Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What women want... or rather, what's wanted of them: The Herbal Bed, at Salisbury Playhouse this month, is a play I wanted to see because it's based on actual historical records. William Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna is accused of adultery and, to save her husband’s medical practice and her lover’s reputation as well as her own good name, fights the claim through the ecclesiastical court. A word-conjurer like her father, Susanna magicks the verdict she requires from the stubbornly sceptical Vicar General, and persuades her reluctant co-conspirator their embrace in the night garden has an imperative that should not be held to account in the prosaic light of day. Peter Whelan’s play raises timeless questions of love, loyalty, and integrity which are still relevant to our very different sense of social morality.
After this immersion into women's social status in Elizabethan days it was fascinating at the opening night of The Taming of the Shrew to see the Tobacco Company's interpretation of that contentious issue. A hugely successful high-energy production which grabbed attention unflaggingly for nearly 3 hours. I'd never seen an uncut version before so had always missed the point of the 'play-within-a-play' structure. Above all this complex plot is about duplicity, with much swapping of coats and assuming false personas, as well as that (in)famous storyline of the role of woman in society and in marriage. 'Altogether disgusting' Shaw called Kate's final speech of submission, and Michael Billington dismissed the whole play as 'totally offensive'. I see the Shrew as a wonderful play about social role-playing. "Love wrought these miracles" says Lucentio ingenuously, when the dissembling of these false fathers, teachers, servants, and masters reaches its climax in preposterous confrontation - and for this Kate and Petruchio it seems true, as they play their conflict games for sexual frisson once the destructiveness of anger has been shown and understood.

Tenuous link time: Luxurious twilight Bath spa date with my friend Diana, free-lance journalist and now broadcaster. "A writer has to be fearless" is one of her mantras. Lured by sun and their generosity, I extend my sleepover to include lunch by the river near Pulteney Bridge with Diana and her partner David, also a writer. And here's Burrington Coombe on sunny Friday: See the teeny weeny cars in the bottom left corner? That's how high we'd climbed...

Wicked Passions, our Valentine 'Poetry Frome' event on Sunday, was held at the Media Arts Centre so performances could be recorded. Wiltshire poet John Richardson leading, first, a full workshop of passionate poets and, later, an evening of wicked readings. A wonderful day and evening of erotica - and that includes the supper too, courtesy of the creative imagination of Nicki Deli from 'Sagebury Cheese'. More pictures on Facebook!

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