Thursday, October 29, 2009

Autumn equinox. These are important days, astrologically, my friend Helen, who is a hearth-witch, told me when we met for our writing date: Halloween is the Celtic New Year: Samhein, Feast of the Dead, the time when Cailleach the Crone rules the earth. A full moon, too - owl moon, also called Hunter's moon or blood moon. Helen and I drank Emerald Sun tea and wrote from random fridge-magnate words and this is what happened for me:
Full moon, owl moon, Samhein moon:
Three reasons to celebrate the crone within –
No, to release the crone, to let her get on with her own
celebrations. What will she do?
She will dance, for sure. Will she dance wildly,
like the Bacchae? Will she drink deep, and laugh
too loud? Probably. Will she breathe deep and cry
for long gone loves, sigh silently those names
she once called out aloud? Why not.
This is her time of power and devastation.
Her wail is a wind to lift desert sand,
she shuffles ghosts like languid cards,
switches off the stars on a whim. She strides
regretless through forests of flux and lust,
paddles muddy water, finds surreal symmetry.
And is it easy? Yes, for a crone.
Look and learn, falterer, look and learn.

No-one knew what to expect from Poetry and Folk Retro Night at the Garden Cafe, but this random mix of guitarists and wordsmiths turned out to be a cracking evening.
My Irish/Californian friend Mo Robinson is over visiting our shared family, and as he set me up with a few gigs in San Francisco while I was staying with him in April, I thought it would be fun if the Poetry Cafe reciprocated with a 'happening'.
Mo gave us 3 spots, mingling his own powerful narrative ballads with political satire from Tom Russell, and 15 open-mic performers ensured a stonking eclectic medley of music and words. Several contributors seized the retro theme: Roger Wiltshire's witty rant inspired responses from both Lucy and Neil Howlett. Andy (Leonardo's Bicycle) Morten dropped by; Dianne Penny performed a moving personal tribute to Sharon Olds, and it was great to see how well the high-energy of music mixed with reflective poetry. Definitely a formula to repeat.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Does Metaphor Make You Better? was the somewhat ponderous tag that peeled away to reveal an inspirational talk by Victoria Field and Rose Flint at Frome Library this week.
Writing therapy, unlike art therapy, has no long-standing psychoanalytic pedigree, but research increasingly shows the healing power of creative writing for both acute and chronic disease and depression.
"I don’t work with the reasons" Rose says, "we’re not defined by our illnesses, our wellness is our best reality. I work from the place of wellness.” Victoria talked of our shared instinct to self-medicate through poems: "We're not concerned with literary merit but the sheer pleasure of putting words together." As well as being foremost practitioners in this work, Rose and Victoria are both amazing poets and the event ended with readings from their own 'therapeutic' poems, some dark but all glowing with compassion for the human experience.

My musical taste has ever been what can most charitably labelled 'eclectic' (Deep Purple to Dirty Vegas via Tom Waits & Arctic Monkeys) but I found a whole new genre to enjoy after a splendidly theatrical session at a Cotswold's jazz pub with Nick Gill's Oxford Classic Jazz Band swinging through songs of the last century.
Big sound for a quartet (percussion sax and tuba as well as piano & vocals) and amazing range of mood: glitz and glamour, urban blues, and sweet melodic moments on that stardusted lazy river of the days gone by... Fabulous.

