Monday, April 25, 2011

It all began with zumba. You can laugh if you want, I would, if I could without coughing. I love zumba, I bound around the room like Tigger in the Ten Acre Wood attempting ersatz cha-cha-cha, convinced it's all really good for me. Unfortunately I have a constitution like one of the more irritating minor characters in 19th Century novels - Jane Austen's weedy Mr Woodhouse, or EM Forster's tiresome Charlotte. (Actually Room with a View was 20th Century, just, but vaporising females are timeless and probably inspired the routine treatment of all women's ailments as hysteria.) Anyway, I can't stand drafts, and I knew as I felt the fan fiercely on me in lovely Linsey's class a week last Wednesday that what others were finding a nice cooling breeze on our perspiring breasts would probably, for me, be the start of something sinister. One hot shower later and I'd already got sore throat. After two days this had simmered painfully into what is politely called a 'chesty cough' but I had a busy week of walks, visits, theatre trips... Well Mr Woodhouse and Charlotte Bartlett could have warned me of the folly of that! By Good Friday I had to admit defeat. I've now withdrawn from everything nice lined up for Easter and still feel, in the words of my father, like a corpse resenting the resurrection.
So this is the under-cover edition. Duvet cover. Nothing worth reporting but I feel better for getting it off my chest. Ha ha, get the metaphor? Hope it works.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bedlam- the movie at the Brewery is this year's 'big show' for Stepping Out Theatre Company, and as ever it's a rumbustuous ensemble piece featuring songs, belly-dancing and insanity - this time ghosts too. Written by Mark Breckon, it's a play about a film about a drama that's haunting the writer and putting a fatal curse on each director... lots of gags and goodhearted fun, bound to delight the many fans of Stepping Out. The Bristol Evening Post found it 'hard not to be won over by the relentless charm and sheer unpredictability on display... Bedlam is a blast." See more here.

Adam Peck has returned from the American badlands of Bonnie and Clyde to more local terrain for The Unremarkable, his play in development at the Ustinov. "I was interested in the mundanity," Adam says, "I wondered if you could make a play about the minutiae of life." His protagonist Tom narrates his outer and inner landscapes as he stalks an unknown woman along the streets of Bristol for six months, mostly in monologue with occasional intrusions from her physical manifestations to remonstrate, counsel, or attempt seduction. Opinions in the audience discussion afterwards varied as to whether this was perfectly normal behaviour for a bloke feeling a bit low - the playwright was in this camp - or the initial self-grooming stage of a psychotic misogynist murderer-in-the-making who was scarily in denial about his own darker aspects. Guess which seemed more likely to me. But everyone from Bristol thrilled to recognise the street names and recycling bins and the script was considered bold, witty and really lovely.

I don't generally dip into personal stuff in my blog but on this beautiful Easter Saturday I'm making an exception: I'm SO FED UP with this chest infection, it rumbled on all through the cold weather and now, despite sunshine, blue skies, birdsong, and assorted budding foliage, it's returned in full throttle, making me sound like a dying donkey and wish I was. Not witty but accurate. Here's an image of the tantalising world outside I want to see more of, I'm back to bed with my lemon & honey.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The night I went to see Frankenspine at Bristol Old Vic studio someone in the audience fainted and had to be carried out, apparently, but I never noticed: I was so utterly gripped by the performance.
“I’d like to tell you a story” begins Tristan Sturrock disarmingly, stepping on a sparsely-set stage wearing trousers with braces and slightly Buster Keaton make-up. The story is extraordinary and true: Seven years ago on Mayday in Padstow he fell ten feet on his head, breaking his neck and paralysing himself, it seemed at first, for life. His fall, rescue, operation, and recovery are related with high theatricality and a multiplicity of characters: as well as gothic voices from the shadows, in the 'real' world there's fast-talking northern Russ "I’m your ambulance man for tonight" and Mr Germon the surgeon "I have my off days - any questions, no? Good." Tristan learns his options are halo brace or 'intervention', which he chooses - a long and dangerous operation which merges with the creation of Frankenstein, as characters from Mary Shelley's story crowd in to the room and operatic music rises to crescendo.
"How fragile we all are. Some of us are lucky, some of us are not." Tristan reflects at the end, and thanks with red roses all who contributed to his total recovery.
It's an incredible production, by turns moving and hilarious, cleverly scripted, well-directed with atmospheric lighting and music, and brilliantly performed. Tristan Sturrock is a superbly talented actor: he was outstanding in BOV's Juliet and her Romeo and in Far Away last year, he's a regular with Kneehigh, and this one-man self-written show is simply awesome - it's on till the end of the month, go see if you possibly can.

