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Utter: a spoken word evening on sickness and disability

Emma Emma | 14:04 UK time, Thursday, 3 February 2011

On the evening of the 2nd of February, I travelled to the Green Note in Camden for a bit of what you might call disability art but, today, it was part of a regular mainstream event.

'Utter!' describes itself as: "one of London's premiere spoken word nights - hosting poetry with a good sense of humour, and humour with a poetic sensibility." Each evening in the series is themed, this one focused on the happy subjects of sickness and disability. Three performers took part.

First up was Niall Spooner-Harvey. A performance poet with a childhood diagnosis of ataxic cerebral palsy, Niall describes himself as only partially disabled now, and is quick to point out he was much more disabled in childhood, the main focus of his poems. He does admit to still being "rubbish at spacial awareness and depth perception".

He read from his book, Only Not Walking, which, according to his publisher Smokestack Books: "addresses the experience of living with an invisible disability in an impatient and unaccepting world."

Niall's memories of life as a misunderstood disabled child are condensed into angry, passionate and painfully honest poems about the school bus, an egg and spoon race and the trauma of tying laces.

The audience, who were crammed into a small and very warm venue, with not much room between them and the low stage, may have been a tad uncomfortable with his depth of feeling but for me, it hit home.

Welsh-born Faye Roberts followed straight afterwards with a performance which, while much calmer and quieter, was no less personal or passionate.

Faye was much more comfortable with her disabilities than Niall appeared to be, proven by a name check for The Spoon Theory in her final poem. This was the only one with obvious references to her multiple invisible conditions. In a room full of non-disabled people, it could have been seen as a brave piece. She summarised the poem afterwards for me.

"I have conditions that affect my daily life but talking about it gets exhausting. It becomes kind of draining to constantly self-define by disability, even though you do sometimes have to, or it can all go a bit wrong."

Finally, the main event. 'Richard Tyrone Jones has a big Heart' is a one-man show, which takes you on a journey from Richard as an uber-fit, 30 year old performer, through cardiac failure, surgery and near death experiences, to life with a heart condition and a cabinet full of meds.

It's raw, at times graphic, and very funny. He's taking the show to a couple of London fringe festivals later this year and hopes to hit Edinburgh with it in 2012.




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