Not someone dressed as a book, but someone who had spent time since last November, memorising a book – in this case Crash by J G Ballard – so they could recite it to me as part of a Live Art Festival.
The piece – Time has Fallen Asleep in the Afternoon Sunshine – was created by Mette Edvardsen, inspired by Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi novel Fahrenheit 451 where books were forbidden and burnt. To keep books alive for others, a resistance movement learns them by heart to keep them safe.
So I made an appointment with a ‘living book’ and had one of the most intimate theatrical experiences of my life. We sat on the floor, among the shelves and the small of books in the old Central Library in Birmingham and my book began. For forty minutes someone recited purely for me the gripping, complex, violent, erotic yet compelling opening chapter of Crash, a book I knew by reputation but not through personal experience.
He knew the book so well there was no evident feat of memory, just the sheer enjoyment of the tumble of words, the expression of them to another. With only the two of us present, we just stared at each other as his words created images of death and disruption around us and our scenery of physical books faded into the background, replaced by the mangled car wrecks being drawn poetically in front of me.
It made me think hard about theatre. It made me remember so much about books.
Theatre as a connector with the audience. Something where the performance genuinely reaches out and moves you.
Books as a life-saver. Time machines, travel machines, things that transport you away from where you are and bring you back transformed and revitalised.
I’ve become ‘used’ to theatre – or maybe lots of the theatre that I have seen has become useless in that sense of making connections, making me feel. And I’ve forgotten how to read. Not how to take in words and process them, but how to give time and my whole self to a book, to allow the immersion.
I’ve ordered a copy of Crash. It’s about respect. If someone can devote months to learning it in order to give me such an intense experience, the least I can do is to honour that by finishing the book. And by reading it properly.
If you come across me over Easter and I have my head in a book, you know what? Just leave me there. I’m remembering what its like to really read.
The piece was presented as part of the Fierce Festival, in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Central Library.