Thursday, June 30, 2011

A last look at the magic island, before a different genre of reality claims me and I have to move on from posting photos on facebook and revelling in comments like "OMG - I'm definitely booking now", "What is an Atsitsa and how do I sign up?" and "owwwwwwwwwwwwwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" So here we are, or were, when all you needed was love and a guitar at sunset...

Meg Whelan's new play Lost Luggage at the Alma puts the focus on holiday travel too, contrasting the journey of an intrepid Victorian with that of a contemporary hen-party-goer, as both women meet in a surreal and slightly Kafkaesque Lost Property Office. Gently entertaining social observations, with more than a few droll digs at changing values.
There's deeper digging in Bunny, as you'd expect from Skins writer Jack Thorne in a production by nabakov whose mission statement promises 'an antagonistic response to contemporary agendas'.
Rosie Wyatt takes the gruelling role of Katie, relating events of one late afternoon when a trivial street confrontation escalated mesmerically through ugly urban power-struggle to coming-of-age crisis. Katie's an average Luton girl with an older black boyfriend and identity issues: she plays clarinet in the school orchestra and wants a tattoo saying Will Lick For Money – in tiny writing – on her wrist. Her sexuality, and the fine line between thrill and contempt, is one of the values up for shock re-evaluation when she's involved in a car chase with a brutal agenda. "I don’t know how to bring up the whole racist thing – it’s a conundrum," Katie declares, but when you live on streets of smoldering conflict, difficult decisions are unavoidable. A gripping and unpredictable script made Katie compellingly likable despite her flaws as she struggles to articulate things she doesn't like thinking, summed up eventually "I’m not a bunny, I’m a scared little girl." Rosie Wyatt is brilliant in this one-hour emotionally-exhausting monologue against an effectively simplistic scribbled backdrop designed by Hannah Clark, pacily directed by Joe Murphy.

Meanwhile in Bristol, it's TO ME TO YOU time again: writers from across the southwest convened on a sultry evening in a vault-like chamber in the Arnolfini to discuss the question how can the region's network best serve its members in the next three years? Seth Honnor, ex-Theatre Bristol director, facilitated this session modelled on a three-hour coffee break, during which clusters of writers, actors, and producers discussed key questions of collaboration, working relationships, promotion, and... funding. Good to hear a range of views, great to meet the makers and shakers, and as ever, the (real) coffee-breaks were the most useful bits.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It won't mean much if you've never been to Skyros but I was apprehensive when I first heard my writing course this year would run not in the little town I claim as my spiritual home but on the other side of the island, in Atsitsa Bay. Yeah I know, it's an idyllic communal paradise amid green pines and flame red geraniums, surrounded by blazing blues of sea and sky, but this is a place of rugged rocks, hut tribes, and magic circles... Atsitsa dances to its own drum beat, on Dead Goat beach at night and Bare-Ass beach by day, and even wifi is untamed. Here the first rule, obeyed on land and water, from dawn till high full moon, is: be playful.

As it turned out, this session – both sessions – rocked. It was, as Anna would say, amazing. My initial group swelled from three to five, then twelve, with each day providing stunning responses to every exercise: poignant, political, sensual, celebratory, funny and simply fabulous. We began nomadically, roaming between terraces, eventually settling at Mariana’s bar on promontory, with fresh orange juice and frappes – and ice-cream wine and cake, for writers rising too late for breakfast.

So what do we take, and leave, now that buses and ferries and planes have separated us from our magic-island home? For me:
• preconceptions exploded
• sun on sea, still mind-dazzling
• sense of privilege, and excitement, from every piece of writing shared – so much I’d love to have written myself…
• golden skin glow and a hundred mosquito bites,
• a small weaving, a slight cough (still), loads of laughter and new friends
• a handful of pebbles
For stones, like love, move silently across the world - in the words of Alyson Hallett - ... migrating past line, border, boundary, their movements a constellation of questions:
where is home, what is home, and who in their right mind can claim land as their own?

Back in Frome now, missing everyone and pining for sun, sea, and cicadas, but cheered to hear my submission to the 'Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing' reached the final shortlist, and my poem Aspiration will be published in the next issue of Mslexia.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The best thing about the storm when we arrived in Atsitsa - apart from the thrill of being greeted by Poseidon's firework display and drum-roll band - was the amazing writing it stimulated for my writing group.
Delightfully diverse, they've been taking every straw I sling at them and weaving it promptly into gold. There's an immensely creative community here in this geranium village in the pine forest above the bay: visitors and work-scholars all joining in courses on guitar, photography and rainbow weaving, as well as windsurfing and sailing, bodywork, yoga and massage...
And if that sounds like a promo for Skyros holistic holidays, well what's not to promote? Beautiful island, lovely people, wonderful opportunities. With the storm over and hut-land simmering in sunshine again, and another session still to go, it's nothing but blue skies from now on...

Thursday, June 09, 2011

"I write things I think people can identify with" said Fleur Adock at the last ever Uni-verse event at the BRLSI in Bath:"It's not fashionable, but I want to be accessible - I hate the idea of people slaving away to analyse my words." Fleur's much-awarded collections span more than fifty years, from wartime infancy through peripatetic childhood she recalls as constantly in culture shock. Her poems are dry, often droll, almost like clippings from a life longing always to be more ordinary.
Fleur was joined by Alyson Hallett at this reading on the theme of "Geographical Intimacy - Relationships between poet and place." Alyson's poems are immensely visual and sensual experiences of the natural world, sometimes surreal but somehow always grounded. Her poem Origin exquisitely conveys that feeling of walking through woods until Unsure
if the thoughts in her head belong to her
or this mulch of earth, leaf and light.

