Brighton Fringe 2023
From the barren hills and violent fields of Ulster to the rolling downland of Sussex: moving and funny poems about identity and freedom; investigating the legacy of hurt, and how we can reconcile with the harm done to us. Written and performed by Pete Strong, directed by Laura Mugridge with the voices of Kate Daisy Grant and Paul Macauley.
Performers often put a shield between themselves and the audience. Not so Pete Strong, whose lyrical prose-poem is delivered straight from the heart and inches away from the front row in Bom-Bane’s intimate, atmospheric cafe. In language that gleams off the page, Strong builds vivid pictures of growing up in Ulster, disconnected from nature, being bullied and bullying others, of drink and drugs, bad behaviour and remorse. Everything has texture; backyards are ‘bathed in the sound of guard dogs’ a woman ‘walk falls down the bus stairs’ (I’ve definitely done that) there’s ‘milky tea Sunday.’ The air is rich with sounds, smells and colours; from the pub to the school-yard to the inside of Strong’s mind.
Switching from third person to first as he moves from boy to man we piece together the story of Strong’s troubled younger life and the lasting effects of The Troubles on a generation. Healing comes to Strong through nature as he transposes harsh granite hills for the gentle Sussex downs, themselves steeped in history and where change is constant. His desire is to be free as a Greenfinch; their plight is threaded through the piece alongside the therapeutic methods of dealing with intergenerational trauma. Varying his tone from whisper to roar Strong’s Irish cadence has a delicious musicality, given full expression in the two songs that bookend the show.
First performed at Phoenix Arts Space in May 2022 and at this year’s Vaults Festival, there is a sense that the piece is still finding its way. Writing has healing powers, but sharing can be hard and finding the form perhaps the hardest.
If Greenfinch, in its quiet, heartfelt paean to finding oneself and moving on doesn’t yet soar, having limited room here to spread its wings and being partly read from the book, it certainly has the feathers to make it fly.