REVIEW: Karen Cannard reviews QuirkHouse Theatre Company's Talking in the Library in Stowmarket
On Friday, Stowmarket Library played host to the QuirkHouse Theatre Company’s performance of Talking in the Library – a perfect setting for a tale that follows the intertwined lives of four characters: a tormented young student; a poetry-loving builder; a strict librarian and a library cleaner.
Created by Bury St Edmunds writer Jackie Carreira, the play celebrates public libraries. Launched during the recent National Libraries Week, the Stowmarket performance was the finale of its two-week tour, drawing in audiences to libraries in Thetford, Ipswich, Aldeburgh, Glemsford and Halesworth.
It’s easy to spot Carreira’s affection for the library service – not least through her introduction of how as a young girl visiting her local branch, she couldn’t believe that so many books existed and how it whet her appetite for reading.
Talking in the Library is however a more grown-up tale, delving into the characters’ lives to explore themes that include feminism, male-stereotypes, abuse, self-development, ambitions and longing. The library, despite being faced with current challenges of austerity – as in real life - continues to provide a calm place for the characters to work, study, explore poetry, interact and feel like there is a place where they belong. The possibility of romance may even be on the cards.
Julia Tobias, as Mari the cleaner, Richard Stainer (Derek the Librarian), AJ Deane (Jay the Builder) and Joanna Hagan-Young (Bethany the Student) give a very playful performance, switching between thought-provoking monologues and witty one-liners as well as loudly delivered Shhhs. And setting the play in a real library has not only been a creative coup for the QuirkHouse Theatre Company but in doing so it has highlighted how much public libraries have changed.
For those who haven’t stepped into a library since they were a child or a parent of young children, these buildings are no longer just cathedrals of the written word (although this is still as valid as ever). These days, the modern library offers a space for community, entertainment, creativity, socialising and continued learning. And most recently, Suffolk Libraries, with support from Arts Council England, has launched a brand new youth arts programme, BLOC (Building Libraries on Creativity). The programme will work with young people and artists to develop fun and creative activities and events to highlight how libraries remain relevant to younger audiences.
Talking in the Library is dedicated to librarians everywhere and all proceeds from the play have been generously donated to each branch library involved in hosting the tour.
And if you missed it, don’t worry. Shhh, the word on the street (or rather, between the bookshelves) is that QuirkHouse are already thinking about another tour in the future. Watch this shelf-space for more info.
Self-declared disclaimer: Karen Cannard is a professional librarian, also with a life-long love of libraries and, in the spirit of celebrating those who have inspired a love of books, dedicates this column to Janet the Librarian who worked at her village library in Treharris, Merthyr Tydfil, during the 1970s-80s.