For the lover of words among you, who might be interested in entertainment a little more literary, London has plenty of nights which focus on just this. These range from spoken word events to storytelling nights to what could almost be described as a game show. Here are a few literary events in London to put in your diaries.
Bang Said the Gun
Not your average spoken word night, or at least that’s what they say about Bang Said the Gun. In some ways it is very similar to most spoken-word events as you have several poets who take the stage and do their thing. Normally a few of their pieces. But there is something different about this night. It is more… playful. On the table are makeshift maracas made out of milk bottles with chickpeas in them, which you’re encouraged to shake to show your appreciation for the acts. Banging on tables is heartily approved of. And the poets are of a very high calibre indeed. Then, at the end people from the audience are invited to come up and do a piece of their own, which is judged by one of the acts, and that person is invited along the next week. For a spoken word night, it’s pretty raucous.
Are you Sitting Comfortably?
For those that want to recapture their youth and the feeling of being read to, Are you sitting comfortably? aims to do just that. It’s run by a Gareth Brierley and Bernadette Russell, who solicit stories from whoever would like to submit them, and then read them out to the eager audience gathered in Toynbee studios. These two are master storytellers, and will also add a story of their own to the mix, which are enjoyable too. Each month has a theme, the last time I attended it was ghost stories and the tales ranged from the comic to the rather chilling. As a very welcome bonus, each guest can have a chip butty when they arrive, brought to their seats, and there are sweets adorning the tables for you to munch on during the evening. And yes, there’s a bar. Excellent, innocent fun.
If you just want a night where you get to listen to top-notch authors read from their latest books then Book Slam is your man. No real gimmicks to this night, you just pay your money, and turn up to whichever venue is hosting it for the night (normally the Tabernacle or Clapham Grand) and get a seat if you’re early enough, or lean somewhere if you’re not. Lest it seem too dour, each Book Slam normally also has a spoken word artist and a live music act, and people are also welcome to stay late and listen to the DJs. It’s just a classic of how literary London can be.
Shoreditch House Literary Salon
Of a similar ilk is Shoreditch House Literary Salon, which invites authors to come along and read an extract from their works. No spoken word or music here, but it differentiates itself from Book Slam in other ways as well – the host, the sophisticated Damian Barr does a mini interview with his guests, and takes questions from the audience. It’s also free and “salonistas” are treated to a free cocktail on arrival and free pizza during the break (if you can bear the scrum to get it). This night also attracts people you’ll have heard of and no doubt wish to hear more of. Unfortunately you have to be pretty quick off the mark to get your name on the list for this, which is also a rare chance to get inside Shoreditch House (soon to move to Soho House). Sign up at facebook and keep your eyes peeled.
Literary Death Match
Now for something not-quite-completely different. Literary Death Match takes the normal activities of a literary night and then adds some silly twists by turning it into an arbitrarily-won competition. There are always four speakers reading from their works and three judges from the world of books or TV. The success of this night actually hinges on how entertaining the judges are, as they comment on things like literary merit, performance and intangibles, when the four are split into pairs and pitched against each other, choosing a winner from each pair. These two then go head to head, but not, as you might expect, in a competition battling their literary merits, but instead, by perhaps, having to knock down as many skittles (made of books) with a chocolate orange. Or having to match the author with the hidden secret they kept. It’s all very silly and a lot of fun, and you get to hear snatches of new books coming out. LDM is often at Concrete but they have been known to pop up in other venues as well.
As close as you can probably get to an adult slumber party, 40 Winks storytelling night is held at eccentric’s David Carter’s truly gorgeous boutique hotel. About 50 people turn up, answer a riddle and get changed into their sleeping gear to then be treated to stories on a theme. This is a proper storytelling night – no reading from a book, just the retelling of traditional tales by very talented raconteurs. They are performances really, perhaps with musical accompaniment, but certainly with a lot of flair. When the stories are done everyone gathers in one room for a bit of musical entertainment but not before prizes have been awarded for the most glamorous sleepwear and the most flirtatious guest. The musical act comes on (the Tootsie Rollers when I went, who were amazing) and then you’re bundled off into the cold again. It’s almost surreal. A ticket is 30 pounds and the night gets booked up months in advance. Generous amounts of gin cocktails and some nibbles are included in the cost.
And finally, there are a couple of ‘honorary mentions’ I’d like to give while we’re on this topic. Firstly:
Not exactly literary but it is to do with words so that counts, right? This is a storytelling night and the storyteller is… you! Well, not necessarily you, though it could be if you wanted. Spark have open mic nights at The Ritzy in Brixton and Hackney Picture House and anyone is welcome to turn up and listen to people telling stories, or, even better, to get up and tell a story yourself. The only condition is that they have to be true, and have to fit the theme for the week. When the hosts first ask for volunteers the response is pretty muted, but after a while the mood changes, and the more people who brave it, the more people want to get involved. It’s strangely attractive to do so. I haven’t yet, but when I can think of a good one, I reckon I’ll be up there.
And second honorary mention goes to…
This is really a comedy night, and improv at that, but it’s based on the works of Jane Austen, which will totally appeal to the lovers of literary classics and thus it earns an appearance here. These most often take place at The Wheatsheaf and you turn up, grab a seat and then suggest a Jane-Austenesque title to the performers who will then create, out of nothing but this made up title, a full two hour comedic play. It’s bloody brilliant – I didn’t think I could laugh so much at something made up on the spot.
You may also want to check out Storytails for another storytelling event, or Homework, which was previously mentioned in our Alternative Nightlife in the East End blog.
Written by Gingle of Gingle Lists Everything.