23: Poetry Sound Sculpture

23 poster2

Twenty Three

 An Introduction 

Twenty Three is a poetry sound sculpture written and produced by the Staffordshire Poet Laureate 2012/13, Mal Dewhirst.

It reflects the lives of the people who were involved with the Court Room in Stafford at around 1850; these include the judges and clerks, prosecution and defense, the jury and most of all the defendants who found themselves as the pawns in this theatre of justice.

The piece starts at a sound carnival but all too quickly we hear the sound of running feet pursued by that of a police whistle, this transports us into the world of the courtroom…


23 recording 1

Why is Twenty Three significant?

The piece lasts for 23 minutes.

All the crimes happened on the 23rd one at 23:00hrs

Human Reproductive Cells have 23 Chromosomes

All other Human cells have 46 Chromosomes held in 23 pairs.

Human Bio-rhythmic cycles last 23 days.

Blood takes 23 seconds to travel around the human body.

The Human arm has 23 joints – nearly all crime requires the use of the arm to perform the act.

These are all human stories – hence there is heart beat that runs through the complete piece as the rhythm and beat, it is a constant steady beat and provides a link with normality, to remind us that whilst these events take place in the court room, elsewhere the daily toil of normal life carries on. It sits at the edge of the piece providing a pivot between honesty and crime, between life and death.

Life is also represented through the sound motif of the drunkard’s demons. The baby crying, the church bells, horses’ hooves on gravestones all representing the cycle of birth, marriage and death underpinned by the hum of the fly as a representative of a primeval beat.

23 recording 2


The Performers

The piece was recording the courtroom on 18th August 2013; the parts were played by members of Fired Up Theatre and include distinctly Staffordshire voices, many from Tamworth.


The Characters:


The Court:

The Judge – Simon Quinn

The Clerk – Neil Thorne / John Mills

The Clerks Wife – Emma Allen

Foreman of the Jury – John Mills


The Defendants:


Bread Thief – Emma Smith /Hayley Clark

Coal Thief – Ruth Huddleston

The Accused Murderer – Neil Thorne

Drunkard – Hayley Clarke / Emma Smith

Coin Clipper – John Mills

Additional Voice – Rachel Smith


Directed by – Mal Dewhirst and Simon Quinn.

Sound Recordist and Engineer – Jimi Dewhirst / Hydanoid Musia

Recording Engineer – Jimi Dewhirst

Sound Editing / Mastering – Mal Dewhirst / Jimi Dewhirst

Installation – Tim Butcher of TBAudio

Historical Consultant – Matthew Blake (Stafford Archives)


Mal Dewhirst

Mal was appointed as the First Staffordshire Poet Laureate in 2012. He is a writer and film maker who lives in Tamworth.

Mal wrote 23 as one of his commissions as the Laureate, his other major commissions included the poetry script for Colin Grazier Enigma, which was performed on the streets of Tamworth in October 2012 and more recently at Symphony Hall in Birmingham.

His plays have been performed across the Midlands, including The Fell Walker in Tamworth and At the Crossroads at the Garrick in Lichfield, which was commissioned by the Lichfield Mysteries.

Mal has been poet in residence in a town market and an archaeological dig, his work has been published in many magazines and journals and also appeared on BBC Radio and Radio Wildfire.

He is also responsible for the Polesworth Poets Trail. Mal is a regular reader on the Midlands poetry scene and was part of the Coventry Cork Literature exchange in 2011, performing readings in Cork City and Limerick. As a film director Mal’s film Double Booked was shown at the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival in Ireland in 2014.

He plans to continue to bring ground breaking writing to new audiences, always seeking to redefine boundaries, Mal also wants to develop and improvise new work as collaborations with other artists and performers in unexpected places as a melding of ideas, skills and talents.

You can go to Mal’s Blog here.

Twitter: @MalDewhirst


Fired Up Theatre

Fired Up Theatre is an innovative professional and community theatre company based in Staffordshire. It’s main remit is to integrate professional and non-professional actors in out of the box projects that are engaging, entertaining and educational. Past productions include, The Wall, The Colin Grazier Enigma, Quadrophenia, 23, The Fell Walker and At The Crossroads.

For further information visit their website, or e-mail: fireduptheatre@aol.com



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