Friday, July 31, 2009

Words@ Frome Festival goes into recess for the rest of the summer once the bunting is down for another year. Mega congratulations to all involved in the hugely successful literary events - you can see the reviews, compiled by Wendy, on the festival website. The debrief meeting is traditionally a bit of a knees-up too and this year Alison, who hosted, created a unique Plinth Cake: that's me on the top, complete with icing-sugar mic. Ahhh...

Somerset lacks focus in terms of cities, learning institutions, and cultural centres. Discuss.
The theatre practitioners' meeting at The Academy Theatre in Shepton Mallet did just that, with varied opinions as to whether decentralisation is a weakness or a strength. Either way Take Art, who convened the meeting, is doing a grand job to thread our isolated pearls onto some sort of circlet of reciprocal awareness. Coffee, cakes, and networking opportunities supplemented the discussion, concluding with a flurry of post-it notes & hopes for continued contact.

Writer/performer Rob Benson brought Borderline, billed as 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for the ecstasy generation', to Bristol, giving Alma Tavern audiences a chance to see why this one-man show collected rave reviews at the Edinburgh festival.
His character is a Stone Roses fan who pops pills like Pringles ("once you start, you can't stop") until he lands in Mental Health Ward 206, off his head now on medicinal instead of recreational stuff. It's not just drugs to blame, he says. He's borderline schizophrenic, borderline victim, borderline recovered. Maybe his life will always ricochet in and out of paranoia, even though he longs for the normality of 'Ikea and Dixons' - and love.
Black comedy, physicality, raw emotionalism, and Streets-style poetry, all disturbingly enhanced by the extreme lighting design of director Jennifer Lunn, took this piece beyond era case-study to essential integrity. Next stop New York, but Rob will be back in the spring with a new play developed for the Ustinov's 'Script Factory'.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back on planet normal, and the final event for the Words@ Frome Festival team: prize-giving night for Writers in Residence, at the Garden Cafe. "An amazing achievement", judge Lindsay Clarke says of these stories scribbled in cafes and shops and bravely read aloud by their writers for his verdict: Gordon Graft and Tim O'Connor commended for two highly entertaining stories, and Tracy Wall taking top prize for her millinery- inspired poem.
Lindsay is 'not one of nature's judges' he says, but he's unfailingly eloquent on the subject of writing. Among his salient gems: "A good sentence is a breath taking shape, so it can’t carry too much in the way of excess baggage." "Qualifiers are not intensifiers, they weaken. Find the verb that dramatises."

What is the collective name for drama enthusiasts & practitioners? An OST-group would be Tuesday's answer. Open Space Technology, if you're not familiar with the concept (I wasn't), was devised in the 1980s which accounts for the slightly last-century jargon of ("We did vision that work but it's hard to progress in this funding landscape though we're making bridges") and Theatre Bristol's To You To Me session attracted over 100 writers, performers, directors, and fans to Bristol Old Vic to contemplate the creative future. OST has few rules and they all have a cosily indulgent flavour - the 'Law of Mobility' encourages participants to buzz off when bored - which was further enhanced by bowls of cherries and maltesers, and a scrummy greek supper after the debates were all done. A relaxed non-cliquey atmosphere is a great way to network, and Niamh and came back enthused, informed, and entertained, and very pleased to have found this bridge into the Theatre Bristol landscape.

Miracle Theatre is touring their adaptation of Tartuffe, Molière's once-scandalous parody of the hypocrisy of the Church and gullibility of the bourgeoisie, in an open-air season. They arrived in Frome on Thursday and were instantly diverted by torrential showers to the Merlin stage. Bill Scott’s version of the text plumps for one-liner wit rather than scrupulous translation or conventional rhyming couplet, and the overall effect of marionette-show–cum–farce is clearly designed for the picnic season theatre-goer, but it’s a wonderful high-energy romp nonetheless, with Ben Dyson as villain-hero Tartuffe effortlessly stealing every scene. For this preposterous drollery Molière was apparently dubbed 'a demon dressed in flesh' but it's still the most performed play in the French language, and has that strange vicar-in-the-wardrobe kind of innocence of a bygone era.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

24 hours on and I'm still high as Nelson's hat after my plinthathon in Trafalgar Square yesterday. I asked for messages and poem requests and they came by email, text, and facebook, from across the world. Great fun theming the hoard but even though I timed my 'script' l still didn't get through it all before they came to take me away...
Huge thanks to the 31 contributors whose words I used, hopefully not too gabbled or garbled, and apologies to the 5 who got squeezed out... you were there in spirit, prittsticked into my lagoon blue book.

