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April 26, 2010

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'A room where ghosts conceive' - is a great poetic combination; followed by several not so great poetic lines, followed by a few more mediocre ones, and then maybe another good line, then one or two more and then lots of random lines you'd think up, write down and assemble them into a 'poem' and then read them out and let everyone love you because you're so brave.

I remember the first time I watched Kennard onstage in March 2003, at the National Student Drama Festival in Scarborough, North Yorkshire's east coast, Robin Hood country - when he was a final year or recent graduate, of Bristol university, in the best thing he was ever in, up till now, perhaps, possibly, probably?

I would bet twenty bucks, two to one, that it is.

You owe me a tenner Janice, Jon, Tim, Thom and Todd.

It was called Freudian Slip, and Kennard was one of four onstage, each equally brilliant. Monty python, surreal young kids very talented and you could do little but love it.

It won the 2003 National Drama Festival Festgoers' Prize for most popular play.

Kennard had written most of it, and this hour long script won Judges' Commendation for Comic Writing.

A slick ensemble of Bristol university drama students, Tom Davis (Wateracre) Mathew Johnson and Jenny Sutton, the four of them were all about equal wattage as performers playing lots of different characters in a mad, mad but poetic comic hour, that held together and made you wet your pants with being blown away.

True stars at the bar, really talented and two or three years ahead of one academically, Todd.

You'd be 15 years out from Concord university, the debating champion belt you held, intensified to what we have now, in a position to mentor and assist, fresh from Paris and Budapest, arriving in the scene back then, Swift.

I however, was but a humble second year Edge Hill university duffer, from a chips and sausage knowledge factory, academically speaking - on the production line in some pablum grove Nowheresville, Lancashire, and though older than Kennard, such is Education, he is one's academic senior.

Ben Wilkinson, another on your list, is one's junior academic colleague, by about the same as Kennard is one's senior.

I was the only one out of the eighty or so Drama and Writing students from Edge Hill to have bothered my hole going, a typical mature dickhead.

I read there was a festival magazine that anyone could write for, and it was perfect because anyone could. Though it being only a week, six editions, after three days things started firming into a pattern in the office of the magazine that was open 24/7 and about twenty computers anyone could use. In reality once you'd bagged one on the first day, that was yours really because it was clear there was a heirarchy, of sorts, in place there Jon Tim Tom and Todd.

Being a second year drama and writing johnnie, my mind was still unformed intellectually, was all soft wax within one's psychic play area. The skeleton of Greek myth was still undeliniated, a formless mass one could nea pretend with when around other, more knowledgable and senior, third and second year students, who were shockingly talented and made one understand, that it was in fact, my student theatre colleagues in Ormskirk, who hadn't come, who were in fact, the dickheads.

I missed the opening address. Arriving in Scarborough with a couple of hours to spare, I'd decided to sample a local hostelry and got carried away into a session, turning up around 11pm, at the Noises Off office, pissed with a bag of groceries, wanting to be a star.

I won't go into detail, but the upshot was, I made it into the reporting, writing, hacking away with the Cambridge mafia who run NOFF.

The show I benefitted most from personally, that year, in my opinion, for real theatrical gravity, was Bedbound by Dubliner Enda Walsh who won the award for his Bobby Sands film Hunger.

Khalid Abdalla and Cresida Trew won the acting awards that year, for this play: Footlights duo, putting on Irish accents that such was their talent, it took about thirty seconds for us to realise they were cod ones. By then, the language had us and we didn't care.

The audience walking into the theatre are confronted with a big box, a plasterboard box. The opening of the show is one wall, facing the audience, falling down and making us aware that the cube in front of us we were all wondering about, was a clever trick and inside is the cramped set, a bed in which is a young woman with (we later discover) polio, and on which her father sits.

Khalid Abdalla via the prose poetry of Enda Walsh, as a Salesman-father voicing his rise to the big time in Cork; held us spellbound, a brooding presence your eyes simply couldn't move from.

So immediately we were interested.

It isn't surprising Abdalla is one of only twenty five or so on the list of former participants at the fifty year old NSDF; right there at the top of it. Kennard, isn't on that list Todd.

I am also not surprised Abdalla's now one of the finest British actors working in Hollywood, in the mix Academy Award Nominee 2006 for his role as a hijacker in the critically acclaimed 9/11 movie United 93; and his meteoric rise through the ranks of moviedom, it was clear then, he was the biggest star of that year's festival, for performance.

He had an animal magnetism and it was no surprise he got nominated for an Academy Award, and such was his acting, I was surprised to discover his parents are Egyptian. I thought he was as Irish as you and me, to look at.

Walsh is well known for his poetic language and this poetry in prose, the language in Bedbound, the first thirty seconds:

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck
fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck

fuckin hell

ME!

