Monday, March 24, 2008

"Tonight's performance contains haze and nudity" promised posters in the Theatre Royal Winchester but technical difficulties prevented Northern Broadsides from getting hazy in this radical production of Romeo and Juliet with Staffordshire accents and contemporary street fashion. I went with Emily, as her nephew Liam is one of the multi-talented cast who sang, played, duelled, and clog-danced their way through this hate-fest so often mistaken for a love story. The real story is the conflict: family rows, city feuds, power-struggles at every level of the action. Director Barrie Rutter brought out the energy of these angry confrontations brilliantly - even Friar Laurence, often played as a doddering do-gooder, had his Ian Paisley moments. Less developed - perhaps inevitably - was the love-affair, best at showing the youth of Juliet and emo tendancies of her Mika-lookalike Romeo, rather than the poetry, tenderness, and eroticism of their encounters.
An electrifying production overall, though, surviving the collapse of the lighting system effortlessly. It's on tour now: check Northern Broadsides for venues.
We met up with Liam for lunch and a walk around the city's lovely old cathedral area. There's a Jane Austen house, and Keats apparently wrote his Ode to Autumn here, & perhaps that passionate letter to Fanny Brawne: "love is my religion - I could die for that. I could die for you. I cannot breath without you."
Romeo couldn't have put it better.

Mediaeval Verona to modern Zimbabwe, and back at the theatre, this time the Ustinov in Bath. ‘Breakfast with Mugabe’ was based on “tittle tattle”, the playwright tells us in his programme notes. This turns out to be an article headlined "Paranoid Mugabe dines with a ghost" by a journalist notoriously antagonistic to southern African liberation movements. Fraser Grace from this created a story of three brutal unscrupulous 'blacks' and a rather nice 'white' who tries to help them, and in reponse one murders his wife, one takes his land and the third beats him up. What’s the authorial message here? That Ian Smith was right? This play won the John Whiting Award for best new play 3 years ago but I couldn’t join in the applause.
Reviews I googled were bafflingly uncritical of this thinly structured piece of drama, apart from Victoria Brittain discussing the original production: "Zimbabwe in 2001 resonates with Britain in 2006. What's in Blair’s head? We know we don't have a clue. But when it comes to the same conversation about Mugabe, the old African stereotypes come up and we say that he's mad. Political theatre is now more fashionable than ever. Robert Mugabe, routinely demonised by the British media as a larger than life African tyrant - Idi Amin with brains - was an obvious dramatic target."

Time for a picture of dancing daffodils, I think, now the Equinox has ushered in summer and the season of Lindt chocolate bunnies is over. This is Longleat, where Steve & I walked in sleet and sunshine on Saturday.
And as spring is the theme for the next Frome poetry cafe, I'll end this post with a fistful of quotes:

Poetry can communicate before it is understood ~ TS Eliot

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world ~ Shelley

Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance ~ John Keats

Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement ~ Christopher Fry

Poetry is life distilled ~ Gwendolyn Brooks

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits ~ Carl Sandburg

Poetry is just the evidence of life ~ Leonard Cohen

Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese ~ G.K. Chesterton


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