Saturday, February 27, 2010
Reds and golds slowly ebbing from my dreams, becoming familiar again with this heavy half-light we call day, so different from the white-hot light and black-hot dark of Thailand. Walking around here feels a bit like wading through grey soup, cold soup at that, but reconnecting with family & friends effectively reminds me how rich my life is here...
As well as wonderful real people this week brings immersion in fictional ones, with a double dose of theatre:
"After 3 hours of Shakespeare, we'll need a drink" the punter in front of me was saying as we jostled into the Tobacco Factory for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Three hours does sound a hefty slab of culture but the time melted like an entertaining dream - several of them, in fact, as overlapping casting highlighted the multiplicity of dreamers in the forest. The play's trefoil interweaving of nobles, fairies and tradesmen seems often to have one weaker thread, and in this production it was the fairies: Duke Theseus and his bride brought the same unethereal weight to their roles as Oberon and Titania, the tradesmen/attendants were awkwardly unfunny, and Puck exuded the harsh bravado of an ex-dealer turned drug advisor. But the lovers were wonderful, the girls especially vibrant and feisty: Rebecca Pownall's Helena was mesmeric - gorgeous and very funny. Top comedy marks though must go to the rude mechanicals in their set-piece performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, with an Oscar for Felix Hayes as Snout the tinker who underestimates his wall-bearing stamina. By the time the lords and ladies were dancing their finale - with a few lucky front-seated audience - we were all almost too weak with laughter to applaud. Almost, but not quite.
Exeter is a long way to go for a night out, but Theatre Alibi's Ministry of Fear made even the Ilminster bypass on a Friday night worthwhile. Based on the book by Graham Greene, this edgy espionage story was visually and aurally superb and brilliantly interpreted. The set, a surreal evocation of London in the blitz, lighting, and costumes all combined to create a surreal and compelling environment for the story - as did the haunting live music, a sax & double-bass combo. There's a dark and stormy storyline too: Arthur Rowe, going about his business with nothing on his mind apart from the fact he's a murderer, is mistaken for a secret agent after incorrectly guessing the weight of the cake at a village fete. That's the straightforward bit. He becomes increasingly embroiled with various nefarious, and often hilarious, spies and counterspies; loses his memory after an explosion; falls in love with a enemy agent... oh, you get the idea. It's touring till the end of May and should collect rave reviews wherever it goes. If I had to be picky, I'd say the femme needed to be a little more fatale; eroticism would have brought a touch of missing glamour. But a great show, and a wonderful party atmosphere despite the abrupt recent announcement that Northcott Theatre has gone into administration. A timely reminder we should all support our local regional theatres - if the Northcott folds, when it puts on shows like this, who's really safe?
Looking back: out of the grey, a meeting with a co-participant on my first Skyros course sends me scurrying to the 1993 holiday album... and there we are, and here am I, smiling in Greek sunlight from what feels like another lifetime.
Looking ahead: Vampire Nights at the Alma Tavern, May 24th-29th. My play Love Bites is featured alongside a monologue by Conor McPherson - an epic privilege, and one I never dreamed of while watching his play The Seafarer at the Theatre Royal Bath exactly 3 years ago.