Despite the delights of Frome, I do sometimes find myself yearning for the busy, fizzy, Bristol buzz. Totterdown was busy, fizzy, & frankly sozzledy, on Sunday with a mini-festival at the Shakespeare, where I was one of the performing poets. The Plastic Rocket also featured popular Bristolian Rosemary Dunn, who often makes passes at men who wears glasses...
Ten years ago the big topic of the summer was how to get down to Cornwall for August 11th. Rumours were rife: roads would be jammed, trains crammed… my solution was to cycle from Frome with my son Sam as companion, tent-bearer, and map-reader. I watched the milky silence of that strange defining moment of solar eclipse from a games field temporarily converted into a campsite by its enterprising fooball club.
A decade on, Steve Hennessy’s play Moonshadow is being revived at The White Bear in Kennington, and is still – disturbingly – relevant in its potent critique of psychiatric practices.
John wants to see the eclipse and feel the touch of the moon’s shadow but in the Catch-22 craziness of his sectioned existence, the more he wants to go, the more he’s seen as proving he can’t be allowed. Dr Brown diagnoses paranoid psychotic delusions and refuses leave, so the only way John will see the eclipse is by astral projection. A minimalist set enhanced the impact of celestial lighting effects as John sails over Taunton, defying his dead, but still monstrous, stepfather to swallow the sun. “If you’re ever going to come out into the light you need to go into the darkness.”
As with most of Steve Hennessy’s plays, the central theme is that psychiatry dehumanises, and creates a system in which the only differences between carers and cared-for are the labels and the salaries. Four lonely people wrestle with the pain of living and the damage of their pasts, but only John has the astral motorbike. He may be prone and drooling, but when the ECT has worn off, he’ll be riding high…
Brilliant performances by Michael Dylan and Annabel Bates as the endearing patients and Oliver Hume and Beverley Longhurst as their equally ‘sexually disinhibited’ but better paid (and without files & labels) authority figures. Insightful direction by Chris Loveless brings out the bleak realism as well as highlighting moments of wry humour in this powerful play.
Theme for this solstice week was sunshine, and about time too. While up in London I took the opportunity to check out the Fourth Plinth, since I'll be up there next month. My co-plinthers in the other corners are King George IV, a Major, and a General... there's the Admiral too, but he's about a mile high. Here's my plinth, under the scaffolding, and here's me wondering what to do if I don't get a portable PA. Hurrah for Patrick Dunn and Nick Waterhouse, who stepped in to supply the goods!