Review: Ryan Van Winkle’s Red Like Our Room Used To Feel @ Melbourne Fringe

If I told you I visited a room where I was asked to sit/recline/curl up on a bed by a poet who offered me port/tea and read poems to me, you would think ‘What the…?’ Well, it’s not what you think! It is in fact Red Like Our Room Used To Feel, a one-man Fringe show by one Ryan Van Winkle. Upon entering the busy Melbourne Hub and hurrying downstairs to The Warren (I was two minutes late for my appointment – yes, you must make an appointment!), I was greeted by a nice sort of chap who gave me the following instructions: there will be four envelopes on a bed. Pick one – don’t look inside it – then give it to me.

I entered a red room. The walls were strewn with lights and pictures and the bedside with various objects. I was filled with the impression of memories revisited yet the people abandoned; the remnants of a life or a space once inhabited and now left untouched.

I picked my envelope and gave it to Ryan who then made me a tea, offered biscuits and once he was certain I was comfortable, sat at the edge of the bed and began reading poems from typed out sheets in his hands.

Having heard poets read for a few years now, I still see it as a vulnerable act to pull out a poem and read to strangers. Reading to one person often feels more confronting than reading to a full room. When one considers this, I imagine Red Like Our Room Used to Feel is intended as a confronting experience not only for the listener but for the poet himself. Ryan, throughout, delivers his poems in an assured calm voice, hence allowing his images and lines to absorb to the maximum. The lingering music of Ragland creates a meditative atmosphere.

I will not give details about the objects in the room or the poems themselves, as you really must go for yourself to experience them firsthand. What I will say is that the poems coupled with the surrounding knick-knacks and photographs give a feeling of something lost. I left with the notion of the coming and going of people, of the fragility of relationships and the beauty of these transient things.

Unfortunately, Melbourne Fringe positioned the red room in a loud bustling part of the Arts House, only separating it from the foyer with a curtain. This interfered slightly with the intended intimacy and quiet ambience. One must listen intently. It was nevertheless a beautiful special experience, which would have gained in intensity in a quieter environment.

Red Like Our Room Used To Feel is the perfect between-show interlude for anyone passing through the Fringe Hub, though it is well worth a special trip to experience Ryan Van Winkle, an American Edinburgh-based poet and winner of the 2009 Crashaw Prize. You must not miss it.

Red Like Our Room Used To Feel is currently showing every night at The Warren, Melbourne Hub at Arts House, 521 Queensbury Street, North Melbourne as part of Melbourne Fringe until October 5, and its free! For reservations email Ryan at [email protected] (subject line ‘Booking for Red Room’)

Amanda Anastasi