Friday, October 01, 2010

A dramatic week, stylistically speaking, opening with a 10-minute play writing workshop organised by Writing Events Bath and led by charismatic young Australian Alex Broun. Alex is a prolific playwright himself and the inspiration behind Short-and-Sweet, the biggest 10-minute play festival in the world. "The greatest thrill for a playwright is to see your work performed" Alex began: true but tricky since his festival is in Sydney, though these festivals are apparently spreading across the world like creeping jenny: “My aim is to inspire you to write a play. Next step is to write a good play. You have to get on the bike and start peddling.” In three hours he had deconstructed and demystified the playwriting process with vigour and copious handout notes and we all came home hugely enthused and slightly exhausted.

Frome's own modest version of short-and-sweet drama events, Stage Write, started a new series of monologue workshops this week too. With 'dressing up' as our theme, the first session produced some fantastic writing which will find fruition in February at the Merlin.

Bristol Old Vic is currently staging Tim Crouch's play The Author which I saw a year ago at the Royal Court and wrote in my blog "The actors were chillingly good, and the questions at the heart of the piece are powerful. But I wouldn't sit through it again." Yet that's what I did, perhaps from curiosity to see why I'd felt so resistant to the 'disturbing' nature of the material' as the programme warns, adding in defence that "Tim Crouch's new play is about the harm carried out in the name of art." I'm reminded of Alex Broun's sound advice: "Never let your message or theme dominate the play – that’s didactic”. It's also deeply unpleasant, and at surface level as non-subversive as those car stickers that chide Baby On Board! as though without external control we'd all wantonly crash into (or abuse) every child in sight. It's scrupulously acted by the four performers, who are embedded among the audience in a show that's either stageless or all stage, according to how you look at it. Every now and then they ask with solicitous concern 'are you alright?'- 'is this alright?' as though allowing us to choose how much graphic description of violence and abuse we will accept in the name of boundary-breaking theatre. We stay, of course, because it's meticulously written and it's Tim Crouch, which is his point really: we consent, and come back for more, because we feel safe, but does that collusive voyeurism make the world a less safe place for everyone? Discuss, with reference to Greek and Shakespearean tragedies: did they encourage, or merely reflect and mourn, man's inhumanity to man?

Imagine a surreal game in which Jacques Tati meets Amélie in a Highland bothy. He says to her "Je vais avec mon lapin blanc", she says to him "Och the noo, me too" (actually there's only a smattering of speech throughout but that's the gist) and the consequence is they take a steam train to 1950s Edinburgh, beautifully animated in minute detail and pastel tones, and meander around having gentle adventures until like Wendy at the end of Peter Pan the girl becomes a grown-up... That's as close as I can get to describing The Illusionist, screenplay by Tati himself and now adapted and directed by Sylvain Chomet, poignantly evoking the final days of Music Hall as rock stars and television begin to take over the entertainment world. My writer friend Esme Ellis alerted me to this delightful evocation of an innocent era that's light years away from Tim Crouch's theatrical world. Or perhaps I mean dark years.

Big news for Frome Writers' Circle this month is that Rosie Finnegan's satirical comedy Back to Back, which was a Port Eliot competition winner earlier this year, has been selected by Salisbury company Bootleg for their autumn short play tour Snapshots and will also be performed Upstairs at the Lamb on November 10th & 11th as our next Nevertheless pub theatre production. Brilliant stuff Rosie.
And next week will see Poetry Platter at the Merlin: a totally new concept for performance poetry, as the stage will be transformed into an intimate restaurant so the audience can enjoy tapas while being entertained by six top-class local poets. A dramatic week indeed...

And finally: David Cameron's favourite poem is Dulce et decorum est (pro patria mori), he told an RT interviewer. "I still remember the first time I read Owen's poems and the incredible power and anger... I still find them moving when I read them again today" he quavered - I didn't hear him myself but I picture a quaver. A pity his knowledge of Latin doesn't match his enthusiasm for literature, or he might have recognised 'the old lie' when voting on the war in Iraq.

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