Sunday, November 23, 2014

Back in Frome, sweet landing...

Say what you like about grey clouds and drizzle ~ as I do ~ but Frome is spectacularly good at making the most of the stub of the year.  Even before the festive season is launched with our annual
Extravaganza, Silk Mill has a Flea Circus offering an amazing array of creations ranging from previously loved to uniquely inspired. Stalls of exquisitely crafted jewellery and lip-smacking comestibles cluster with vintage coats & curios and the brilliant graphic imagery of BoswellArt.
And as compensation for those evening strolls in Spanish plazas there's a murder-mystery at the Merlin. For a good old-fashioned who-dunnit it has to be Agatha Christie, the best-selling crime writer of all time.  Frome Drama Club chose Witness for the Prosecution for a 22-strong cast production and followed the vibe of the 1950s era to the buttonhole in this 3-Act investigation of a brutal murder and the trial of its principal suspect. FDC has a massive amount of talent among the company and the principle roles were particularly impressive, as Laurie Parnell & Alan Burgess struggle to save Aynsley Minty from the cunning of his cold-hearted wife, the ever-excellent Keely Beresford. Clever set designs enhance the performance, especially when Chambers morphs into Courtroom in the gloom of an Act 3 intermission. There's a double twist in the final scene which I didn't see coming although, having just read Jon Ronson's book The Psychopath Test, I probably should have...
Also scoring on the Bob Hare check-list for psychopathic behaviour would be Finn, highly trained in surveillance skills which he's using obsessively on his family. Philip Perry is utterly mesmerising in solo, a new play by Samuel E Taylor for the Theatre West autumn season, and Bristol Old Vic Basement provides a non-comfortable proximity that works really well for this powerful monologue of pent-up emotions.  A totally gripping study in the dangers of invasive intimate knowledge, with two moments of reveal so startling I literally gasped aloud. Director Sita Calvert-Ennals and the performer are both also credited with co-devising, what a fantastic project that must have been for the writer.

Also interesting from a writerly perspective,  at Black Swan gallery Jim Whitty was talking about the process involved in his current exhibition Flux which explores the question 'when is a painting finished?' (Renoir, apparently, settled this as 'when my wife calls me for dinner.') Jim's two big canvases depict the old quarry in Vallis Vale, by night with fire and by day with detritus, and each one represents weeks of 'lost' paintings ~ previous versions, altered by persistence.  "I love complexity and texture" he says. Here's the daytime quarry, which is famous in geological circles as the 'De La Beche' unconformity, for its visibly different stone stratas.  Jim's fascinated too by 'particles moving in space ~ stars, swarms, snow.'

Then on Sunday the Chocolate Festival at Cheese&Grain celebrated everything lip-smacking from choccy tattoos for children to a Cocktail Bar ("ladylike but brutal"), with luscious-looking cakes, truffles and bars as well as chox camera-shaped and hurdy-gurdy-coloured. I reckon I nibbled nearly my body-weight in samples at this convivial event, and am now fully arrived back in Frome.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Flâneuring in Fuengirola