Exciting though it is, I wasn't going to mention the launch of Theatre West's competition for the Alma Tavern autumn season, because - though I'm thrilled to have been invited - it's a bit scarily X-factor. Fifty writers, five finalists...
But there's no point in being coy now the photos are out on facebook. We've each got a picture to work from: mine's a fountain in Germany. And as soon as I get over this bloody annoying chest infection, I'll be diving in...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Poetry is the business of words and silence" says Philip Gross at the start of his reading for Poetry & a Pint. It's a real privilege to listen to this T.S.Eliot Award winning poet in the tiny space of St James Vaults, sharing words from The Water Table (I forgot to bring my copy for signing so Philip graciously autographed my arm) and also, excitingly, from his next collection which will be about his father. Can't wait.
I went with lovely Rose Flint and Wednesday found us in Bath together again for another poetry reading: Helen Jagger Wood brought her Indian King poets from Cornwall to the BRSLI lunchtime readings. In my fiction days I ran novel-writing master-classes for Helen down in Camelford so it was good to meet up again, and to hear her poems. Mostly about nature, they are wonderfully sensuous but with consummate hidden craft.

You can't go wrong with small-town teen coming-of-age movies, I always think, and Submarine had so much critical acclaim I was gagging to see this 'refreshing, urgent, and original' debut movie from Richard Ayoade. It starts with Oliver's death-obsession recalling Harold and Maude but not so funny, continues by recalling Catcher in the Rye but not so deeply layered, and then settles for recalling Gavin and Stacey but more verbose. Much has been made of the film's 'confidence' but it's a fine line between self-confident and self-satisfied. Pleasant enough but unimpressive.

Fatuous footnote of the week: Alan Partridge is following me on Twitter. He facebooked me to tell me. As a huge admirer of Mr Partridge's work I'm thrilled and delighted to see him at the top of my twitter page, looking roguishly avid for my tweets. Maybe I'll write something there one day.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Nice to see the place come alive isn't it?" comments a local passing me on the coastal walk from Shanklin to Sandown on Saturday, and I agree. Enthusiastically.
I've never seen the Isle of Wight other than in wintry hibernation until now. Sun bleaching distant cliffs, white blossom, topaz sea trimmed with milky spume, dazzling blue sky streaked with vapour trails - it's a picture postcard from another continent and era. The long beach is vibrant with families avidly trenching and castling, picnicking and paddling, basking and wading... this is proper seaside.
I'm here for a writing session at The Grange, where we've been scribing in sunshine on the patio above the lovely gardens all morning.
A delightful group with a range of interests and masses of talent, they created poems and stories from fragments, lists, and even pebbles... In the evening all ten of us went to the Thai restaurant in Shanklin Old Town to glow contentedly from sunshine and stimulating shared readings.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Burlesque night at Frome Poetry Cafe had April Follies as our theme and lovely Muriel Lavender our hugely popular guest. The Garden Cafe was completely crammed to watch Muriel in frilly bloomers declaiming her satirical gems, all in the best possible taste and accompanied by props from Dolly Parton hat to W.I. knitted knockers. For anyone who can't wait till Frome Festival in July for another dose of Lavender linctus and glimpse of gusset, Muriel is performing at The Bell in Rode next Thursday (14th).

