journeys.’ Francesca Beard’s How To Survive A Post-Truth Apocalypse surprised me by being about none of these topics, and all of them at the same time. She took us on a journey about lies by lying to a room full of sometime liars.
Any expectation of a one-woman poetry slam, or recitation of verse interspersed with polite clapping was quickly dispelled. Before Beard’s appearance the audience entered a largely empty space, welcomed by the sounds of birds and wind chimes that coaxed our attention away from the pot with the mysterious red speck that lay underneath every seat. With a flash and a bang, Beard broke the serenity and launched into her hour of lies. It seemed quite welcome to most that she wouldn’t be speaking about a ‘bad orange man’ (excuse me while I sip my covfefe . . . ), but the interactive Brexit sketch she told us wouldn’t be happening can no doubt be found somewhere else.
Beard and her director/dramaturg Rob Watt cleverly disguised the poet’s writings within a narrative. We are told right from the start that we the audience, along with Beard, are the ‘heroes’ and must journey to save humanity, travelling through Beard’s geographical fantasy, including the Obsidian Chasm and Mirrored Lake, with stop-offs featuring segments of lies. Beard cleverly presents us with lies in accessible forms, such as a pretend job interview that’s over before it’s begun, and a dialogue between lovers that reminds us that even in lies we can find love. However, some of these light-hearted moments wore a bit thin; a brief poem about ‘f**king’ subdued our humour the longer it went on; two moments of audience participation were very funny, though Beard struggled cajoling anyone to participate. But even her casual speech throughout was clearly cleverly chosen, and delivered to great effect.
Another moment that had the audience roaring with laughter was a song made of the lies she has collected on her website, Post Truth Apocalypse. Some favourites include ‘I am the office soy milk thief’ and ‘No, never have I ever read the terms and conditions’. Reading through the site gave me a giggle at home, but when I realised halfway through the song that I’d seen all these hilarious statements before it left me a little deflated, wanting some fresh confessions that Beard hadn’t already published.
The real moments of magic happened when she stopped us laughing. Charlie Morgan Jones’ lighting and Jethro Cooke’s sound atmospherically drew us into her mind; then the focus was on her beautiful wordsmithery that had us both completely enraptured, and self-reflecting. A tale of her time at school was deftly crafted and emotive, but coloured by her point that the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are often lies. These few moments of clarity were the times Beard’s true aim struck hard: How do we know what is real?
Writer and Performer: Francesca Beard
Director and Dramaturg: Rob Watt
Producer: Tom MacAndrew and Hannah Jane Walker
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.