Shareefa Energy giving a talk.
Performance poet, author and activist Shareefa Energy, will be at the Speak Out event.

The Network for Oratory and Politics’ Henriette van der Blom (University of Birmingham), Alan Finlayson (University of East Anglia) and international arts organisation Dash Arts will be hosting three live talks on the art of speechwriting this November as the final part of their ‘Speech! Speech!’ project.

The ‘Speak Out’ events at HOME in Manchester and The Tabernacle in London will be chaired by a high-profile panel of academics, politicians, activists and speechwriters, including Philip Collins, Jessica Cunniffe, Shareefa Energy and Edith Hall, who will discuss why speech-making is important, who is it for, why everyone’s voice is important and how to use it. Participants from a year-long programme of speechwriting workshops across the country will also present their speeches on the things they are most passionate about in modern-day England.

The ‘Speech! Speech! Dramatising Rhetorical Citizenship’ project began in 2019 when Henriette van der Blom, Reader in Ancient History at the University of Birmingham, and Alan Finlayson, Professor of Political and Social Theory at University of East Anglia, met Dash Arts Artistic Director Josephine Burton at the launch of the ‘Crisis of Rhetoric’ project. They shared an interest in exploring speechwriting’s capacity to be taught and to empower people to express their political views persuasively and passionately.

Together with producer Cristina Catalina, they created a series of workshops across England at various organisations, from homeless charities to women’s prisons. Over 100 participants learnt how to express their views on the issues and challenges facing the country, delivering speeches to each other.

Some of them will be sharing the stage at ‘Speak Out’ along with

  • Jessica Cunniffe, former journalist and speechwriter to former UK Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May
  • Philip Collins, journalist and former chief speechwriter to former UK Prime Minister Sir Tony Blair
  • Artist Rinkoo Barpaga winner of the Deaf Excellence Award and The Neurodiverse Review Awards whose works explores social and political injustices through perfomance, comedy, documentary and written storytelling
  • Clive Lewis Labour MP, Member of Parliament for Norwich South
  • Performance poet, author and activist Shareefa Energy whose work has been features on The One Show (BBC), Channel 4 and ITV
  • Durham University Academic Edith Hall who specialises in ancient Greece and Rome and their continuing impact in the modern world
  • University of East Anglia academic and writer for The Guardian and Open Democracy Alan Finlayson who specialises in politics and rhetoric
  • University of Birmingham academic Henriette van der Blom who specialises in Roman History, politics and rhetoric and the impact of ancient rhetoric on modern political speech
  • Dash Arts Artistic Director Josephine Burton

Speech! Speech! developed from a project I did with Alan Finlayson on the crisis in British political speech and how we might support political speechwriters and their principals to prepare and deliver better speeches.

Dr Henriette van der Blom, University of Birmingham

Alongside the live events, the speakers and workshop participants will be interviewed for the established Dash Arts podcast where broader topics around the impact of speech-making will be explored. After the Speak Out events, Josephine Burton and writer Jude Christian will begin work on Our Public House, a new play inspired by the speeches and writing from the Speech! Speech! project.

Henriette van der Blom, Principal Investigator on the Speech! Speech! Project said, “Speech! Speech! developed from a project I did with Alan Finlayson on the crisis in British political speech and how we might support political speechwriters and their principals to prepare and deliver better speeches. Josephine Burton and Cristina Catalina from Dash Arts came to the project launch even in the House of Lords, and we quickly found common ground in wanting to understand the overlaps between rhetorical theory and dramatic practice, and how we might be able to train a diverse range of community groups and their members in the ancient art of political speechwriting and delivery. That Dash Arts is also interested in taking the pulse of the nation, understanding what it means to be English, made the speechwriting workshops take on an additional purpose. We are all excited about the public events showcasing the project and the eventual Dash Arts theatre production Our Public House.”

Dr Henriette van der Blom is a Roman historian specialising in Roman political speech and rhetoric, and she is the founding director of the Network for Oratory and Politics which joins academics, political speech practitioners and communities in discussions of political speech through the ages. She has published books on Rome’s greatest orator, Cicero, and his contemporaries Julius Caesar, Pompey and Cato, and she enjoys teaching ancient and modern rhetoric to both her students at the University of Birmingham and to workshop participants.

Professor Alan Finlayson is the leading expert on modern British political speech, and he often comments on political communication and its underlying thinking in newspapers, radio and television. He is the author of academic and public-facing publications on topics ranging from the alt-right on YouTube to ‘story-telling’ politicians.

Dash Arts was founded in 2005 by then co-directors, Josephine Burton and Tim Supple. Over the last 18 years, the company has created award-winning new work with over 10,000 artists and participants for live audiences of over 400,000 worldwide. Previous productions include the site-specific promenade The Great Middlemarch Mystery, part of Coventry City of Culture 2021, the double Olivier-award winning Babel and the Indian A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which played sell-out seasons with the RSC in Stratford and at London’s Roundhouse before touring world-wide. Their productions have had widely-acclaimed major tours in the UK, Europe, Australia and North America and numerous awards and nominations including Olivier, Evening Standard, TMA, Herald Angel and Dora Awards. Dash Arts also has a successful podcast series with new episodes including participants from the workshops and broader discussion on speech-making that compliments the live events.

Event information

Home, Manchester

Speakers include classicist and cultural historian Edith Hall and Jessica Cunniffe, former speechwriter to David Cameron on the 21st, and artist Rinkoo Barpaga on the 22nd. The event on 22 Nov will be BSL interpreted.

HOME Theatre Manchester, 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester, M15 4FN

21 & 22 November, 7.30pm

£10-5 | | 0161 200 1500

The Tabernacle, London

A conversation with Philip Collins, former chief speechwriter to Tony Blair, Shareefa Energy, poet and activist, and Clive Lewis Labour MP, Member of Parliament for Norwich South.

The Tabernacle, 34-45 Powis Square, London, W11 2AY

23 November, 7.30pm

£10-5 | | 020 7221 9700