Spain in November was an impulse choice: a last burst of warmth before winter grips England, and a generously-offered apartment in this coastal town wedged between Malaga & Marbella. I expected the downside would be a touristic culture but we found Fuengirola totally delightful, and most people we met were locals who communicated exclusively in the language of their land.  And the weather obliged, always warm and mostly sumptuous blue-skies and dazzling sunshine.  Days began with cafe con leche, usually in the cafe by the children's park where green parrots squabble in the palms.
And then exploring, finding splendid squares with fountains and statues, ochre & golden buildings, tile-paved alleys lined with orange trees, or paddling sandy beaches beyond the long promenade... and fabulous drives up into the hills, destination almost irrelevant as every route revealed valleys rich in their moorish heritage of irrigated olive groves, and the amazing rocks of the 'natural parks' of the Montes de Malaga.
Ronda, renowned for its history and views, is intriguing but the most commercialised place I've ever visited with the possible exception of Californian gold-rush Truckee, but we loved the icing-white buildings and narrow streets of ancient Istan. Bohemian little Ojen was a great find too, and Caminito del Rey, walkway of the kings, across a narrow gorge high in the hills by El Chorro. We discovered some fascinating places by using an out-of-date SatNav as our map and navigating randomly, based loosely on the time-for-a-caña-and-tapas?-that-bar-looks-nice.... principle.
Another unexpected delight was Fuengirola BioPark, literally on our doorstep, which boasts so many species I scathingly anticipated plastic replicas or else uncomfortable confinement but actually all the (very real) animals seem content in their spacious authentic habitats: my favourites were the stunningly beautiful big cats, the exuberant chimps, the beautiful binturong (surprisingly lively for nocturnal creatures) and the antique-looking Nile crocs and Asian alligators... but every creature was worth lingering to observe as they flew, crawled, climbed, swam, rested or ~ like the baby talapoins ~ scrambled and swung around on an assault-course style playground.
I can't say much about the restaurants as neither David nor I are foodies so meals weren't a priority with so much to see & do, but we enjoyed the workers' lunch-time deal in El Ancla, a little bar near la Plaza de los Chinorros ~ a popular evening venue perfect for people-watching ~ and some sensational tapas at Bar la Placa called como me pica la chistorra which apparently translates as 'mince my sausage'...  Tapas usually arrived with the caña, which varied in size around roughly half-a-pint, and wine is poured unmeasured and with charming abandon. Best of all, you never need to eat indoors, with open-air cafes where you can get breakfast for 2.50€ and every bar has tables in the street.
Back home now, and it seems strange so short a journey divides grey England from this vibrant sunshine city with palm shadows patterning the pavements of  pedestrian-friendly, cleaned-daily, streets, public gardens and parks offering free exercise equipment and wifi, and every corner a photo opportunity... Frome is twinned with Eden of course, but right now I'm missing Fuengirola.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Pictures are poems without words ~ Horace

Another arty posting to end the week, with an enjoyable meet-the-artists soiree at Cheese and Grain hosted by Amy Yates & Rosie Hart ~ here's Rosie with her painting of The Cure's Robert Smith. Rosie's big portraits are essentially monochrome so with Amy's smaller & colourful landscapes this exhibition, which runs throughout the month, offers interesting contrasts.
And a bubbly opening night on Friday at Rook Lane, A Year with the Frome Sketchers is the delightful outcome of a one-day 'sketch crawl' to promote appreciation of urban architecture all around us. Fifty fabulously varied responses from David Chandler's art group combine to an intriguing and quirky collection of glimpses of Frome. On view till 15th November, recommended.

I'm off now for a blast of winter warmth in southern Spain, sorry to miss the 'inspirational spoken word and music' at the Sunday Sessions in Frome, but not sad to avoid the contentious celebration that November 11th has become this year.  War poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote in 1917: 'I believe that this War, on which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest.  I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.  I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.'  My white poppy is now by his headstone in Mells graveyard in respect for suffering troops and victims everywhere, and for all who act in wilful defiance of military authority.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Clocks go back & autumn hots up

The Falcon's Malteser, a lively touring show from New Old Friends arrived at the Merlin this week to entertain a delighted half-term audience. Based on the spoof novel by Anthony Horowitz, this glorious pastiche features ~ as well as a box of popular confectionary ~ every thrilling cliché of private eye fiction from disguised assassin to car chase, all delivered fast and furiously funny. Four actors take on all the roles: Tom Medcalf as Nick Diamond delivers the backstory as a 13 year-old while Feargus Woods Dunlop plays dashing-but-dim Tim Diamond with a private-eye hat and lines like why is it called a FUNeral when it's no fun, it should be a SADeral, and multi-talented Heather Westwell and Dan Winter create the seedy and sinister society that sucks the brothers in. Both charismatic performers, they sustain the dynamic of every preposterous scenario in a range of roles from dieting gangster to nightclub siren (her)and dyspeptic cop to getaway car(him).The set is perfect for farce ~ revolving doors for mayhem and enough props to create setting without any clutter. A glorious pastiche.