On the bed. I can feel that blanket wrapped around me like a sea; and me a little shrimpways underneath.

Feel them wrapped around me bony body ribs making me stay in bed.

Squeeze me lungs out of me gob and making me shout: 'Fucking hell Maxie, get out of bed, you're late!'

I swing me legs out of the bed already running I run inta tha jacks.

There's me big brother Jerry on the jacks having an early morning crap! I smack him a left hook!! Shamck!!

He hits the ground like the sack of shit he is! 'I'll deal with you later kiddo!'

Splish spalsh run the tap get scrubbing me face!

Look in the miror at the fifteen year-old me looking back! 'Gotta get to work, Maxie! only fifteen minutes to save planet Earth, Flash!' Spin back to the bedroom and into a suit!! A bit of damp from washing it last night but fuck it! Isn't it always damp from the late night wash!?

Have ta be clean! Gotta get going! Inta the wet shirt! On with the damp suit! Jesus I'm the smart one! Sharp is what I am!!

Outta my smelly hole gaffe, the stink of the hot sweet milk in the air, a breakfast puke! A family of lazy fucks huddled around the electric heater like laboratory rats, I leave the fucks behind. Shame shame!! Fucking shame!! I'm at the bus-stop! Bus stops and I'm on! The usual faces stuck in their morning sleep! 'Great workers of Ireland! Is it not time to drag our priest-ridden, second-rate, potato-peopled country of ours into the twenty-first century before we're spat into the next shagging hundred years?'

They half-smile like I'm a fucking psycho!

~

I had such a great experience writing there for NOFF, short squibs, a poem and enough by the end of the week, to have felt a part of something uniquely British, and not only that but English as well; what with writing on that beautiful cliff-side terrace, and there was a truly democratic spirit in the NOFF office.

By the end of my first year there, with a couple of extemporized comedy reportages that got noticed, I felt grand. The following year, i was a real contender for the hack laurel. I lost to Chris Wilkinson, a Guardian theatre section stalwart now. He won. He beat me Todd. So, what are you going to do about it?

At the following year's festival, I think it was Kennard, who returned with a solo effort, a radio play, and centrepiece bit of pre-recorded theatre that had a lot of expectation surrounding it, the first time alone, surely the magic of Freudian Slip would be there. Alas, it bombed. Lots of respectful bemused silence. On his own, a year later, if it was his radio play, the mojo had gone.

That's why I say I'm willing to bet twenty bucks the best thing he was in was the acting collective script he claims to have written most of. In a collective acting situation like that, he probably did write the most of it, but in that gig he was back seat, just another actor and the ace he held was to casually drop it in, that, you know, he sort of, wrote that smash hit four person show.

This is where and why the original interest came, the spinners and shark talent-spotter luvvies cling to Scarbrough every spring on the sniff for another god like Abdallah or Wilkinson or Kennard. Even you Todd, if you were there, could be in Hollywood now making movies with the best, I reckon, if you'd have gone. Turned up to the premier luvvie pool for people at that undergrad level of academic development.

As a standalone poet, Kennard's blurbed by Chris Hamilton Emery his publisher, as the ultimate god of 'Award Winning' young British poets, vis a vis prose poetry. But this by Walsh, is at superior torque, imho:

"And head down I work and work and work and work!! And my body like some slick machine and my brain keen and fast!! I rise up the stairs from the storeroom. I feel its blackness on my back leave as I step onto the sales floor. And all colour returns as the beautiful couches and cabinets stretch out in front of me on the blue baise.

I watch the salesmen at their work. I look at their easy manner and stand as they chat 'comfort' to the customers. Like royalty they look or something. Their hands barely touching the fine fabrics and polished tables as they waltz around the store to a music inside their heads. I take out my other notebook marked 'Salesman' and jot it all down. I watch the eyes of the customers oohhhing and ahhing as the salesman lays on the superlatives, spinning out the patter that crackles in the air. I listen to the humour of the sales floor reeling in the wallets adding the V-A-T and tickling the tills.

I watch the teary eyes of the salesman as he waves a lost sale goodbye...only to turn on his heels all hungry and smiling as he spies a couple slouching inta the three-piece suite. I write the words. 'This will all be mine. One day'."

~

Great article Todd, very little attention and praise for Kennard. Love it.

Only joshing.

have a lovely day!

Hi Todd,

Just to clarify, I didn't meant to imply yesterday that there was a "need for critics and reviewers to clearly state their bias - who they know, and why they ally themselves to some, and not other poets".

It is more that the language of 'overview' carries with it a certain power and assurance that can result in readers feeling 'cheated' if they later discover the commentator is less distanced than they might have thought - so I was more thinking that this could be defused by dropping that tone for one that implicitly lays bare one's state of being 'caught up in it'.

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