She's influenced by dreams, she says, and is fascinated by the migration of stones. 'Our culture thinks of stones as fixed, but they're travellers.' Beautiful poems read with warmth and charm.

A random roundup of unconnected items before I leave for Greece:
~ According to Amazon, Kindle is their 'number one bestselling product', with Kindle books outselling hardback books by 2 to 1. I'm glad to hear it: I was never a fan of hardbacks, designed as permanent property rather than ready usage, and didn't launch my second novel until the paperback version came out.
~ Award-winning performance poet Inua Ellams, who brought The 14th Tale to the Merlin last year, writes that his new show is now cancelled due to withdrawal of funding. Is he fuming? No. "I’m from where no one funds art. At All. To have be supported thus far is more than I ever expected. One door closes, a window opens... " The grim fact is a lot of us will be looking through, or for, that window, so alongside the protests it's great to hear some positive affirmations.
~ And finally:here's two of the paired paintings from the Rook Lane exhibition of a remarkable project by artist Barry Cooper using music as stimulus and painting alongside Ray Toll after his stroke. These pictures were inspired by Tidelines, composed by Helen Ottaway for the silkie story Annabelle and I devised for First Cut Theatre Company and toured in the south west.

Right, packing for Skyros now, where in homage to Alyson I will 'move stones silently across the world'.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Summer in the city.... while Bath Festival Fringe does unicycle juggling and clarinets, Bristol dockside does stag parties and thunking drum n' bass.
I'm back there for yet another session of short plays - well, why do just 39 in a week when with a little more effort I can manage 45? The six competition winners of Saturday Shorts 2 were produced at Bristol Folk House as script-in-hand readings, making a lively evening's entertainment. Impressive writing, and brilliant performances from ever-awesome actors like Annette Chown, Alan Coveney and Dan Winter.

Frome joined in the urban celebrations with a Fun Day in Cheap Street, local celebrities contributing to the frolics: that's our mayor looking fetching in turquoise, and the vision in pink below is popular performance poet Muriel Lavender, with children's author Kate Maryon being interviewed for fromeFM by artist David Chandler.

Sadly this was the only wet day of the week, but since the theme was a traditional 'Day at the Beach', rain naturally didn't dampen our spirits although it did soak the market stalls and make the snacks soggy and, even more tragically, compelled Illyria to transfer The Fantastic Mr Fox from the ECOS amphitheatre to inside the Merlin.
The show played to an enthusiastic full house, but to my mind the wonderfully vibrant energy of Illyria thrives best in outdoor theatre, and much as I enjoyed the animal antics and the beastliness of the farmers, I kept imagining how exuberant the production would have been in the open-air. That aside, this multi-talented six-strong team successfully shuffled twenty characters, often in swift succession, to create Roald Dahl's famous Mr Fox story in a way that enchanted the children and even floated a few environmental- and aggression-related thoughts for the adults to ponder. Best prop was the vast mechanical digger that looked a cross between a dinosaur and a kite, funniest moment the hen coop break-in, with every cast member abruptly sprouting chicken-arms and clucking.

And finally... Theatre West has concluded the initial stage of Picture This, with nine playwrights picked to continue the journey, leaving the abandoned thirty to congratulate with gritted teeth and commiserate with gnashed teeth. Disappointed? Well yes, I wouldn't have much commitment to the craft if I wasn't. But as I always remind others in similar situations: the work for a writer is finding a way to be heard - the writing is the just the enjoyable bit. I'm pleased to see some of my favourite entries were picked but not totally surprised several are absent: choices, as we all know, are inevitably and rightly subjective. The judging process could not have been fairer and the weekend of readings was briliantly organised, great fun - and good learning too. Now pass me my teeth, I have gritting and gnashing to do.

Friday, June 03, 2011

And I And Silence, a world premiere at Finborough Theatre, premier venue for provocative new writing, sounded worth a trip to London: with daisy-chains of stars from reviewers and deemed "unmissable" by Guardian drama queen Lyn Gardner. Theatre Guide London rates it “a play that wants to make you weep, and is quite likely to succeed, so touching is its story” and I'd go half-way with that, stopping at the second comma. It was eye-wateringly dreary. Maybe it's sacrilege to suggest that a play dealing with a subject like racial segregation still needs credible characters and dialogue which is more than abstract ranting, occasionally in rhyme. “Naomi Wallace's short, painful prison drama uses the backdrop of racially segregated '50s America to weave a tale of the hope that can blossom behind bars, and the despair that can destroy a life outside them.” said Time Out, tactfully focussing on the plot not the writing. Short? - even with four excellent women actors, that was a long 70 minutes. Among the critics' bewilderingly gushing tributes there's one incisive comment by Miriam Gillinson in Culture Wars: "plays commissioned for a set purpose (are) tough to stomach... this process often seems to suck the life and spontaneity right out of the writing." And as this honest and unsychophantic review says, And I And Silence is a formulaic play that teaches no-one anything about prison life or its effects.

No need to trek up to London for entertainment anyway, when Bath on a sunny day brims with street theatre and live music. My friend Diana Cambridge lives in delightfully bohemian style in a house with views across the city, and lunch in her garden is always a treat. Her next book Writing for Magazines: The Essential Guide is out in October.

And once again belatedly... now that - via my son's DVD - I've discovered Stewart Lee , I'm addicted to the Comedy Vehicle reruns on BBC2.
His take on quality of life is still on BBC i-player if you missed the magic "Prawns prawns prawns", now my mantra for the summer.