Farce too at Frome's Cornerhouse, venue of choice now for pub theatre, with Tic Tac Toe's Play in a Day, devised and improvised during Saturday for evening performance. Using random suggestions on facebook is brave ~ These are the lies I told you is a great title and 'class reunion' a promising theme, but 'killing by biscuit' sounds a tricky denouement. Enthusiasm and a great team (Calum Grant and Luke Stuart with Ross Scott & Fleur Hanby Holmes, my Muffin Man duo) pulled off 40 minutes of absurdity as sleuth Frank E Stein sets out to find out who murdered the world's worst magician. A tale of love, loss, frogs, and a poisoned custard cream.

More free theatre too from at the monthly Independent Market from The Little Victory Ball telling the story of the first world war from the womens' perspective. The quartet of performers blend facts, anecdotes, statistics, and song into a family show that mesmerises all ages, even on a chill morning in a noisy market yard. Immaculately researched and very moving.  Frome's monthly Sunday market is street theatre in itself: with a buskers, costumed strollers and musicians all interspersed between fields of stalls offering everything from boots and bricabrack to falafals and fine art.

Elsewhere in Frome, too, it's been a musical week. Popular Frukes played at the Festival party at Three Swans ~ (do all ukulele bands play Teenage Kicks or is that a local thing? they inspired me to borrow a uke to learn Smells Like Teen Spirit anyway) ~ and the Wednesday session at the Grain Bar featured Pat Orchard showing how he uses echo to enhance his superb guitar work. Simon Sax introduced a talent-filled Jazz Jam at the Cornerhouse on Sunday, including guest baritone saxophonist George Haslam and Norman Leater on trumpet.

Artsy round-up for this week wouldn't be complete without the visual highlights: painter Russ Ellingham's glamorous launch Art after Dark showed his new works in an exciting noir setting, and a new exhibition from Jim Whitty at Black Swan Gallery: Flux tracks the process of painting and questions when in a work can be called finished, since the narrow margin between incomplete and overpainted is elusive, which sparked an interesting session for the Words at The Black Swan poetry group on Sunday afternoon. Jim's paintings are largely based on his walks along Vallis Vale, the riverside path that links Frome to Mells, and his explorations have led to 'lost' paintings where the essence originally captured is increasingly overlaid with later observations. A bit like all of our memories, really.

Halloween is always a big night for ghouls and glamour so I'll end this post with the marvellous Frome Street Bandits heading in to the Cheese & Grain party, led by the Lady Mayoress and watched by the Mayor...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Forgetting & Remembering: 'My Father' at the Ustinov, Ken Loach at the Westway

Banksy said art should 'comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable' and Picasso wanted his paintings to 'bristle with razorblades' so maybe it's a credit to The Fatherconsidering how closely my own father resembled Kenneth Cranham, that I found it hard to enjoy Florian Zeller's Molière-award-winning play now in a new translation at Bath's UstinovLyn Gardner gave the production 5 stars: for me, there was no insightful imagination in this account of an old man with Alzheimer's. The basic premise of unreliable memories and perceptions is easily grasped but, while distressing for his Cordelia-loyal daughter, the misconceptions of André's confusion make for reiterative and sombre viewing.  A concertinaed timescale allows Lia Williams as his daughter little character development, though  Colin Tierney gives a fine performance as her exasperated husband. (image Simon Annand) Full marks too for the surreally diminishing set  ~ Miriam Buether ~ and lighting design by Guy Hoare.  I see from the programme that Christopher Hampton, translator, finds this work "very cleansing before you turn your attention to something else. It has a refreshing effect on other work." I hope viewing will prove similarly inspiring. Anyway, don't let me put you off: a visit to the Ustinov is always a valuable experience.

