On entering a library you expect to see books – but do you expect them to be alive? Living, breathing books, side-by-side with the paper variety, waiting to be read?
Just such flesh-and-blood literary works will be found at the Birmingham Central Library next month in the UK premiere of Time Has Fallen Asleep in the Afternoon Sunshine – an innovative performance work conceived and directed by former ballerina Mette Edvardsen. And the "Living Books" themselves are in fact a group of seven performers (five of whom are non-professionals recruited from the local community), each of whom have committed a book to memory. Edvardsen believes that the identification forged between performer and book during the process of memorisation is so fundamental that that the performer "becomes" the book. "Local Living Book" Philip Holyman agrees. He is currently 50 minutes into learning J G Ballard's Crash and says that the book "needs to be something which is with you all the time".
Visitors to the library who choose a Living Book will – in the parlance of the performance work – "read" a one-on-one half-hour recitation. The concept has been inspired by Ray Bradbury's classic novel, Fahrenheit 451 (from which the enigmatic title of the project is a quotation), about a dystopian future world in which books are outlawed and memorised in an attempt to preserve them.
And how do you direct a book? As little as possible, according to Edvardsen, who wants to keep the experience as close as possible to that of reading by oneself.
'Time Has Fallen Asleep in the Afternoon Sunshine' at the Birmingham Central Library (0121 236 4455), 30 March to 7 April (www.birmingham-rep.co.uk)