Josie Long stands on the ropes of a wrestling ring in the middle of a disused church. She wears running gear, gloves and a headband. “I’ll smash you!” she shouts at commentator Tony Law, sitting in the balcony, “like I’ll smash the glass ceiling!”
Just another night at the London Word Festival, then. Simon Munnery took on the role vacated by Andy Kaufman, challenging various women to a spot of wrestling. Long was just one of the ladies pinned to the canvas during the evening: Isy Suttie, Lore Lixenberg, Rachel Pantechnicon and, impressively, all five of the Beaux Belles fell victim to Munnery’s lithe skills. Only Helen Lederer proved able to take him.
We had to keep reminding ourselves: this wasn’t comedy (though each wrestler had a few minutes to do their stuff before each bout) and it wasn’t sport, it was a performance art piece put together by Mel Brimfield. As such, audience energy levels were a bit like the Grand Old Duke of York – when they were up they were up, and when they were down they were down, and sometimes they didn’t quite know what they were supposed to be doing. It’s hard to start cheering on a fake wrestling match when you’ve just been listening to poetry, but in the end this unevenness just added to the air of – intentional? – surrealism hanging over the venue.
Back to The Nave again 24 hours later for a more ‘traditional’ night of poetry, stories and music themed around book categorisation systems, and to lament the decline of libraries. And yet it’d be fair to say this was the more successful event: Emmy the Great and Jack Underwood curated a heartfelt, funny and genuine evening, combining readings from Joe Dunthorne and Nikesh Shukla, songs based on the ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ section and an absolutely hilarious tribute to Sweet Valley High, including a role call of all the unfortunate SV inhabitants ever to get bumped off in the name of narrative. Plus, at the end, the audience got to take home a book. What’s not to love?