Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hull Truck Theatre brought their current touring production Lady Chatterley's Lover to an optimistic Merlin audience on Wednesday. Sadly, despite the dark glamour of the programme image, this was more of a plot recital than a drama. (Picture by Peter Byrne.)
Everyone knows the basic story and this could have worked in favour of the adaptation, but it didn’t. There was obvious intention to address issues of class and gender struggles between the wars but the steady pace and stagey delivery made for an insipid performance and, devoid of Lawrence's exultation in cunt as vital to life, the story became a depressing case-study of matrimonial difficulties. The lovers' discreet fondlings lacked any erotic energy and seemed inspired by that much-parodied potter’s wheel scene in Ghost.
The set really didn’t help: a dense circle of country-household clutter was presumably designed to show how Connie was fettered by her status, but allowed no sense of the freedom of the woods or the elemental thrill of the rainstorm. Here, as in the adaptation itself, there seemed too much reliance on explanations rather than physical or emotional impact.

By contrast, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell at Bath Theatre Royal featured classy acting, especially Robert Powell who brought charm and unexpected warmth to the title role of the misogynist alcoholic journalist whose column was famed for its frequent absence. Set in a superbly credible Soho pub early one morning, the play is a rambling monologue of reprehensible anecdotes and acid reflections. "Choked on his own vomit – what a disgusting phrase!" he muses, "when did you ever hear of anyone choking on someone else’s vomit?” Keith Waterhouse wrote his tribute in 1989, showing the cult of celebrity was obsessed with the degradation of idols long before Heat and circles of shame. There's contempt too for affluent county living, as 'Mr&Mrs Backbone-of-England' come in for hefty lampooning: cue prolonged laughter from all the Mr&Mrs Backbones-of-Bath massed in the stalls...

The first ever Merlin New Playwriting Competition reached a triumphant conclusion with the presentation of the winning plays as fully-directed rehearsed readings on stage last Thursday. Members of Frome Drama Club played all parts in the five winning plays and did full justice to styles and subjects ranging from a very-American modern tragedy to a very-English 19th Century comedy. Sets were minimal, but effective lighting and imaginative direction from Claudia Pepler combined with a varied programme of superb writing and strong acting to create a fantastic theatrical evening.
The quality of entries was clear from the start with Silent Columbine by Bristol student Hannah Williams-Walton, a brilliant script and a powerfully convincing psychological study of the two boys who massacred thirteen people in 1999. Patrice Gerrard, also in the younger category, evoked a ‘waiting-for-Godot’ atmosphere in One Long Interval as a restless teenager waits with his father in hospital for news of his younger brother. A clever and succinct script with compassionate insight into family dynamics as well as some very funny moments.
From the over-25 category, The Zapper by Frome writer Brenda Bannister took an initially realistic situation – a let’s-be-civil discussion about divorce – to create an admirably crisp and witty script with a satisfying conclusion. In a change of mood again, Heartsink by Geraldine Lindley from Bath dealt with the difficult topic of Munchausen’s syndrome. The final play of the night The Fearful Adventure of the Fishing Excursion was a diverting duologue set in a Victorian bedroom and involving extreme storytelling Lemony Snickett might envy. Playwright Jonathan Collings found his ideas in a collection of Victorian tall tales and wove them together with preposterous charm to create a highly individual finale.
After the performances, audience members joined writers and cast in the foyer for an informal feedback session and a chance to express their appreciation and enjoyment. Merlin director Claudia Pepler, who had the initial idea of a New Playwriting competition as well as overseeing the project and selecting the winners, intends to make this an annual event. “Next time we'll aim for full production,” she said “The whole process has been brilliant.”

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