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Red, Like Our Room Used To Feel
5 stars

Summerhall (venue website)
Spoken Word
4-24 Aug, 2:00pm-2:20pm, 5:00pm-5:20pm
Reviewed by Allison Mckeon

After I’d been led down to (and shut inside) a dimly-lit basement closet alone, told to ‘make myself comfortable’ on a small bed, and offered booze, the subsequent performance was not only among the most marvelous poetry readings I’ve heard but also one the least terrifying experiences the circumstances would allow.

I get the feeling – having chatted to him for a bit, after a midday fire alarm drove us out of the building – that Ryan Van Winkle would like the integrity of the show’s experience to be preserved. So I won’t let on exactly what it entails. Very simply, it’s a poetry reading with lots of extra bits, and those bits make it amazing. His own description of it – “Ephemera… photographs… a snifter of port… a space to listen” highlights enough pieces of the show to suggest the whole experience, in the same way his poetry draws on fragments and images to create a heady, ruminating nostalgia.

I’m almost reluctant to call this a performance, since that connotes something not genuine, ‘acting’, and fundamentally contradicts the honesty of the reading.  But, anyway, the performance offers incense, impossibly familiar clutter, nibbles (“Biscuits? Fruit? No? Ugh, women”), and music to generate an ambience of intimacy. That intimacy is the real magic – I felt, actually, like I was holed up in a friend’s room listening to a poem I’d heard before, about things I’d also experienced.

Van Winkle manages to do away with the barrier between performer and audience with apparent ease – and I’m not sure whether it’s the solo viewing he insists upon, his considerable capacity for reading aloud, or the quality of the actual writing which does the trick. That the whole thing is so meticulously planned – no detail has gone unconsidered – but has absolutely no feeling of being contrived, is a testament both to Van Winkle’s tremendous poetic ability and also to whoever decorated the hell out of that closet.

All things considered, the show is superlative. The fiver for admission seems a bit steep for a twenty-minute reading, and the port wasn’t great, but really my most serious disappointment having seen ‘Red’ is that I don’t get to use a very bad pun I had lined up involving the acronym of Rest in Peace and the author’s last name.

Red, Like Our Room Used To Feel is truly unique, and surely one of the most evocative shows this year. My advice: let him open the envelope you choose (I was inclined to do so myself and fingers were waggled), nose around the photographs (we’re allowed), and try the tea (it smelled lovely).

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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