Note taken during the event: “Oh my God, she’s brilliant”.
There. Done. That’s my review.
The rest of the words below are superfluous, really, please just take my word for it and go see Lucy Adlington at the next festival, book launch or speaking event that you can catch her at. If her book The Red Ribbon (which you’ll either have to prize out of my hands or buy your own copy of) is half as good as her talk about it was then it will still be twice as good as three times of most of the other books you’ll ever read. Maybe four times (my maths isn’t great).
Within seconds of being on the stage she owned the audience. Drawing on her various skills as an actor, writer, speaker, historian and charming human being, she homed in with precision onto what today’s Arts Centre audience would be interested and amused by, entertaining and informing in equal measure and expertly managing the tone of her talk as it lead inevitably towards much darker places (The Red Ribbon being set in a concentration camp).
She began dressed in 1940s clothes and carrying a suitcase full of other items of apparel from the period. Then talked us through them. Passionately. Hilariously. As a clothing historian, she is fascinated by what clothes mean to us and by the power they have – how they can give us identity, means of expression, status, gender and dignity. Or how they can take those same things away. As she observed: clothes are people.
With the benefit of hindsight it became more evident to me how brilliantly the talk had been structured. It had pace, pathos and humour, but more impressive was how it slowly narrowed focus, going from the familiar to the horrific almost without you noticing, taking the audience on an awful journey of empathetic realisation – the bewilderment and confusion of new arrivals into Auschwitz. Through clothing, we got a glimpse of the ordinary everyday becoming hell.
At every step of the way, Lucy Adlington’s read of the audience was superb. A passionate performer, she has a very keen eye and ear for what tone to take at any given moment and for what people want to hear. Many visiting writers take the time to find out a little about Jersey, but I don’t remember any commanding such detail as she did, working in numerous local references which all went far with the audience to bring personal history back to life. At the end of the hour she got one of the biggest rounds of applause I heard for all the writers on at this Festival. And she so deserved it. Brilliant.
Words: Ben Evans
Picture: Peter Mourant