Review: Pete Strong: Greenfinch, The Glitch at VAULT Festival ★★★★★

This review was originally published by The Understudy.

by Jim Keaveney

Poet and theatre-maker Pete Strong’s Greenfinch is full of poetry brimming with refreshing honesty, performed disarmingly by Strong.

With direction by Laura Mugridge, Greenfinch sees Strong’s poetry interspersed with voiceovers of a physiologist giving us the scientific facts behind the intergenerational trauma that Strong links to his struggles with drugs and alcohol, and a news reporter providing snatches of updates on the plight of the greenfinch population, its steep decline followed by the first glimpses of its recent emerging recovery matching Strong’s own.

It is often light in its lyricism but at other times it is full of quiet devastation, as when he recalls the child in the playground who just wanted to take part, and now, perhaps as a consequence, leads a loyalist gang as his father had: “strange to think / that hate flows most freely / towards those who need a friend.” Intergenerational trauma, widening gyres.

The language is economic but vivid, saying only what needs to be said, no more – at times it recalls Patrick Kavanagh in its description of the land, and there are echoes of Michael Longley in its nature. Where Longley might look to the wildflowers of the Burren, thyme, valerian and loosstrife, Strong looks to the birds; “In my next life, I want to be a greenfinch / Not a bullfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch.”

He builds his greenfinch wings, literally, with the elements of the land of his poetry; with twigs and leaves, and in one moment of frustration he destroys a piece before rebuilding again. His poetry cuts deep into the granite of the earth and into the depths of what makes him the person he is; examining the moments that have shaped him. 

As Strong re-emerges as the titular greenfinch, reconciled and happy with the life he has, it is hard not to feel your own re-emergence. 

Following VAULT Festival, Pete Strong: Greenfinch will be at Bom-Bane’s Music Cafe in Brighton, 24th and 25th May.