Now who doesn’t love a deep chat about a ruddy good book? Have you got a book swap on the go with your friends or are you organised enough to have your own literary club set up? Literary salons may seem like a thing of the past but, in reality, they’ve just lost their formality and we carry on with the ideas and structures to this day.

Natalie Barney’s Last Salon tells the tale of the poetic and sapphic icon, Natalie Barney. The Parisian-based American revolutionised the early 1900’s with her literary salon, establishing a time and place to unapologetically celebrate female writers and give them a place in society. The best thing about it? Men couldn’t complain that they were being left out, because they were invited too!

Originally performed as a solo piece at Shakespeare’s Globe, Kelly Burke returns with Natalie Barney’s Last Salon as a newly adapted online play for three characters at Reading Fringe Digital.

Mirren Wilson – A sketch inspired by the piece

Part audiobook, part drama and part inspirational guide, Burke’s script is beautifully quotable and romantic. Austen-esque and heightened in delivery, this piece is a delight as a listener, as you’re drawn into a lavish and extravagant world from the get-go and transported to another time. Described as a glittering character, full of personality, desire and passion, Natalie Barney is easy to awe at and fall instantly in love with. She speaks directly to you, calculating intrigue as she states “Nothing about me must surprise you,” treating you like a past lover or friend.

As well as being full of revolutionary and poetic ideas, Natalie Barney attracted a lot of attention with her frequent female love affairs. Dolly Wilde, niece of Oscar Wilde, played by Augustina Seymour and Romaine Brooks, voiced by Lucy Newman-Williams, live alongside Barney as her personal devil and angel, respectively. The three often bicker, with explorative vocal qualities and chat as though we’re all at our very own salon, creating an intimately comical feel.

Although self-aware, empowering and life-affirming, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on within the overload of information. Within the audio piece, plots, time periods, relationships and scenes get lost. Although we get a sense of who the character of Natalie Barney is, it’s difficult to understand the chronology of the action.

This piece functions as a springboard for future research into this female icon, and it’s a thrill to be entirely immersed in and aware of this feminist adventure into passion and art. Natalie Barney worships love as a God, encouraging anyone to learn from everyone, and to surround yourself with excitingly rare people. I think we could all be a little more Barney.

Natalie Barney’s Last Salon is streaming on Youtube until August 31st. For more information, see the Reading Fringe Digital website.

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