Monday, July 19, 2010

Final weekend of Frome's festival gave me a chance to catch up on some of the fantastic art, music, and community events... like the Silk Mill exhibition of quirky paintings, full of intriguing private narrative, by Kay Lewis-Bell who took as her starting point four lines from Wordsworth's prelude:
How oft, among those overflowing streets
Have I gone forward with the crowd and said
Unto myself, "The face of every one
That passes by me is a mystery."
A very different mood at the exhibition entitled simply "LOOK" - contemporary art by Samuel Lee, Mutalib Man, and Alex Relf in promoted by Marian Bruce, the installation artist who I collaborated with some years ago on a Fallen Angels project - the scarlet angel, I found, still sits somewhat dejectedly in Marian's garden, succumbing now to woodworm.
Then on, via the Bastion Gardens where Jill Miller was singing her own jazzy songs, to the Moving Home community project at the Key Centre, where I got a chance to join the all-age instant artists carving chalk pebbles to send down the river Frome in flotilla at sunset.
A crowd gathered around the bridge to cheer the launch, our intrepid Mayor with gold chain and life jacket in the lead punt, with help from the canoe club to whoosh our crafts along the sluggish river. "Even by Frome standards this is a somewhat bizarre event" murmured John Payne as Maitre Chives the cabaret captain gave running commentary and the crowd sang impromptu harmonies of Row Your Boat.
My boat with its carving reclaimed, time for jazz from Salutemus in Divas courtyard garden till darkness fell.

Event 178, Nunney Rocks, was a must-go for music fans: a 9-hour fest-within-a-fest, featuring all the best in local musicians including Frogbelly (pictured) and Richard Kennedy.
As well as beer and refreshments there were art tents and story circles to keep the children happy, and the sun shone gracefully throughout.

I'd like to have stayed for Bugs and the Collaborators and Three Corners, but Jill and I were walking the three miles there and back to the fields of Castle Quarry in Nunney, and we had to get back for the theatre.

Miracle Theatre always delivers, and I hope the company feels the same about Frome's ECOS amphitheatre, where on Sunday night over 300 people nestled beneath the circle of stones under a frail moon in fabulous summer warmth to enjoy the tragedy of Romeo & Juliet performed by six versatile and talented actors in a mix of Shakespearean text and 20th century vernacular.

Like most outdoor theatre companies, Miracle usually goes for laughs, and the opening act played up every possible comic element in a show that began like a house-party Charades romp set early last century. After the death of Tybalt it seemed this concept wouldn't be able to hold the necessary depth, but the second act was brilliant: the bullying simmering in the Capulet household erupted as a potent energy to push wild-child Juliet into recklessness, and she and Romeo both found powerful emotional connection with the core of the tragedy - great acting from Catherine Lake and Wesley Griffith as hauntingly sensuous lovers in both life and death.
Some bits didn't work: the usually excellent Ben Dyson as a Widow Twankeyesque Nurse for one, Lady Capulet with her dress stuffed down trousers as a mockney Mercutio for several more. And the slightly Bertie-Wooster feel to the inserted language didn't always gel (Juliet's mum: "I would the fool were married to her grave" - Juliet's dad: "Steady on!") Overall, however, a powerful interpretation that made timeless passions seem as contemporary as this year's sensational headlines, entertained all ages, and was so gripping I didn't even notice that due to illness two key roles were played by stand-in with lines sometimes in hand. It was all so good it didn't really matter.

And finally: My writer friend Christine Coleman, who became a proxy 'local' for the Desert Island Reads, give a visitor's view in her blog - and there are regular review updates on the pages of the Festival website.

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