Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Scottish writer A. L. Kennedy delivers a flawless comedic monologue on the power of words. A talented stand-up comedian, Kennedy possesses the happy gift of not taking herself seriously – but words very seriously indeed. The result is an hour of sharp wit and surprisingly moving reflections on what it is to be transported by words.
I confess, I wholeheartedly believe A. L. Kennedy to be one of the world’s greatest living writers, but even I wondered about a full 55 minutes with Kennedy and nothing but, er, words. Not that I don’t think she is peculiarly well qualified to talk about words, but still… Just words, A.L? No gimmicks? No fire-breathing midgets to toast marshmallows on sticks or anything? Just you and your love of words? Um, might one of those words be ego? After all, this is the Edinburgh Festival, with thousands of theatre acts and world-class comedians vying for our attention. Could you not content yourself with just talking one day at the Book Festival, like all the other authors?
Aha, but you see, A.L is not ‘only’ an author. A talented stand-up comedian, she also shapes words with her voice – and her face, and the very tension in her body. Indeed, at one point she explores the physical impact words have on the body, observing that there is a Shakespeare ‘shape’ that comes of the way in which his words require you to breathe. And Kennedy has breathing down to a fine art. Every word is beautifully, considerately delivered. Hands, toes, body – all come together to express more vividly every subtlety conveyed in her words. The effect is thrilling; the gap between the physical and the verbal closes before our eyes. Long before Kennedy tells you that words can make you shine you see that luminous glow as she reaches for something that she wants, oh, and how she wants it. Her passion for words lights up the stage – although some credit does have to go to the talented lighting crew. This is a flawlessly produced show, where every element comes together seamlessly to create a true synergy.
While Kennedy had the entire room laughing – she is extremely witty, a natural comedian in both story-telling and delivery – by the end she had me in tears. Her passion for words is all the more moving because it is something anyone who has ever fallen in love with a book can recognize. If I say it was like seeing someone old say simply and truly with all the force of their soul that they have always completely and faithfully loved their partner of sixty years I might slightly convey the depth of emotion Kennedy conveyed. And who can fail to be moved by a love like that? Or fail to want to experience such a love?
Therein lies the joy of this show. Words belong to all of us. They make us what we are. Words With A. L. Kennedy should be required viewing and listening for anyone at this Festival who has had any kind of affair with words – be they writer, performer, audience.