view counter

Interview: Write on! London Word Festival co-director Marie McPartlin talks to Sheena McKenzie

In the same week the Government swings its axe over our public libraries, a unique London festival will be celebrating those very spaces with a series of intimate self-generating performances.

The Quiet Volume, produced by Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells, is a beautiful example of the power of art in the face of the financial squeeze and the signature piece of this year's London Word Festival, kicking off from Thursday April 7 to Thursday May 5.

The festival, at locations across east London, is an exploration of text in performance, featuring everything from readers following the whispered instructions of Ipods in libraries (such as in The Quiet Volume) to a twisted recreated episode of cult TV series Prisoner (in Be Seeing You) and even strippers collaborating with sound artists (in Private View).

Word Festival is not married to any one art form,” co-founder Marie McPartlin told Run Riot this week. “We take a discipline from the performing arts world and use that as a vehicle for text-based work. It's unique because of the diversity of work that sits side-by-side.”

Even that mother of all books, the King James bible, gets the special treatment with a 400th birthday bash featuring a live print production line by the Henningham Family Press.

Lofty sermons will be thrown out the window as performers use music, theatre, film and text to re-imagine the seven days of creation, take a stroll through the Garden of Eden and set sail on Noah's Ark.

It's definitely one of our quirkier events,” Marie admitted. “It's the 400th anniversary this year so there's been a bit of stuff marketing it but it's all been quite straight BBC radio 4. We wanted to do something playful and fun and explore the narrative of the bible through the eyes of contemporary pop culture and secular ideas.

This year's festival looks at the two strands of Libraries & Public Reading (featuring the events Books vs Cigarettes, No Furniture So Charming and The Goodbye Library by Emmy the Great and Jack Underwood) and Text & Technology (featuring Man/Machine, Cybraphon and Christian Bok).

Marie explained her interest in libraries grew from the threat of Government cuts and a feeling these historic buildings were being taken for granted.

She added that the Text & Technology strand emerged from an interest in technology's power to create automatic text and its relation to man and nature.

Marie, 29, a former live music programmer, founded the London Word Festival with Tom Chivers and Sam Hawkins in 2007, its growing success seeing it secure a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Breakthrough Award in 2009.

She said: “Word Festival was borne out of the fact that live literature was on the rise but we didn't want to do something like the Hay Festival (the Guardian's annual literary festival) which books an author to do a reading with a discussion afterwards. Our intent was in borrowing from various disciplines and commissioning emerging artists to do the work. We're interested in how people respond to works; engaging them. You don't have to just stand there watching something, you can be involved and that really colours everything we do. When people turn up to an event they feel as though they belong to it, rather than just someone whose paid for a ticket.”

For events, dates, and ticket sales head to:


view counter