Saturday 8th October
Durham Town Hall
Review by Jenny Elizabeth Whitfield
For me, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was a turning point in my reading life. It introduced me to a whole array of books I previously had never heard of, while making me enthusiastic about studying Literature again. In Plath’s writing, I found the middle ground between literature that I enjoyed to read and books that I wanted to study. I haven’t looked back since.
So when I was eagerly going through my Durham Book Festival programme and I saw that a musician was performing an entire album she had written inspired by Plath’s aforementioned masterpiece, I highlighted it in pink and then yellow and then added a bunch of purple exclamation marks around the date. The event in question was Kathryn Williams’ highly anticipated performance of her 2015 album Hypoxia.
The set was introduced by Andy Miller, this year’s DBF Reader in Residence who told the audience about the origins of the album. For the 2013 Durham Book Festival, Kathryn was asked to produce a small set of songs inspired by Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar in celebration of the novel’s 50th birthday. Then, while away on tour, she fell in love with the project, produced an entire album, and now was back to perform it at its birthplace.
Kathryn Williams and her fellow band members, consisting of Michele Stodart, Jon Thorne and Andy Bruce, had a stage presence that made the show that much more enjoyable. They went through every song on the album, all inspired by aspects of the novel. From Electric, about Esther’s feelings toward the Rosenberg’s execution, to the beautiful track Beating Heart which reflects on Esther’s suicide attempts.
I have since listened to the recorded album on Spotify, and the emotive aspects are retained from the live performance we saw. That being said, there was something special about hearing it live in the Town Hall. Everything from the music itself, to the lighting and effects that changed to reflect the mood of each track, made the performance incredibly intimate.
The night finished with Kathryn thanking those who had taken part. She added “thank you to the Durham Book Festival, for getting me to read a book.” It was a magical end to a wonderful opening Saturday of the festival.