29 March 2013
The future wasn’t so bright for Preston on Saturday when it seemed the end was nigh – but an innovative live literature event proved otherwise...
Just last week, BBC2’s last bastion of artsiness The Culture Show (The Review Show doesn’t count – the outfits are too awful) took afternoon tea in the resplendent surroundings of one of the north’s architectural icons. No, not Morecambe’s Art Deco Midland Hotel or Manchester’s Gothic Town Hall; rather Preston’s Brutalist bus station, in the greasy spoon. The rigs and cameras were rolled into England’s newest city to highlight the building’s plight: namely that its future is bleak as the cost of refurbishment has gone through the roof, and demolition is on the cards.
Preston Bus Station’s imminent destruction was then the focus of an inventive and unusual one-off spoken word project, which took place on Saturday. The concrete edifice (once, so legend has it, the second largest bus station in Western Europe) became the backdrop to a promenade literature event, Journey To The End Of The World, when two sets of audience members were wired up with headphones and guided around different locations to experience storytelling in various forms.
The tour began with composition, transitioned through poetry and terminated with short stories. MC Brad Bromley led the groups first to experimental singing ensemble Noizechoir, who often work site specifically to capture the essence of a space; although Preston-born Marek Gabrysch said it was a first for them to approach a live spoken word piece, joining forces with poet Bruce Rafeek to perform a eulogy for the legendary landmark. Next stop was another Manchester-based poet, Shamshad Khan, who recited Body Clothes, pieces about transformation and death, challenging us to accept change we cannot control. Micro fiction writer and one-fifth of the FlashTag writing collective David Hartley (pictured), a former Prestonian, offered an interactive Choose Your Own Adventure-style story called “Choose Your Own Apocalypse”, handing the fate of mankind to one member of the audience. “If they pick the right choices, they could save the world,” David explained to me before the event. “Wrong ones, and we are all doomed.” As it turned out, the first group blew us to smithereens.
Journey To The End Of The World involved the audience actually embarking on a journey ourselves, both physically as we wandered around the 1960s behemoth, and emotionally as we reacted to each apocalyptic vision of the future with which we were presented. Being forced to listen to a narrative unfold via individual headsets engages audience members directly and heightens the personal response to each piece and the event as a whole – it’s been successful before in projects such as David Gaffney’s Station Stories for Manchester Literature Festival and Lavinia Greenlaw’s Audio Obscura for Manchester International Festival, both of which made Piccadilly railway station their transport hub of choice. And it worked again here, as literature blogger Sarah Jasmon describes: “We’d all been given headphones, through which we were fed the eerie sound of a thousand bus stations. The multi-layered result – the shhhing sound of sliding doors being closed, the reversing beeps and revving engines – was amazing!”
The action wrapped up in Preston Bus Station’s aforementioned café, virtually unchanged since its original fit-out, with playwright and director Phil Ormrod’s new work, An Hour Before the End of the World, in which two people await the apocalypse. Says Phil: “I’m hoping the experience gave the audience a different relationship to the passage of time, and a renewed love for the bus station.”
All the pieces were specially commissioned for the performance by Preston-based arts engagement organisation They Eat Culture, and the event was produced in association with Northern Elements, a spoken word development project for Arts Council England. Ruth Heritage, Director of They Eat Culture, which incorporates Lancashire Writing Hub, where I've been running some interviews with the Journey artists, says: “It’s been a joy to be able to translate spoken word into a site-responsive event on and for the Bus Station. It deserves a moment of glory where we celebrate the place; and, of course, all the journeys, endings and beginnings which happen daily.”
Image: Bernie Blackburn firstname.lastname@example.org