Culture, Manchester

Carol Ann Duffy & Friends returns to the Royal Exchange

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By Emily Oldfield

The popular evenings of poetry and cultured creativity Carol Ann Duffy and Friends returned to the Royal Exchange Theatre studio this week for a range of readings, music and conversation, with guest slots featuring Keith Hutson and Andrew McMillan.

Now in its 14th season, Carol Ann Duffy and Friends is a series of reading events presented by the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University and the Royal Exchange Theatre.

It provides an intimate environment to showcase live performances from some of the best contemporary poets in the country, presided over by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy DBE herself.

Many of the poets who perform are the connected to the Manchester Writing School – with Masters student Keith Hutson and tutor Andrew McMillan both examples.

The evening began with live music from The Johnny Hunter Trio – playing a range of relaxed jazz pieces over which the audience could meet and mingle. The event welcomed a diverse crowd including members of the public, students, award-winning poet Kim Moore – a notable turn-out for this one-off autumn event as part of the series, which will return to full-swing as per usual in the Spring and Summer of 2018.

The evening began in a more unusual format however – with Keith Hutson giving a full performance of his radio play a Difficult Woman – bringing the characters of Hylda Baker and Jimmy Jewel back to life, complete with a fellow speaker, in a dual-performance which combined spoken word, acting and humour.

Hutson has also been published in a number of journals including Stand, Magma, Agenda and The North, and is currently a student at the Manchester Writing School – and his experience and confidence was clear as he charmed the audience with an utterly unique performance. Hutson wrote the play for the Creative Project unit, part of his Poetry MA, and supervised by the Manchester Writing School’s Anjum Malik

It was perhaps no wonder Carol Ann Duffy DBE also gave some words of her own, reflecting on the range of creativity at the Manchester Writing School. In her role as Professor of Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, as well as Poet Laurette and a T. S. Eliot Prize winning poet, her insight was much-applauded.

She said: “We have a host of amazing poets at Manchester Met including Michael Symmons Roberts, Jean Sprackland, Adam O’Riordan, Helen Mort – and now Andrew McMillan. Andrew is very much one of us and has fit right in.”

She also read her iconic poem ‘Prayer’, evocative lines like ‘So, a woman will lift/ her head from the sieve of her hands and stare’, lingering in the air.

Guest poet Andrew McMillan then took to the stage – a highly anticipated moment from this senior lecturer at the Manchester Writing School and multi-award-winning poet with his 2015 full-length collection Physical following on from three highly successful pamphlets.

With lines like ‘Some boys knew how to make a performance of their size’ from the piece Things Said in the Changing Rooms – McMillan’s readings were evocative, powerful and packed with possible interpretations.

A distinct aspect of the evening was the audience reaction to the verse – with spontaneous applause, murmurs of support and even gasps as McMillan explored powerful themes and subject matters including masculinity, sex and AIDS.

McMillan loaded his expression with emotion and intensity, testament to a poet utterly committed to his work, as if determined to fuel the audience up for the future collection Playtime which is due to be published in August 2018.

The crowd continued to mingle and converse long after the readings, with an opportunity for book signings with the poets themselves.

One audience member commented, “There is no other poetry night out there like the ones Carol Ann Duffy hosts at the Royal Exchange – they’re intimate and powerful and it’s different every time.”

Another glittering evening as part of the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends series, which has in the past included writers like Adam O’Riordan and Liz Lochhead, leaving many in anticipation for a highly exciting season to come in 2018.

Manchester Writing: an evening with Monique Roffey and Catherine Fox
2 November 2017 | Book tickets

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Emily Oldfield

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