Emma’s first performance piece was a 15-minute routine called ‘Strip Poetry’, which she used to establish herself on the performance poetry scene.
“To say that Emma needs to be seen to be believed is a massive understatement – it’s difficult at times to believe what you’re seeing when you are there. The first set started with her dressed in multilayered and disparate items of clothing, which were removed one by one with each poem, so a sort of literary striptease if you will, without the nudity. The poems quick-witted, sharp, bouncy, poignant and funny.”
Jim Harward – Review of Word Up, Cardigan.
Her second performance piece was an hour-long one-woman performance which was called ‘The Professor Vyle Show’. Emma took the traditional characters from Punch and Judy and transposed them into the Jeremy Kyle world of daytime TV. The show had puppets, multiple characters, quick changes and a full-sized Punch and Judy booth. Emma performed it regularly over a two-year period. Venues included schools, festivals and studio theatres.
“Emma Purshouse has got talent and a rare sympathy for those on the edge.”
Simon Fletcher (former Literature Development Officer, Wolverhampton Libraries and manager at Offa’s Press).
“It’s very theatrical, and vivid – inflatable doll, transforming booth, props (so that’s what a slapstick is!), all very confidently handled. The move from Judy puppet to Judy real is stunning, and there’s a whole lot of lovely drama moments – gradually recreating Punch by arranging his clothes on the chair. Great range of characters, from a writing and performing point of view; Emma does them all really well, and watching her move between them is one of the joys of the show. Ditto the intricate plot she weaves out of what is essentially a basic story.
Great jokes, and great range of jokes. From “blown up out of all proportion” to “For fidelity, buy fresh flowers and an elephant” is the whole spectrum, and she zaps across it with gusto. We laughed, again and again.”
Paul Francis, poet.
‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ was Emma’s third show, a poetry piece written for a cast of four, which included a poetry film collaboration with David Rann. This show was performed at Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton.
In 2011, Emma devised a fourth show, in order to support Monkey Poet. This also took place at Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton. ‘Who Does She Think She Is?’, was based upon an imagined poetic family tree of oddball characters.
Also in 2011 Emma collaborated with musician and poet Heather Wastie to produce a site-specific theatre piece called ‘Snug’. The piece was set in the future in a time when pubs no longer exist, the audience were taken on a journey around a ‘local boozer’ to see representations of what life would have been like in 2011 and the sort of characters one might find in a public house of that time. The piece featured work by Emma, Heather, Brendan Hawthorne and Dave Francis. The performance took place in a pub with the poets serving beer, cleaning the toilets, and playing both darts and pool as they performed.
“Snug – Hollybush Public House, Cradley Heath. This was a site-specific live performance which combined theatre with poetry for a production which used the Hollybush pub in its entirety as its stage for the first of two sold out nights. The brainchild of Emma Purshouse and Heather Wastie, ‘Snug’ is a celebration of the pub – in a pub!
Bold, inventive and fresh this production has enormous potential to evolve and grow. It was warmly received by an audience who revelled in being part of the show, and where having a pint was entering into the spirit of the evening. The divide between narration, live action, poetry, prose and dialogue is marvellously blurred, resulting in a fusion of styles which constantly holds everyone’s attention as the performance dynamic shifts, twists and turns. A little gem of a show.”
Gary Longden – for Behind the Arras.
In 2014, Emma created a series of new Black Country-themed work for a December performance at the Arena Theatre, in conjunction with the Black Country Echoes Festival. Emma performed alongside Dave Reeves, Billy Spakemon and Liz Berry. The work Emma produced for this event went on to form the core of her contribution to ‘The Nailmakers’ Daughters’ published by Offa’s Press.
“Meanwhile, Emma Purshouse provides a brain-stimulating and spine-tingling performance, a very “active” poet, she captures imagination by describing her poems with accompanying hand gestures and movements. She describes herself as a “descendant of a nail-maker” and she irrepressibly has Black Country humour.”
Isis Sky for Arts Award Voice Magazine – review of a Nailmakers’ Daughters reading, Wellington Literature Festival.
The collaborative piece ‘E-X-P-A-N-D-I-N-G the universe’ was the brainchild of Nadia Kingsley. Emma was invited to contribute new work for this performance which took place in a mobile planetarium where the audience lay on their backs looking at images from space, wearing silent disco headphones so that they could be immersed in the mini-lectures from Professor Trevor Ponman, the music of Giancarlo Facchinetti and the poetry of Emma and Nadia Kingsley. The performance was booked by a variety of literature and science festivals.
“Very enjoyable, interesting, educational, mind-expanding! Really well put together – loved the new perspective and lying down and listening. Great mixture of funny and thoughtful poetry. Music was hypnotic and filled the space. Helped me understand the birth and development of the Universe, galaxies etc.”
The performance ran three times over the course of a single day during the festival and each slot completely sold out (each with a 10-person waiting list!) well in advance of the festival, much to our delight. The performance attracted a diverse audience of staff, students and members of the public, from across colleges and staff groups. Audiences responded positively to the performance in post-event evaluation, with over 90% of audience members rating the quality of speakers as either very good or excellent. Audience comments were testament to the uniqueness of the event: “The combination of visual, music and spoken word was spot on. There was humour in some of the poetry which stood out for me. A different approach enabling a better understanding of the universe.” “Just the right length, unusual presentation, great live performers” “Really enjoyable, unique experience. Not like anything I’ve seen before!” “Thought-provoking and a different media of presenting scientific information.” “It was really different and something I probably won’t get the chance to do again. The combination of visual effects and the music and poetry were really captivating”
Laura Coult, programme director of 2015 Birmingham Art & Science Festival
Ten Letters was a 2015/16 project towards which Emma contributed a new performance piece, in the shape of a letter to Birmingham from its neighbour, the Black Country. This cross-generational piece of theatre was conceived by Giovanni ‘Spoz’ Esposito and Lorna Meehan. It was performed at MAC in Birmingham, under the direction of Hannah Silva.
“Ten Letters describes itself as “a new piece of intergenerational poetry theatre about Birmingham”. It’s an enthralling and engaging mix of poetry, social record, commentary, and dance, a series of reflections on Brum which features some of the best young poets from the West Midlands as well as some more established names, and is – by turns – affectionate, comical, angry, proud, wry, and furious.
The show isn’t some misty-eyed, rose-tinted take on the Second City. Yes, there’s a sense of wonder at the good things about Brum, pride in its diversity, and more than one reminder that it is capable of more than simply apeing London. But we also hear about quirky corner shops squeezed out by high-street chains, about the challenges of life here as a new arrival, and about neighbourhoods that don’t share in the good times, where gang violence takes lives.
Is this show touring elsewhere? I don’t know. Should it? Undoubtedly. If the audience on this night at MAC in Birmingham are a reliable benchmark – and I see every reason to believe they are – then people around the country deserve to hear this group of talented poets from the West Midlands talk with eloquence and passion about the city which is their home. This is honest, critical, clear-eyed poetry which sets itself lofty aims and hits the target with ease.”
Steve Pottinger – Write out Loud