I am going to try to write this without giving any direct information away about the content of Matt’s performance. If you want to know what is in it, including why it is called Two Little Ducks, you will have to go and see it.
The blurb on the Edinburgh Festival website is fairly accurate, except for two things.
First, Matt Abbott is not what I would call a “new voice”. He is an established voice (established, but not establishment). He may not be a regular on BBC Radio 3 or 4, but he does appear quite often on other mainstream channels. I know quite a few performance poets, but I can’t think of anyone who does more paid gigs than Matt Abbott does. The audience at The Red Shed was about 40 people, which is close to capacity.
Second, do not let the blurb’s references to politics put you off. Many of the pieces make reference to people or circumstances which are affected by lack of money, or displacement, or homelessness, or other injustices. But Matt’s work is observational, or humanitarian, rather than explicitly political. It is nothing resembling a manifesto, and it is resplendently free of any vestige of preaching. It is also mixed with just the right amount of humour.
It is getting the mix just right which characterises this performance. It is not a single narrative. Rather, it has three main threads (I won’t tell you what they are) which are distinct, but related, and are coherently woven together. There is a parallel between the way the pieces are arranged, and the format that A Firm Of Poets, of which Matt is a founder member, uses: instead of a succession of single pieces from four or five different performers, this solo performer delivers a succession of pieces on different themes. The recurrence and development of the themes is expertly handled, like a poetic symphony.
As a rehearsal, this was excellent. It was not the fully-worked-up performance, but it was very close to it. I could feel adrenalin starting to flow once Matt got into it, and the audience had started to respond. This will only intensify once the Edinburgh programme begins. No two of the performances will be quite the same. Don’t just go and see it: go and see it more than once.
There is also a mystery ingredient. Much of the material in Two Little Ducks is new, but there is one particular piece which, unless you were at The Red Shed on Sunday 9 July 2017, I guarantee you have never heard. It appears nearly at the end of the performance. It is a piece containing a deeply personal revelation. It makes the whole performance more intense, and draws the themes together. Even if you know Matt Abbott personally, I am certain that the nature of the revelation is something you would never be able to guess.
My wife, Valerie Anderson Gaskill, and I, will be doing a joint performance at Cluntergate Community Centre in Horbury, Wakefield, on 1 October 2017, as part of Wakefield Litfest. That performance will have a bit more pizzazz, and a better balance because of hearing this performance.
After he had finished, one of Matt Abbott’s new fans asked if I was his father.