Frome's Westway Cinema, independent in style as well as status, was totally sold-out on Friday for the showing of Ken Loach's documentary Spirit of '45 followed by talk and Q&A with the director himself. The film is not polemical or sentimental, though it's hard not to rage and weep: Ken simply uses pre-and post-war footage from national and regional archives interspersed with interviews with octogenarians who remember the conditions of life for the working class and the joy when a Labour government began to construct a socialist society to care for them 'from the cradle to the grave.'
We had won the war together; together we could win the peace. The central idea was common ownership, where production and services were to benefit all. The few should not get rich to the detriment of everyone else. It was a noble idea, popular and acclaimed by the majority. It was the Spirit of 1945. Maybe it is time to remember it today.
An unforgettable event and a credit to the spirit of Frome 2014 that there's so much interest in those times and desire to fix what's gone wrong since. Several of the questioners had specific hopes and solutions but there's an inherent problem in the vision of those halcyon days: The 'five giant evils' standing in the way of social progress were identified as want, ignorance, squalor, disease, and idleness. They should have added, banks. As Ken Loach said, in answer to a questioner, "Voting on its own is not enough. You are right. The banks are the central factor. To take effective political control we have to take control of the banks."  Frome already has its own 'flat-pack' democracy, how great if we could step up the localism even more radically.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pinteresque (adj): characterised by silences and use of inaction

The script for The Dumb Waiter gives detailed instructions for minutiae of performance but leaves interpretation of the final moment open. Cross Cut Theatre chose the valid route that Ben didn't know he'd kill his partner  ~ sorry if this comes as a spoiler but I'm guessing if you didn't know the ending to Harold Pinter's 1960 script by now then you probably don't really care ~ and  Jonny Collis as Ben is superb, bringing controlled tension and convincing ownership of the character and evoking the hidden desperation of these dissatisfied, brutal, lives. This production puts a big emphasis on "finding the funny bone" of Pinter in a 'menacing, hilarious' play but for me the inherent humour is absurd and macabre: Gus's OCD quirks are fine but seeking out moments for hilarity slightly undermines the menace. Nevertheless a compelling production of a thought-provoking play which has been called "Pinter distilled - the very essence of a writer who tapped into our desire to seek out meaning, confront injustice, and assert our individuality." Good to see Merlin Theatre so well attended too.

This being Frome, drama wasn't the only option on Wednesday evening, and even after Q&A with the actors there was time to call in at Cheese&Grain for a blast of the weekly Roots Session: Phil Cooper (his ironic WWI song Home by Christmas here) and Blue Midnight, who describe themselves as 'loosely a spacey folk dub brass fiesta band but in fact unclassifiable" ~ they could have added wickedly danceable. And at Old Bath Arms there's lyrical late night jazz in the Retro bar from Keith Harrison-Broninski with alto-saxist Kevin Figes at Frome Jazz Club  ~ honestly, talk about a plethora of talent!  Why would anyone ever leave this town for a moment?
But I do of course, especially these sunny autumn days. This week's trip was to Lacock, to learn stuff I never knew about Fox Talbot and his family (did you know his youngest daughter took herself off to France to nurse lame soldiers & came back to co-found the Wrens?) and to see for myself, through the same lattice window, the first view ever photographed. I'll leave you with an existentialist question posed to me that day which I thought at first unanswerable, then realised with a bit of mind-awareness we can all find at least one reply every day: What was the last time you did something for the first time?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Kate's progress... and a bit about Elizabethan days, and recycling.

Toppings Booksellers is renowned for author events, usually held in their friendly bookshop at the top of Broad Street in Bath. But so many people booked to hear Kate Tempest read from her newly published poetry collection Hold Your Own on Wednesday, the event was transferred to Christ Church, where every pew was crammed. ‘You’re packed in like sardines!’ said the cheerful vicar. Kate, unchanged by fame (she sensationally scooped the 2013 Ted Hughes poetry award and is tipped to take the Mercury prize this year) is slightly worried about performing in a consecrated space. 'In my poems there’s a lot of language’ she confides.  ‘No problem’ yells the cheerful vicar from the back. Kate opens with her longest piece, the story of Tiresias. Her version is a mix of savagely authentic Greek myth and contemporary street wisdom, with resonance for everyone who's ever had to realise that all you've known / is now / no longer enough. That notion of stoic survival continues through poems of childhood, womanhood, manhood, and blind profit.  Right at the end, Kate goes off-script. “These are dark times" she says, "You can feel so powerless. The only thing that has any worth is how you treat other people." And for her last performance Kate mounts the pulpit to deliver a passionate rap against media-led society (take a look at Progress in your copy of Kate's must-buy book) and when she ends she seems slightly shocked that all of the four hundred people in front of her have risen to their feet to applaud.