Watching my hour on the webcam I squirmed at the fluffed words and faffy bits, but I think it shows I'm happy to be there... and there's pix on the plinth watch (page 2) that are close-up and hi-res enough to challenge my poetic claim to relish my wrinkles as tidemarks of mortality...

Best bits for me:
Smatterings of applause that showed I wasn't entirely inaudible, despite fire-engines, praying Christians, cheering open-top busses and general Londonny hubbub. Ecstatic reception of the gay wedding bus! Seeing my friends at the foot of the plinth. And, overwhelmingly, the extraordinariness of being there, high above the crowds and the fountains, allowed - no, REQUIRED - to blow my own trumpet to the world.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I first saw West Side Story in the original London production with George Chakiris in 1958 - I'd like to say I was wheeled in as a prem. baby but you wouldn't believe me - which is perhaps why it's always been my favourite musical. The community college production at Frome's Merlin Theatre was a wonderful way to revisit and rediscover the energy and passion as well as the songs of this classic Romeo & Juliet re-enaction.
Claudia Pepler-Berry's production rightly, and creatively, emphasises the youthfulness of these protagonists – the first rumble is like a playground scrap, and When you’re a Jet not so much macho aggression as a chant for a tribe of Lost Boys: “Without a gang you’re an orphan" says Riff, their charismatic leader.
The two key ensemble pieces were simply brilliant, the girls bringing the feisty exuberance of a hen-night romp to I like to be in America, and an inventive wittiness as well as high energy in the boys’ show-piece Officer Krupke.
And then there's the young lovers, whose duets created such a sense of quintessential romance I could hear sobs all around me: Ben Macfadyen as Tony looking like a young James Dean and singing with charm and confidence. Kara Horler as Anita was outstanding too, and I loved the cameo role of Howard Vause the cowardly lion, now in glasses & tanktop working as a youth club leader in downtown Manhattan.
(Thanks Mike for the images)

And here's that ONE AND OTHER link for Saturday 4-5, to see whether I need my brolly and bin-bags for my Trafalgar Square plinthathon: all about words, mine and maybe yours...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The view from my room in Finca el Cerrillo says it all really: luxurient gardens, blue pool, olives and vines on the ochre hills, and the mountain tops of the Sierra Almijara beyond.
That's my room, beyond the white jasmine (believe me I'm not gloating, just... smiling.)

My writing group is small but perfectly formed; we have all morning together in the cool studio as a 'master-class', then meet again before supper for what's become known as the 'aperitif session'.
Although this course has a fiction focus, the gorgeous gardens, rural architecture, and distant mountains all inspire lyricism, and our evening readbacks are filled with poetry as well as stories, so thanks Elaine, Collette, & Helen for a wonderful week of word-exploration.

In the afternoons... well, there's the pool to laze beside & within, there's cushions beneath the big carob tree.... and there's the meals for which this place is famed, along with the wonderfully relaxed hospitality of our hosts Sue and Gordon Kind.

And now I'm leaving all this & heading back to the Real World, where it's not 32 degrees every blue-skied, blue-pooled day, - and where there's a plinth in Trafalgar Square I'll be standing on next Saturday, and where like Christopher Robin and his bear, the web-link is forever playing.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

And as the heatwave continues, Winchester Writers Conference events are hotting up too. Here's my delightful and very talented group, taking a break from a long and intense day with a focus on dialogue in fiction - thanks guys for wonderfully entertaining readings and fascinating discussions. Lovely too to stay overnight with conference inspiration-cum-fairy-godmother, the gracious and generous Barbara Large, who coordinates delegates' every need, even including lifts to the station and gypsy creams at tea-break.

Plinth update: a photo-call for the frock. Closest we can find to a plinth is this stone by the Merlin Theatre. (Thanks Somerset Standard for the pic.) I'm hoping to take to Trafalgar Square, as well as my stuff, a fistful of words from others - not just poems but quotes, quips, messages, greetings... anything. So I'm sending out a call - any fave limericks, haiku, maxims... anyone's birthday coming up around 18th July? Here's your chance to hear your words on Sky.... actually it's all too scary to contemplate, so I'm going to forget about it for a week...

...because I'm heading off to Spain tonight, to run a workshop in the foothills of the Sierra Almijara in Andalucia, a place I've never been before which is all the more exciting. So there won't be any Frome Festival bulletins from me this year: for those, click here.
And have a great time.