I'll end a random week with fireworks over Frome again, this time inspired by a request to the One Show from Mandie Stone. The answer was Yes. "If it's good enough for Jenson Button, it's good enough for us, end of story." pronounced Christine Bleakley from the show's helicopter cockpit. Cue Pee Wee Ellis leading the parade through town - cue youth band, operatic society, firefighters and twirling majorettes - cue town cryer, and the ancient town of Frome is officially twinned with BBC One Show. And thanks Mandie, for including as one of your 20 reasons for the twinning ceremony:
The polished One Show performance is up on a pedestal; Frome’s own poet Crysse Morrison performed poetry on the plinth at Trafalgar Square. Mandie sponsored my outfit from her shop Love Arts, an Aladdin's cave of retro delights, so it was great to see her in the studio giggling and threatening to wet herself as the story unfurled.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

And after the flamboyant & entertaining metatheatricalism of 6 Characters, another play challenging audience expectations: Tim Crouch's Author at the Royal Court. Only four characters here, though, unless you count the audience: we all became, reluctantly or not, participants in this tale of a tale recounted from among our midst. "Society is defined by its edges, not its centre" says Tim, playing a playwright called Tim Crouch who has written and produced a play that required the cast to research gross and brutal acts. The two 'cast' members confirm this, and their testimony shows the damaging consequences. For the author, degradation was even more extreme; in his impassive, endearing, voice Tim graphically describes participating in shocking obscenity. The actors were chillingly good, and the questions at the heart of the piece are powerful. But I wouldn't sit through it again.

Back home, the autumnal mood is celebratory: Apple Day ends with fireworks for Jenson Button's Formula1 win in Brazil. And four Frome writers collect certificates and prizes from the Mere Literary Festival Poetry Competition - local section, true, but over 120 entries nonetheless. Indranee took first, I was third, and Janet and Phyllis scooped merit awards.
Louis de Bernieres was senior judge.

And finally... Enraptured as I am with lovely Johnny Lee Miller, Emma's sprightly Knightley in the BBC serialisation, I didn't realise he was Trainspotting's heroic Sick Boy... Go, girl...mega mega lust for life rules.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Paradise by local writer Nell Leyshon developed from her work with Vita Nova: a Bournemouth-based theatre group of recovering addicts. The Salt factory (tagline "stark visual landscapes and restless text") production features charismatic Lee Hart and Celia Meiras as ex-junkies falling backwards through their story to refind their love. Jay Kerry's lighting is stunning and the minimalist set, Nell says, was designed around the dimensions of the tour van.

Lots of personal stories at the Merlin too, in a full-house foyer performance of STAGE WRITE last night.
This was the culmination of the 7 Ages of Shoes creative workshops aimed primarily to encourage those who've never written monologues for performance before, and was hailed a fantastic success.
Accolades buzzed round the bar like bees round buddleia, and verbal bouquets were still ringing around the group this morning. Many congratulations and thanks to everyone who stepped out of their comfort zone to share such a wide range of wonderful stories: our writers Anna Britten, Alison Clink, Jo Day, Rosemary Dun, Rosie Finnegan, Jeremy Gibson, Gordon Graft, Peter Macfadyen, Angela Moss, Magnus Nelson, Howard Vause; thanks to our actors Jo Hole and Annabelle Macfadyen, and to Howard for the visuals. The project - my co-organiser Niamh and I are both determined - will continue...

And One-and-Other has finally ended, with the descent on Wednesday of the final human artefact, leaving the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square empty again.
But was it art? Anthony Gormley reckons so: "It's asking how art can be experienced.. if there isn't a bit of contention it isn't worth doing." It was fun, anyway, as I reminisced on a radio look-back at the one hundred days of plinthing. Had my experience led to anything? the interviewer wanted to know. Hard to quantify how standing 28 feet above London for an hour shapes a life - but one direct outcome is another outing for The Frock when I'm the curtain-raiser act for Innua Ellams when he brings his award-winning poetry play The 14th Tale to the Merlin next month...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

This is the only image
I could find on the Bristol Old Vic website for the utterly amazing new touring production of Six Characters in Search of an Author, sort-of by Pirandello, and maybe it's fitting that it's nothing to do with any of the onstage stories dovetailing thematically and interweaving emotionally: it's a section of audience looking variably enraptured and bemused.

