Poet Matt weathers the storm to write first play

Matt Black, who lived and worked in Sheffield for 25 years as a poet, has written his first play – which will be performed at the city’s Theatre Deli next week.

Friday, 10th January 2020, 10:32 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 8:11 am
Anna Westlake and Gareth Price–Baghurst in The Storm Officer
Anna Westlake and Gareth Price–Baghurst in The Storm Officer

The Storm Officer tells the tale of one town’s struggle when faced with the realities of extreme weather and the ever-increasing impact of climate change.

It is based on the experience of people in Cumbria in the aftermath of Storm Desmond in 2015.

The idea grew out of an invitation to Black from Prof Georgina Endfield to write a pamphlet of poems inspired by the TE MPEST database of extreme weather which was being developed in Nottingham University’s geography department.

Black says: “It is an archive of about 15,000 pieces of writing from the 16th Century to the present day – glittering treasures of gorgeously written accounts of the extraordinary events and struggles that extreme weather forces on people and places. And it was fantastic stuff.”

It was part of the Public Knowledge Project to make university research more accessible to the public.

A t that time, TV news programmes were showing reports from Storm Desmond, but Black felt they failed to convey the true impact on people’s lives.

He says: “So I went to Cumbria and talked to people, collected accounts, looked at the landscape and made lots of notes. What I saw and heard was very moving and I knew I wanted to weave this in with historical accounts.”

As originally commissioned, the piece started as a long poem in a pamphlet, but it was felt it had the potential to be something bigger and with the help of a number of collaborators it became his first play.

Black says: “The experience of Storm Desmond in this play is based on a week’s visit to Cumbria, w here people’s generosity in sharing their experiences shone through.

“What people told me has mostly been adapted, occasionally used verbatim. All names have been fictionali sed.”

The real-life accounts of Storm Desmond are interspersed with tales of flooding, hurricanes and storms from the last 1,000 years to add up to tumultuous and colourful journey, with wild scenes and original live music.

It is performed by two actor-musicians, Anna Westlake and Gareth Price–Baghurst, and directed by Martin Berry. Producer Antonia Beck, dramaturg Cathy Grindrod, music director Julian Butt and designer Abigail King were also part of the Bramble Theatre team that brought it to the stage.

These days Black, a one-time Derbyshire Poet Laureate, lives in Leamington Spa. This year he will also be touring his one-person show about dogs The Snoopy Question (or A Dog’s Answer to World Peace), which he premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018.

It is an exploration of research into dogs over the last 20 years weaved into personal stories.

Black says: “Its protagonist is obsessed with dogs and thinks he might actually be one. It’s a mishmash of comedy, storytelling, poetry and theatre.”

Meanwhile he is working on another show, this time about sibling conflict dealing with aged parents.

“It’s something that seems to be becoming more and more common with my generation,” he says.

The Storm Officer is at Theatre Deli, Eyre Street, on Wednesday, February 12.