Night Thoughts at the Southbank Centre
Tucked away in a quiet corner of the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall is the Saison Poetry Library. As the home of Britain’s largest accessible collection of modern poetry, the library provides a peaceful environment for personal study, as well as the backdrop for a variety of exciting events such as their latest venture – a group reading of poet David Gascoyne’s Night Thoughts (1955).
Gascoyne (1916-2001) is well known for his involvement in the Surrealist movement. Born and raised in London, he helped to organise the London International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936, before living in France for a period when he became friends with Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and André Breton. His long poem Night Thoughts was originally commissioned by the BBC as a radio play, before being released in print the following year.
The piece takes its readers on a night-time journey across London, with scenes such as Megalometropolitan Carnival and The Nightwatchers painting an apocalyptic picture of the capital that is frequently frightening, but also reassuring to the solitary reader as it draws to a close.
At the Saison Library, the piece was brought to life by participating members of the public. Aided by a complimentary glass of wine, a welcoming atmosphere developed in which people were happy to share what the piece meant to them, as actors, readers or old friends of the poet himself. One of the organisers explained that she wouldn’t need to give directions on how to read the piece, as Gascoyne would do that through the text – and she was correct. The reading developed a natural rhythm and everybody gave their best performance, creating a lively and dramatic rendition.
The group reading was accompanied by an insightful talk by Robert Fraser, the writer of Gascoyne’s first biography, and the original radio recording of the poem was played as an opening to the evening.
The event, which was put on as part of the Southbank’s Light Show program, provided a highly enjoyable and very different evening out. If a similar event were to be announced, it would be highly recommended for anyone interested in literature or performance.
David Gascoyne’s Night Thoughts was part of Light Show and Literature Jan – April 2013 at the Southbank Centre. For further information visit the theatre’s website here.