Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Warminster Writers Circle celebrated the launch of its group anthology Circle Crop in style in the great hall at Longleat last week, a warm-hearted event beautifully hosted by group chair Sue Bacon and graced by His Grace himself, with entourage and lurcher.

Earlier that day... a return, with travel writer John Payne, to the bits of the Bath Skyline walk which ice & snow had put out of bounds on our previous trip. The classical buildings of the city were not universally admired in their early days, apparently: William Beckford, who wrote the gothic novel Vathek (in French, curiously) built himself a retreat on top of Lansdown to avoid the view, and Jane Austen includes in Northanger Abbey a character who speaks so disparagingly of the picturesque to Catherine Morland that 'when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape.' (Quoted by John in his book on The West Country.)

Bristol is celebrating Mayfest - "A mix of work so tasty it makes you want to up sticks and move to Bristol permanently" the brochure brags. I'm an ardent Fromie but whenever I go to Bristol - about 3 times a week - I want to up sticks and move there, so this fortnight is a big box of drama-chox for me. Even the best selections have some toffees... Festival, Lone Twin's 'playfully proto-Brecht' final production in the Catastrophe Trilogy, had a script so minimalist it could have been retitled Learning English While Hopping. Guy Dartnell singing U2 was a welcome addition. But there's something to chew on for everyone, from the ensemble exuberance of Trilogy's fifty naked women whooping around BOV main stage like anarchy on a Dove photo-shoot, to No Idea down in the studio theatre, a devised two-hander exploring perceptions of disability. Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence used recorded responses to their question 'what do you think our show should be about?' as content as well as direction, a bit like 'Stupid Street' on Scott Mill's show. Public responses had tactfully skirted around Lisa's wheelchair, focussing instead on her 'cheeky face' but apart from naughty sketches - and a very funny Chas & Dave routine - the storylines were all for her 'normal' friend. "We started off hilarious, ended up serious, and a little bit didactic" Lisa sums up, but actually their performance didn't feel lecturing or hectoring and was enormously engaging.
Equally thought-provoking were Kings of England with Where We Live & What We Live For - a clunkily titled but delightful 'series of short narrations and little performances concerning Love, Loss, Happiness and the Passing of Time'. Simon Bowes, writer and curator of these precise personal fragments, introduced his dapper elderly father, who smiled, danced, and read to the audience with huge charm and style. This quiet inspection of a lifetime was all the more touching in the context of the programme notes: "After the fall he is increasingly forgetful, and the show is a modest attempt to give him something back, or to show him what he has left." Simon's mother also participated, but like the BSL signer in No Idea her name wasn't mentioned in the credits... small point but interesting.
Performance art time: into the Arnolfini on Sunday afternoon for The moment I saw you I knew I could love you - into a life raft, in fact, to watch as if from the belly of a dark ocean the varied fragments of performance, both live and projected, presented by Curious. Some were dreamy, some funny, and some a bit pretentious, but I was mostly fascinated, right up to the last waltz- which the audience did, in pairs, with an apple on our foreheads... somehow it seemed quite natural, by then.
Equally bizarre was Famous Last Words in a caravan beside the docks, the only gameshow that grooms each participant into a presenter in 15 minutes. In fact the audience is the show and vice versa, which is about as far as you can take audience-participation. Greg McLaren - that's him in the gold bomber jacket, I think - says it will change your life and maybe it will but it's great fun anyway and a really neat concept, which I won't spoiler-tell in case it comes to a festival near you this summer.
Back to the BOV basement for possibly my favourite of the weekend, Jon Haynes' brilliant one-man show The Poof Downstairs, the autobiographical play that never gets started but exists in smatterings and preview moments among a welter of intimate prevarications and confessions: like the best stand-up comedy it was clever, neurotic, and very, very, funny.

And now for something completely different: Hot Tub Time Machine- jokey, nostalgic, kind of Back to the Future meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with the odd spot of projectile vomiting and flagrant sex... what's not to like?

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