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
, written and set in the 1960s, has dated in the same way Shakespeare's tragedies have: we may thank our stars things like that don't happen nowadays, but we know human nature hasn't really changed. It's a brutal story of institutionalised bullying that culminates in suicide and murder, but nevertheless manages to end on an exuberant high that a broken but indomitable spirit can survive oppression with just a little help. The help, of course, is R P McMurphy, a reprobate who acts crazy to get out of the Work Farm, and opens the eyes of Nurse Ratched's 'boys' to her tactics of psychological abuse in the name of therapy. It's a play that needs a strong male lead, and Frome Drama Club found one in Stephen Scammell whose charisma electrified the entire action. The crazies were all terrific, each actor inhabiting his role totally at every moment, and the scene when they defy their tormenter to watch the World Series on a switched-off television is fantastic. (Thanks Mike Witt for the picture) Also unforgettable is the party scene that precipitates a tragic climax. Director Calum Grant, who also designed the effective set, comments in his programme notes that the fishing trip in the Jack Nicholson movie can't be shown in a stage version, but for me the containment within the men's ward is what builds the claustrophobic atmosphere to inescapable climax. A full house at the Merlin gasped, laughed, cried, and gave this brilliant production prolonged and well-deserved applause.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

I feel a bit bad admitting I wasn't bowled over by After the Accident at the Brewery. It was well acted, and the situation - joyrider kills best friend and random small child, parents unable to recover - is certainly harrowing. The notion of putting culprit and suffering parents together for Restorative Justice, with us the voyeuristic audience as onlooking coordinator, is simple and strong, and the mix of eloquent soliloquy and intense argument should have worked really well. But I never felt able to inhabit the emotional heart of this story - it remained a case-study, violent and tragic but oddly two-dimensional. I think the static and cerebral directing was one factor, and another was that the script simply failed to convince at key places when cathartic shifts were necessary but not really credible. And, for such a deluge of raw pain, it went on a bit too long .

Being frequently bang off-trend when it comes to movies I've only just seen Social Network - what an amazing movie, deservedly taking Oscars for best script and best editing and should have won best film too if we weren't all sentimentally besotted with royalty. Zuckerberg in the movie registers quite high on the autistic scale of emotional illiteracy - presumably to add a more complex dimension, since the real Zuckerberg comes across in interview as a total hero. His concept was radical: facebook as an agent of worldwide democracy, users as communicating individuals rather than consumerist prey. No wonder he was sued.

And finally... banging the drum for Frome again: Matthew Graham (think Life of Mars and Ashes to Ashes, not Bonekickers, please, we all have off-days) revels in living just outside the town.
In a recent interview he said he'd pick Frome over Bath any day "- of course! Always go for the underdog. It's a treasure trove of unusual shops and its arts festival draws the likes of Eddie Izzard... Unstoppable Frome!"
Deadly is the Female, which along with our independent record shop and cinema were among Matthew's list of unmissables, is currently commended in Vogue for 'a shopping experience designed to make you feel like a Hollywood starlet from the golden era.' As Muriel Lavender, starring the Poetry Cafe tomorrow night, will agree.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Frome was officially twinned with The One Show back in that programme's glory days, but I've always maintained it should be twinned with Eden - at least if your idea of paradise is an incredibly creative town made up of bitesize bits of urban energy mingled with local friendliness. When I arrived here and Frome had me at 'hello', I was told my adoptive home doesn't count as Somerset, it's known in that county as The Peoples' Republic of Frome. How great it would be, then, to be literally self-governing - or at least to be able to make future-focussed decisions not ruled by the palsied hand of bickering party politics.
If only we had enough energetic imaginative individuals to stand as independents in our wards at the May elections.... ooh we do. That sounds like something to sing about. It's flashmob time!