Leaping back in time to 1558: the hopes of England are pinned on a young queen and Living Spit have run out of historical characters who look like Howard Coggins and raised their theatrical bar: characters who in no way look like either him or his partner-in-parody the marvellous Stu Mcloughlin who, let's face it, doesn't look like anyone. After their brilliant Henry VIII and Winston Churchill interpretations, the dynamic duo are back with a reconstruction of the Elizabethan era that delivers the usual mix of hilarious absurdity and surprising poignancy. Elizabeth I virgin on the ridiculous played to sell-out audiences in Bristol and came to Bath's nice little Rondo theatre this Friday. With a mix of history lesson ("dear diary, thanks for being such an excellent tool for barefaced exposition" drools Lizzie into her Barbie notebook), vulgar & anachronistic comedy, morose metatheatrical banter and brilliant guitar-accompanied songs, Stu and Howard create the intrigues and thrills of those extraordinary times when a virgin queen survived every external control to assert her right to reign. And when you're done laughing, that sad existential question still lingers: How can I be Queen of England and not actually get anything I want?

Back in Frome I've been learning about plastic ~ specifically, that our town is the home of Protomax, world leaders in recycling waste into plastic panels that can be made into whatever you want from stylish tables to commercial hoardings. If you're thinking you don't need any hoardings and you prefer wood for furniture thankyou, you might like to ponder on the fact that the 25 million boards currently used each year are currently chipboard and therefore, like all exterior wood, treated with toxic preservatives which mean they can't be recycled and have to go to landfill. A fascinating talk from managing director Mark Lloyd at the Old School House on the uses and potential of this machinery, including emergency housing in disaster areas. Every town should have one of these factories!
And congratulations to Frome film makers Bargus, winners of Salisbury's '48 hour challenge' Shoot Out  with The Tenth Muse, a psychological thriller written by Nikki Lloyd which will be shown at the Westway at November's Independent Film-makers night. Looks spooky, sounds scary and sensational!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"The future is there, looking back on us."

Frome Poetry Cafe on Monday: a dreich night illuminated by two fabulous guest poets and some delightful readings from the floor.
Stephen Boyce and Rosie Jackson both shared some newer poems as well as reading from their published work. Rosie's newly published collection what the ground holds is full of intimate observational moments ~ the indigo scar of coal dust lovingly caressed, the long one-breath kiss of airport reunion ~and paired beautifully with Stephen's anthologies: Desire Lines and The Sisyphus Dog, which also craft small personal moments, small and vivid as the dab of red his father pointed out to him in Constable's Haywain, to take us directly into the awesome landscape of private life. Appreciation to our open-mic readers, too, for a delightfully varied contributions, including Norman Andrews' moving memory of a childhood harvest in the blitz when a burning spitfire spiralled into the field and he saw that the pilot whose uniform still smouldered on the stubble/ wore a woollen jumper sent to him/ by one of the million women who knitted/ so that our boys would always die warmly. 

