Spoken-word theatre review: Siarad

Poet and performer Caroline Reid has revived Siarad – an engaging spoken-word performance about memory and mess, moving through and moving on – for a return season at the COMEBACK Festival at Goodwood Theatre & Studios.

Sep 20, 2021, updated Sep 20, 2021
South Australian poet and performer Caroline Reid is personable and unpretentious in her delivery. Photo: Clare Hawley

South Australian poet and performer Caroline Reid is personable and unpretentious in her delivery. Photo: Clare Hawley

Siarad is the Welsh word for “speak” or “talk”, and it’s fitting as Reid has a Welsh background, but more importantly, her mother is Welsh and it’s the only language she speaks when dementia sets in. Although this work doesn’t focus on Reid’s mother, it’s clear her condition was a catalyst for the show. Siarad is an ode to ageing – the ageing we do and the ageing that goes on around us: our parents, our bodies, our love affairs, Bob Dylan.

Reid admits she gets lost in the space between poems, and Siarad is proof that it’s those spaces that make her poems. It’s serious stuff, being a serious poet, and yet she is incredibly personable and unpretentious in her delivery.

Those poems that scare people because they’re difficult to follow? You won’t find them in this show. That sing-song voice that some spoken-word artists mimic when they’re at the mic? It’s not her style. Reid comes across as non-performative, even while she’s snapping her fingers so a spotlight shines on her. Of course timing is everything in that instance, but we feel she’s got all the time in the world.

Reid revels in a kind of dagginess, though her craft is intelligent and fine-tuned. She’s entirely comfortable whipping out a “fuck” either side of lines like “I love metaphors more than I love you”, perfecting a balancing act of recognisability and high art. At the end of the show, when she says, “Hang around, I’ll have a drink with you at the bar”, you’ll want to.

Siarad sold out at this year’s Adelaide Fringe so we must applaud the COMEBACK Festival for giving it a second life. Perhaps you haven’t heard of this new festival, hosted at Goodwood Theatre & Studios, which works on the premise of resurrecting Fringe shows? It’s inspired and resourceful. It means more money to the artists and arts venues mid-year, once Mad March is long gone. Goodness knows the concept is especially relevant in 2021 during COVID times, and amid the economic-driven landscape we find ourselves in, where the arts is arguably the most undervalued sector.

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On an artistic level, we’re talking about growing a show. For Reid, this means hiring a director – something she didn’t do the first time around. Basically, the festival handed her a reason to get an expert in to work on the transitions between poems, to help her use the stage more fully so there’s action amid the pauses. Imagine the learning process she underwent and imagine how it will go beyond this one, singular show and translate to future ones.

I’ll be at those future shows because Siarad made me feel seen, and feeling seen means feeling good. I’ve no doubt that beyond this pandemic and these uncertain times, I’ll still search out good feelings.

Caroline Reid performed Siarad at Goodwood Theatre & Studios on the weekend. Reid is also the author of a collection of poetry and prose of the same name, details of which can be found on her website. COMEBACK Festival continues until October 3 (full program here).

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