Dunedin Writer’s and Reader’s Festival: An ancient guide to Modern Life, with Natalie Haynes

DWRF imageNatalie Haynes is funny. Like, she’s-a-comedian funny. Which is not really surprising, considering that was her job for 12 years or so.  Apparently she retired in 2009 to spend more time writing, which is, of course, excellent for the Dunedin Readers and Writers Festival. What Haynes brought to the festival was priceless: an icing on top of a proverbial cake; an extra limb to an already heavily-weighted tree. She not only managed to share – nay, revel in sharing – her written work, but did so in the format of a stand-up comedy show.  Brilliant.

From the first joke cracked about pacing being habitual and also imperative for preventing the horizontal lecture that would otherwise eventuate thanks to jetlag, to the improvised banter around stage-creak ( with apologies for staying away from one side of the audience), Haynes held the floor like a pro. Winning the audience over quickly and kindly with comparisons of our fair Dunedin city to LA (‘bring all your coats and jackets, they said!’ – the weather has been unseasonably generous this festival), Haynes proceeded to form her talk around topics chosen by the audience.

 pp_natalie_haynesWomen, politics, religion and philosophy were chosen from the eight or nine offered up, but even more impressively, Haynes went one step further by deciding to ‘mix it up’. She talked about ‘Women and Politics’, and ‘Religion and Philosophy’ as two distinct categories.  And she so knows her stuff.  From Medea and Eastenders to Lysistrata in Kenya, Haynes seamlessly articulated ways in which the classical world is still highly relevant to today’s society. Surely this woman drinks coffee; her mind and mouth were moving at a furious pace. Or maybe Haynes is just blessed with the so-called gift of the gab. Either way, her energy is infectious.

cv_the_amber_FuryHaynes finished her show by reading the first few pages from her recent novel The Amber Fury.  It would have been great to have another hour with her addressing this text, as what she shared was both evocative and provocative.  Many in the audience rushed for the queue to buy the book, and the line was long for signings after the show. It’s great to see the festival branching out like this (with theatre, too, in Dalloway), although I guess they always have, with events such as the Story Train and Poetry in the Pub already established during the inaugural festival. Haynes’ show felt like a hidden gem amongst gems, and I feel lucky to have been part of an intimate audience who basked in the sunny company of a consummate professional.

Reviewed by Lara Liesbeth

Natalie Haynes will appear at the Auckland Writer’s Festival in three events.