So here's a picture of Luigi Pirandello, who didn't write this version, and the principal actor, who is better known as Wycliffe on the telly, all of which confusion seems totally appropriate for a performance that challenges both authorship & ownership, and our notions of entertainment & integrity. "The medium is the message", Marshall McLuhan pronounced back in 1964, long before intrusive docu-dramas were shaping lives and sensibilities; nowadays we're so used to the debates, both ethical and aesthetic, that this provocative interpretation of Six Characters by Headlong is simply electrifying. Is this the story of a film producer dedicated to finding the 'truth' beyond the tear-jerk euthanasia story of the death of a boy, or is it the less noble, more torrid, story of six non-existing characters who claim " we are more than real, we are immutable." Both stories climax with the death of a boy, but the abuses and tragedy of the drama involve beautiful and extraordinary theatrical qualities, creating another strand of paradox in this densely layered and marvellous production. It's still touring, reaching Cardiff in November - go if you can.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Home again, to find Frome in turmoil. The annual carnival, ever a reliable source of Disgusted letters in the local paper whether rage is directed at majorette voyeurism or mega-abuse of finite energy by illuminated floats, has excelled itself this year: "Baghdad Beauties" comprised a bevy of blokes in burkhahs with barmy slogans like 'does my bomb look big in this?' Protests were profuse, police have visited the entry organiser, and Frome is now on amber alert as a terrorist target. You go away for two weeks...

And now I'm back, it's been a week of meetings and talks. Local author Jane Elmor was talking to the writers' circle at the library about the importance of the writing habit, Bristol Old Vic's dynamic new Literary Associate Sharon Clark was talking to Southwest Scriptwriters about the importance of the collaborative process; there's been meetings about STAGE WRITE at the Merlin next week and a Home in Frome meeting at Annabelle's. All very useful and productive, especially the ones with cake.

On Wednesday evening the Shakespeare Schools Festival came to the Merlin, with four local schools each presenting a compressed version of one of the bard's plays. Adjudicator Alex Webb rightly praised everyone concerned in the productions. Maybe because I'm a sucker for costume, even pink glitter pompoms, my favourite was Selwood Middle School's Dream: it was the closest to classic structure, yet these young actors managed to make an unfamiliar 400-year-old language intelligible, showing characterisation as well as plot, and to integrate contemporary energy too. The conflict between modernity & traditionalism seemed more difficult for the older students, but it was certainly enterprising to cast Macbeth's three 'secret, black, and midnight hags' as a posse apparently on a St Trinian's form outing.

Back on the subject of racial stereotypes, My Life With The Dogs at the Tobacco Factory featured a selection of Russian ruffians: corrupt cops, child molesters, everyone chronically drunk on vodka. But the story of street urchin Ivan Mishukov was stylish and very funny - and apparently true, though NIE's interpretation was more pantomime than poignancy - and you'd have to be very po-faced not to enjoy the antics and music.

Figures reveal (who compiles these figures, I wonder, and why?) that Dan Brown is the most frequently donated author to Oxfam shops. Titter ye not; think how many books were initially sold to achieve this statistic. Though if you do want a titter, try this site of Brownisms, which are kind-of Colmanballs without the rude bits: lines like "The kaleidoscope of power had been shaken, and Aringarosa was still reeling from the blow."

And finally: A children's picture book about two gay penguins and an orphan chick, And Tango Makes Three, has been banned in the USA. Over this side of the pond, the Conservatives are planning to repeal the Human Rights Act and give 'normal' people the right to know if their neighbours are 'criminals'... and police investigation of carnival silliness begins to seem a bit less funny.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Week 2 on Skyros, writers writing everywhere... on the terrace, in cafes, on the beach... delightful group, wonderful words.
Big shift in energy from an influx of two dozen lively new participants and another course led by lovely life coach Suzy Greaves.
Balmy days & a fabulous final night cabaret ended the Skyros season for 2009 on a high.
And if you're ever stuck in Athens for five hours waiting for a flight you might like to know the Sofitel offers champagne buffet and spa treatments... coming home was never so good.