Friday, September 16, 2011
Heartstrings That Play Like Harps - Bronwyn Lovell on Mills & Boon Swoon
I am so delighted to be writing this review. I mean, who wouldn’t swoon for these two lovely ladies? Ever since Wednesday night I have been dying to sit down and share with you the absolute wonder of Eleanor Jackson and Betsy Turcott’s A Mills & Boon Swoon. Wow. The performance is still reverberating through my bones and sinking into my skin. For those who have not yet seen it, for you I feel two parts pity and one part excitement, because I have the honour of imparting just a taste of the tremendous treat you are in for when you do see this show, and you will. It was featured in the Queensland Poetry Festival before it came to Melbourne for the Overload Poetry Festival, and it will no doubt go on to be welcomed in many more places, so eagerly await its return because damn, are you in for something special.
Needles skips a beat, eyes catch in saxophone silence
A Mills and Boon Swoon takes audience members through the full cycle of meeting, falling in love, making vows, trying for a baby, betrayal, and the aftermath of a break up – all in less than forty-minutes. Despite the incredible amount of ground covered, the show was brilliantly paced and spends due time exploring each emotion without ever feeling rushed. It’s years of memories entwined in a delicate string of words that will leave you breathless.
I don’t know enough about you, but if I don’t take this chance there will never ever be another you
Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to mention that this love story is a lesbian one. The show touches on some of the barriers that same sex couples encounter when it comes to parental acceptance and starting their own family.
One day your mummy and your mummy were so in love they made a whole other person and nobody cared how they did it
But lesbian or otherwise, a love story is a love story, and if you’ve ever spent years building a future with someone only to watch it crumble, you’ll relate to this love story no matter your sexual orientation.
You grew used to me, I grew used to you and we became the better halves of ourselves that we had longed to be
But don’t be misled by the title, this show is no sickly sweet romance novel. It is a performance that is achingly real, suburban, ordinary and free of any contrived or conventional happy ending. It’s an urban epic.
Our love is folded in the laundry, repeated and routine
It illustrates and celebrates the wonder in an everyday relationship, and exposes the inner turmoil that lurks within every lover. It explores the joy and tragedy of having loved and lost, and how we are forever altered as a result.
What you really lose when they leave
The romance starts in a record store and the whole show is a celebration of music and classic love songs with iconic lyrics interwoven through the performance like a medley.
Make me better than a one hit wonder, make me a greatest hits, kill me softer with your song, make me listen long, make me press repeat
The form of the show consisted of mostly turn taking between the two poets in a kind of call and response, but the strongest emotional heights were achieved in those moments when the two voices spoke at the same time, weaving under and over each other in the most sublime confluence, their voices a stunning symphony of sensuality and soul.
The distance driven elongates the heartstrings until they play like harps
My one and only disappointment as an audience member came at the very beginning, when it was obvious that Eleanor and Betsy weren’t going to dress up for us in the fabulous outfits they had been photographed in for their marketing campaign. Of course these wordsmiths do not need costumes or a set; testament to their talent, they need only their words to skilfully paint scenes around them. Still, those publicity shots were stylized and striking, and could easily lead the audience to expect a more theatrical show. As it was though, the street clothes, no set approach added to the sense of realism, emphasising the fact that this could be anyone’s story; it belongs to all of us, to the everyday and the street.
We all know the dance, so I try to choose a top that says I care, but not too; heels that say I’m up for it, but not too; for the bar you suggested that says you’re cool, but not too.… We all know the dance, so I try to dance with you
It was a familiar tale, but it was told with such delicate insight and tenderness that it transcended into the realms of the extraordinary. Eleanor and Betsy shared their love story with sparkling eyes, generous smiles, intimacy, warmth, heartbreaking honesty, hard-hitting truth and most of all, hope.
I have a heart on, a hope on, a happy on, a hold on, for you
There was a rawness and nakedness to their performance that suggested they had both lived this story, or another like it, at least once in their lives.
Babe we’ve been down this road before
Eleanor’s eyes were red at one point as she gave herself over completely to a poem and Betsy was so mesmerized by Eleanor’s stunning performance that she needed to take a moment to recall her own line before she could continue. That Eleanor could touch Betsy so profoundly with her words, even after countless rehearsals and previous performances, is testament to the degree to which both women were committed to living each and every word they said. That they performed a show of nearly 40-minutes of non-stop poetry without once referring to a piece of paper was also mindbogglingly impressive.
I’ve been searching for the right words to describe the first time ever I saw your face
I believe these two women have achieved the holy grail of poetry and performance with A Mills and Boon Swoon – they have expressed the unutterable and universalized the intensely personal, illustrating in increments what is all but incomprehensible, showing just how a love so good can go so wrong.
Love isn’t always flying, sometimes it’s drowning, like the time I threw your boots out the backdoor, told you to stop walking all over me. And you listened. You knew I could stop loving you, that I didn’t need you; I wanted you, wholeheartedly
There is a lot that is ultimately sad about this show, devastating even, but it still makes you want to fall in love all over again. It is an absolute delight from start to finish. I had a smile on my face the whole way through, even when witnessing the tremendous hurt of a fragile love falling apart.
Is this what love is about? No more infatuation, no more heat of the moment, just the space on your back where I lay my head
Why would I smile in the face of heartbreak, you may ask. Well, it was the recognition the show sparked in me that made me smile despite myself, the sense of ‘Oh, yes, I know this, I remember this feeling, I’ve lived this, too’.
Remember when we used to go dancing, back when we were in love?
Oh yes, how could I forget.
When the right side of the bed becomes yours
Eleanor and Betsy took the audience on a bittersweet trip that we have all travelled before, and we smiled and nodded along with a knowing sense of nostalgia. After all, this knowing is what it is to be human, knowing what it is to be alive and have a heart that can hurt.
Don’t give me warning in the morning when you finally go, but when decision dawns, gentle but resolute, make coffee in your ritual way, leave the lipsticked cup upon the sink, later I’ll wash away your farewell kiss.
After I had left the bar and caught the tram home to sit thoughtfully on my bed, I realized that in A Mills & Boon Swoon I had been made to feel intimately part of a universal human experience, and as a result, I felt less alone. Yes, we all know the dance, and a show like this is comforting for those of us who, when it comes to love, might often feel we have two left feet.
For all the love I loved misunderstood
Thank you so much, Eleanor and Betsy! The next time love surprises, delights or crucifies me, the next time I get that heart-soaring, soul-crushing, gut-wrenching feeling, I will remember that the two of you have known that feeling, too, that we all have, that we all do and we all will again, and that we are so wonderfully blessed by this, and that when it comes to love and loss, not one of us is ever really alone.
She smiles, lips tremble, my loneliness crumbles.
Bronwyn Lovell is an emerging poet and spoken word performer. Her poetry has been featured on RRR, SYN FM, 3CR Community Radio, and Melbourne Community Television Channel 31. Her work has been accepted for publication in Swamp, Antipodes, ZineWest, Positive Words Magazine, and Paradise Anthology. Bronwyn has a writing residency at Kinfolk Cafe as part of Australian Poetry's national Cafe Poets Program and she is a workshop facilitator for the Centre for Poetics and Justice. www.bronwynlovell.com