Bulgaria. It's that place that 'sounds like it's part of Russia, but it's bloody Paradise ~ the sun, the beach, and if you're not bollocksed by lunchtime you're not on proper holiday.' Or maybe it's the place where everyone is lazy and officials aren't supposed to make decisions, they're supposed to take bribes. Tom Philip's absorbing panoramic play Coastal Defences acknowledges both clichés, the Brit tourist and the jaundiced Bulgarian, and explores an aspect most of us know less about ~ the months of peaceful protests in 2013 and 2014 against a coalition government which allows poverty and corruption to keep everyone in 'a space that floats between East and West.' Tom is clearly fascinated by this land and its people, but there's enough distance from the issues to maintain the drama of the central stories of longing, hopes and fears, of the diverse characters we meet, all vividly evoked by Jill Rutland, Nic McQuillan, and Chris Bianchi. A superbly sparse set by Rosanna Vize sets the scene with roses and a dominant emblem of corporate power.  There's plenty of humour, but with a situation this close to reality inevitably pain and loss too, although ~ the writer suggests ~ maybe more understanding can bring respect for the natural beauty of the Black Sea coast and appreciation of the ancient culture of Sofia. On at the Brewery in Bristol till Saturday 18th as part of the autumn season of new writing from Theatre West, worth seeing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Meeting of Minds and other ephemera

Black Swan Arts is currently hosting an Frome Art Society's annual exhibiton, aptly titled Diversity in acknowledgement of the range of talent, subject, and media ' from delicate watercolours to bold acrylic, detailed pencil drawings to impressionistic oils'. You can vote for your favourite, which gives my inner child great glee, and I chose Meeting of Minds by Jules Horn whose website describes her process: Albert Einstein said that there are two ways to live your life – as if nothing is a miracle or as if everything is a miracle. I see miracles, and for me, painting is a way to fully experience the miracle of consciousness.  For me, the act of painting is a meditation – a celebration of life. Every brushstroke is a distillation of the now – when I am painting I am intensely in the moment and the resulting work is the physical manifestation of that.  I really like that notion. The show's on till October 25th.

It was World Mental Health Day on Friday and Frome's Cheese & Grain was filled with stalls and events to raise awareness and events to promote feel-good activities from belly-dancing to acupressure treatments with free samples by Viv from Massage Theories. As well as information on specific issues like dementia or depression, groups like Fair Frome Food Bank and Mendip Community Credit Union were there to talk about local support available. All serious & important stuff, but the ukulele band and free soup & cakes gave the whole place a great party atmosphere.
A very valuable event, congratulations to all.

And I can't, obviously, omit to mention the big event of the weekend for me and Rosie: our autumn double-bill for Nevertheless Productions at Cornerhouse Frome, Crossed Wires.  The main play Champagne Charlotte is a bitter-sweet and intimate study of a mother-daughter relationship set in a home for the elderly and audiences found it emotionally affecting as well as deeply thought-provoking. Brilliant acting from Sara Taylor and Kerry Stockwell maintained a constantly shifting empathy in Rosie's absorbing, ultimately redemptive, script.  My curtain-raiser Muffin Man is slighter but fitted our theme as it's also an awkward encounter with a happy ending. Ross Scott and Fleur Hanby Holmes perfectly found the mixed vibe of banter and insecurity in their characters.  Here's some of the audience feedback ~ you can see it all on our Nevertheless page ~
It was fantastic! I could relate to the second performance as my granny is in the same predicament ... Great scripts, witty and poignant in equal measures, and lovely actors ... Well matched double-header, both entertaining, second thought-provoking ... Very well acted and perceptive, sharp scripts ... Very genuine and real ... The plays were both funny and touching. Very good, thought provoking  ... Fun – well written, poignant. Entertaining and innovative ... Though-provoking – well paced – audience aware ... FAB! ... Loved it – multilayered fun ... GREAT! Really enjoyed both ... Enjoyable and thought-provoking, sensitively acted ... Very clever and entertaining ... Enjoyed both plays ... Very thought-provoking ...THANK YOU ALL FOR A GREAT NIGHT!
~ and here's Frome's Comedy Czar Tim O'Connor handing over the trophy for best comic script submitted to the festival competition. (Yes I know I posted it before, but it's inscribed now.)

