Saturday, November 26, 2011

"If you only see one West End play this year it's got to be Jerusalem"... so we did, convinced by scrolls of honours for Jez Butterworth's script and Mark Rylance in the lead role of Rooster, rogue-hero and Green Man, striving to create the Jerusalem of Blake's anthem among retreating rural woodlands of Wiltshire.
Rylance's Rooster is an extraordinary figure: drunken clown & local menace as well as storyteller with near-mystical powers and a body broken by Evel Knievel stunting but apparently indestructible, his insalubrious Occupy has become a magnet for the disaffected and a threat to the developers and civic authorities. The story is violent, painfully funny, and stonkingly well acted- not only magical Mark, who eats the audience from the palm of his hand, but a wonderful support team headed by out-of-office Mackenzie Crook. Challenging, baffling and entertaining in roughly equal proportions, that's brilliant writing.

I Malvolio the fourth of Tim Crouch's 'retellings' of famous Shakespeare plays in the perspective of a minor character, presents the dour steward of Twelfth Night incarcerated as insane after being tricked out of habitual restraint in a society he insists is more crazy than he is. And certainly Shakespeare's plot devices of boy/girl confusion and infatuations do seem, in his outraged summary, ripe for therapy. The ranting is comical and the outfit a joke demonstration of every emblem of derangement and rejection from soiling to KICK ME card on his back, but we're not allowed to forget the false 'love letter' that led Malvolio to this state, or the fury of his futile threat I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you. What pushed him into this abyss was the terrible thrill of believing he was loved. Which is why our laughter chills into silence as we watch Malvolio changing, slowly and deliberately, back into the corseted, starch-shirted, buttoned-up, dark-suited being he sees as worthy of respect.
Friday's late show at Bristol Old Vic was billed as adult content, so what did Tim change? Not much, apparently. He always strips to his leopard-print thong, but doesn’t usually talk so much about audience drinking. Or cardboard boxes and orgasm. The main difference was the amount of ad-libbing - so much he nearly falls out of character but, like a bungee jumper, always pulls back, and the laughter fades. This is a man stripped of everything he valued, left only with what he dreads: the vulnerability of being human. Perhaps Malvolio is right, and believing yourself beloved is madness.

Frome Christmas Extravaganza, fun even when thronging with umbrellas, was a vintage one this year - a mild clear night, and a return of the traditional 'real tree' to the market place. The town was seething with all the usual jollities, including craft fair at the Merlin, and a dance stage in the main street (only in Frome, surely, is the Christmas Light Switch-On prefaced by performances of The Sugar Plum Fairy and Whip My Hair...) Nick White in mayoral role (and male attire, which doesn't always happen, though he looks just as good in a suit as in tutu) with the help of the three little winners of the draw-a-Christmas-card contest (a crowd ahhhh moment) did the countdown (5... 4... 3... 2... 1...) and the Frome tradition of partial success was maintained to the satisfaction of all. 'Oh well, look behind you,' said Nick cheerfully, 'some of them have come on there.' And then we had fireworks. I genuinely love Frome civic celebrations, I feel a bit like Dr Johnson admiring dogs that walk on their hind legs: It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.

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