Reviewed by Elaine Cusack
Review Date: 09/05/18

Door-to-Door Poetry

from Rowan McCabe

02/05/18 @ Northern Stage

Rowan McCabe is not the first person to knock on someone’s front door. Council workers, canvassers and door-to-door sales folk have been knocking on millions of doors around the globe for years. Rowan styles himself as “The World’s First Door-to-Door Poet” and who am I to argue? It takes guts to stand on someone’s doorstep and admit to writing poetry.

Door-to-Door Poetry is both a show and a project. I’m writing this review of the show’s final performance in a short North East tour. The Door-to-Door Poetry project started back in October 2015 with a simple question: what do you think would happen if you knocked on a stranger’s door and offered to write them a poem?

Rowan’s Door-to-Door Poetry show is a mix of spoken word, comedy and theatre. It charts the development of his project from initial doorbell ringing near his home in Heaton to delivering the final poem in spring 2017. The project led Rowan from his neighbourhood to homes in Fenham, the Byker Wall, Bensham, Stockton-on-Tees and Darras Hall.

The Door-to-Door Poetry project is a strong idea with scope for growth and deserved the Arts Council funding it attained.  But I see a problem with the project.

As any academic or market researcher will tell you, the more information you gather, the more legitimate your findings will be. I used to work in local government and spent a year knocking on doors throughout an inner London borough.  We didn’t get to speak to everyone but we gathered a huge amount of data about residents’ recycling habits which shaped the council’s future waste minimisation projects. In short, our house calls made a difference.

I believe more time spent in the field (or should I say on the doorstep) would have enhanced both project and show. Extended fieldwork would have given Rowan a wider range of life stories to sink his writing gnashers into. I found the show’s content clever, funny and moving but yearned for him to dig deeper into the North East. Why not explore the wealth and poverty in our rural communities? How about some examples of households in Sunderland and Durham? The show’s content felt uneven and at times superficial compared to the cultural seams Rowan mined in his 2014 North East Rising show.

I’ve enjoyed watching Rowan perform his poetry on a variety of northern stages over the past seven years. He is a consistently brilliant performer and an accomplished page poet. I think he is the region’s brightest poetic star and that’s why I would have liked more poetry and less grumbling about the BBC in this show.

Rowan’s flawless performance in Door-to-Door Poetry is complemented by Peader Kirk’s direction, Maeve O’Neill’s production and the technical stage management of Paul Aziz. Team Door to Door work well together, allowing the audience to participate in Rowan’s journey and experience his joys and frustrations.

The Door-to-Door Poetry project is a wonderful concept and has the potential to spread nationwide and beyond but perhaps Rowan should recruit volunteers to assist with fieldwork? Or how about a Door-to-Door Poetry franchise? Now there’s an idea for Mr McCabe to riff on and produce new poems.

Rowan’s Door-to-Door Poetry show heads to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival in August. I wonder if he’ll knock on a few doors in Scotland before the summer? Let’s go to the Fringe to find out.

For more information about the Door-to-Door Poetry project visit https://doortodoorpoetry.com/