Friday, October 10, 2014


Listen up, because this is an interim blog. I'm interrupting normal service with an important announcement: if you have a chance to get to Bristol before 25th October I urge you to go see Dead Dog In The Suitcase at Bristol Old Vic. Why? because it's fabulously staged, imaginatively political, wittily evocative and darkly provocative, and you'll miss a real feast of physical & musical theatre if you don't go see this fabulous Kneehigh production. The Beggar's Opera is the accredited inspiration for this dramatic fantasy, but along with the ska & songs culled from the edge of existence you'll find vibrations & evocations from fairy stories and greek myths, Shakespearean tragedies and classic movies, and even a bit of Boyce & Marlene from Only Fools...  but as the cast warn us in their opening song, look closer and you might recognise, this world is no different from your own...  And by the climactic end, which I wouldn't dream of spoiler-ing, you'll be cheering this amazing cast and production team as wildly as we all did. Oh, the puppetry is great too.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Drama from Salisbury to Bath, via Uganda (and Frome)

Salisbury's version of Boston Tea Party coffee house is an amazing Grade-1 listed building dating back to the early 1300s and it was here in an upstairs room that Crossed Wires gave its premier performance for the Salisbury Fringe last weekend. An audience of more than sixty crammed between the medieval pillars to watch our twin tales of difficult relationships eventually resolved, and donated generously on their way out (thanks, guys!) After a quick celebratory glass in the astro-turfed garden of the delightful Kings Head (15th Century) Rosie and I scooted on to Castle Street Social Club to listen to the script-in-hand readings from Juno Theatre: five 'short plays inspired by famous women' ~ listening rather than watching, as the actresses were largely invisible from the back seats. Outstanding in this quintet was Glad Tidings by Lesley Bates, an encounter between a feminist angel and reluctant recipient of the annunciation ("If He wants to talk surrogacy, it'll cost..." "He doesn't DO money!" "Well then I don't DO pregnancy.") ~ enjoyably entertaining but also making subtle points about women's roles and male expectations. I also liked Martine Shackerley-Bennet's short witty piece Heady Days, a kind of dark Alice-in-Wonderland beheaded-foe croquet game between Queens Elizabeth and Mary.

In 2002 Joe Douglas, aged 18, went to Uganda for his gap year and began a relationship that cost him £20,000, much angst and many growing pains, and resulted in a show called Educating Ronnie which won an Edinburgh Fringe First award and came to Merlin Frome on Wednesday. Joe tells his own story direct to audience in disarmingly frank style: he's 30 now but it's difficult to gauge to what extent he's acquired a full grasp of the wider perspective in this not-unfamiliar tale of an emotional response to economic gulf.  Ronnie's emails appealing for a chance to thrive, or simply survive, veer from heart-rending to manipulative, and Joe's story is at its most affective & theatrically effective when he loses confidence in himself as selfless sponsor and feels the pain of anyone in a collusive, emotionally abusive, relationship.  There's a happy ending of sorts ~ Joe is back on even keel with Ronnie ~ but it's up to you whether you leave the theatre feeling he was a hero or a mug, or both, or maybe just angry shame at the massive inequality that defined the friendship between these two young men in such inevitably unequal terms. Michael John McCarthy's excellent sound design enhanced this macrobert production.
The Memory of Water is such a stunning script it would be impossible not to enjoy a production of this tragi-comedy by Shelagh Stephenson about three sisters re-meeting for their mother's funeral. Acerbic and succinct, the dialogue veers from laugh-out-loud to pin-drop poignant, and Bath Drama relished the opportunity to bring this superb piece to the Rondo. As the sisters bicker about their reminiscences, their memories dissolve and erode their chosen adult personas: the high-flyer faces hidden pain, the romancer hits realism, and the practical one downs a bottle of whisky and lets fly her lethal resentments. Memory, its power and its unreliability, is the theme that beautifully and thought-provokingly links these women to each other and to us: Can you feel nostalgia for something that never existed? Mary asks, and wonders if it's true that water can retain a memory of substances long after there's no discernible trace of them ~ the theory of homeopathy, her elder sister Teresa's business, which is also affected irrevocably by the deluge of events in this tumultuous night.  Congratulations to the whole team, especially Mike (Nic Proud) and Mary, played superbly Alexia Jones at short notice.  On till Saturday 11th.