These days, I spend most of my time getting back-chat from a pre-schooler, so I welcomed the idea of London statues having their say, in a brand new live art project known as Talking Statues. Masterminded by Sing London, an arts organisation making it their mission to lift public spirits, Talking Statues aims to combat the apathy felt every day, as we hurry past hundreds of statues, some very famous, on the streets of our capital.
By commissioning a host of celebrated writers, actors and comedians to create monologues for more than 20 statues in London (and Manchester), Sing London hope to set free some of the voices from our past. A chance for people to pause and contemplate their stories, even learn a thing or two.
The project really captured my imagination. It forced me to think about how much time I spend highlighting points of interest on the streets of London, yet I couldn’t remember the last time that I had singled out a statue.
Using the map available on the Talking Statues website, I devised a small walking tour for myself and the girls, a short 2-3 mile round-route from Cannon Street station, through the heart of the City. We aimed to seek out at least 4 of the statues, only one of which I knew anything about.
My story, of course, had to be far more convoluted than the mission intended by Sing London. I decided to tell the girls that the Mayor of London (yes, Boris) was so tired of everyone ignoring his beautiful statues, that he cast a spell on them, bringing them to life with voices to capture attention as people pass by. In fact, I was so sold on this story myself, that by the time we reached our first stop: Rowland Hill, on King Edward Street, I had actually forgotten the real mechanic involved in activating the voices. Suddenly the swiping or scanning of my mobile device (or typing in the URL) didn’t quite have the same appeal, but I went with it. The disconnect between this action and my story was soon rescued, however, by the excitement of the statue calling us back!
Sadly the excitement was short-lived. Either the noise levels were too high on this busy junction, or we were experiencing a technical glitch, but nothing. Poor old Rowland Hill, famous teacher, inventor and social reformer was still silent. We moved on.
Before long, we were in amongst some of the most fascinating streets of London, a lower rise London, where giant clocks clung to the side of ancient buildings and it felt as if the spire of St. Paul’s was there to greet us, whichever direction we turned. Even more exciting was the secret passageway and winding alley that we followed to reach the beautiful setting of Gough Square, home to our next stop: Hodge the Cat.
A talking cat? Yes! A talking cat. The excitement had reached fever pitch. Voiced by Nicholas Parsons, the tales of Samuel Johnson’s famous cat filled this atmospheric square and the girls listened intently to the monologue. When he stopped, we all felt that we shared something really magical. Exactly the sentiment that I’m sure this project was meant to achieve. We gave lovely Hodge a pat on the head, before reluctantly moving on to nearby Fetter Lane.
Next on the list and standing tall as we bounded up the road, was John Wilkes, advocate of free press, journalist and politician, very suitably voiced by Jeremy Paxman. It was a strong start, with the self-proclaimed “ugliest man in London” drawing a few giggles from us all. Sadly however, our comedic encounter was cut short by the nearby road works, snatching John’s voice away with the sudden drone of a steam-roller.
We decided to make our way back to Blackfriars, stopping of course to lend Queen Victoria an ear as the last in our whistle-stop tour. Prunella Scales had done a sterling job, bringing the complex personality of such a memorable monarch to life, but unfortunately for me, my tired companions were no longer amused. .
Talking Statues, in my view, is a truly wonderful initiative. In the right location with the right set of conditions, I believe it whole-heartedly achieves what it set out to do. We learned quite a bit today. We learned to listen, we learned to look up and we learned to appreciate the things that we walk past every day. Most of all, however, just as we did today, we learned that the sheer pace of our beloved (but noisy) London, is probably one of the biggest reasons that we don’t appreciate these cast-metal fellows more often.
Teaming up with Audible.co.uk, Sing London is also offering budding writers the chance to find voices for 4 more statues in London and Manchester. Full details are available on the Talking Statues website. Max 400 word monologues. Deadline 17th October 2014.