Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Around 150 people, some resolutely picnicking beneath umbrellas, sat stoically for nearly three hours through monsoon conditions in Frome’s Ecos Amphitheatre to watch Illyria recreate the heroic exploits of D’Artagnan and his Three Musketeers, a folies-de-Bergerac frolic of intrigue, amour, frenetic swordplay and improbable moustaches. Six actors and a flurry of costume changes combined to create a plethora of friends, foes, landlords, servants, nuns and horses. Sex was skimpy and the plot too complex for most of the young in the audience but nobody seemed to mind as fun was fast, and furious fighting frequent: with swords, knives, saucepans, fists, pistols, poison, axes, and a chicken, imaginatively choreographed and involving everyone - wicked Lady de Winter (Annie Lees Jones) was deservedly cheered for her courageous cat-fight to the death. The four men all acquitted themselves superbly, with William Finkenrath particularly striking as Duke of Buckingham who must be secret twin to Blackadder's Lord Flashheart.

Two shows in swift succession in Bath, and both find me paddling against the current of decided opinion: at the Ustinov there's the world premiere of Another Door Closed, a new play by Peter Gill. Applause was enthusiastic but it left me cold, literally, as air-conditioning was set on let-the-fuckers-freeze. Imagine an early draft of a Pinter play - before he decided that less is more effective to create the essence of relationships- cut into strips and restuck randomly, Dada-style, recited by two portly elderly ladies and that louche black-marketeer from Dad's Army.
I'll think up something else to say for publication, of course, but it won't be 'theatrical gem'.

Rik Mayall is unwell so press night for Balmoral at Bath Theatre Royal was cancelled, though we're allowed to view and review at our own expense - a cunning but unsuccessful plan to deter local reports that the play is now an unsalvageable flop. I thought the performance lost nothing from stand-in Steve McNeil's underplaying of the potential mania of his role, but I'm probably alone in that view. Michael Frayn's fantasy is based on the appealing conceit that the 1917 revolution was not in Russia but in England, resulting in redeployment of Balmoral as a writers' retreat. Not just any old writers, but Godfrey Winn, Hugh Walpole, Warwick Deeping and Enid Blyton - who is an erotic poet until the farcical and whisky-fuelled events of the play inspire her to create the Secret Seven and become a children's author. Lots of opportunities, among the silliness and corpses in the cabin trunk, for droll comments on literature, class, and cultural stereotypes - though you'd have to be as old as the Secret Seven are now to recognise most of the references. Apart from the drunk belligerent Scot, of course. He's not going anywhere.

In the queue for the queue for Banksy on Sunday, buskers & an icecream van combined with brilliant sun and the cameraderie of the sidelined to create a carnival atmosphere. Cheers and party poppers as we secondary queuers reached the point of the hand-stamp which allowed us to join the legitimate queuers. We became entitled to privileges: the BANKSY versus BRISTOL MUSEUM flyer, giving precious little away about the location of tour highlights like the Easyjet version of the Flight to Egypt but providing a useful summary: A unique collaboration between the city's foremost cultural institution and one of the region's most overrated artists. No lectures, no illegality, just delightful wordplay and wonderfully inventive images. Then back at the dockside for chilled wine, and at sunset watching scores of balloons float slowly across the city skyscape.

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