Sunday, February 05, 2012

Oddsocks, famous for seizing the sails of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays & ripping them down the middle, have turned their mischievous minds to The Merry Wives of Windsor, which arrived at Bristol QEH on Saturday. In the persona of a 1950s television theatre company - with onstage studio screen monitoring the action – they perform a contemporary version complete with snatches of skiffle and interruptions from their sponsor, Mrs Quickly’s household remedies. Elli Mackenzie and Andrew McGillan shone in a quintet of jolly performers, delivering the ever-popular high-level of audience interaction, and some memorably funny moments: Mistress Page shuddering with orgasmic glee as the Bendix where Falstaff is hiding goes into full spin, the inept ‘product placements’, and a marvellous final woodland scene as the lascivious knight meets his come-uppance from romping night-sprites and Anne Page flees with her lover, fortuituously called Fenton – giving the best gag of the night as her father dashes off roaring ‘Fenton! Fenton! Fenton’ and Falstaff takes off his antlers to quip that many a dog runs after deer… (the youtube clip made national news in November – what a gift!)
But there were bits that didn’t quite work so well: slapstick comedy that should be slicker, silly walks in lieu of characterisation, gratuitous bunion-munching & a pointless radio horserace sequence padding out the second act, and - most importantly - Shakespeare’s words. The play within the parody seemed to become almost an incumbence, scenes scoured for chances of mockery and speeches milked for ridicule. Yet it is possible (as Oddsox showed with Hamlet a couple of years ago) to show pathos even in farce, enhancing hilarity while engaging more intensely with the story. More could have been made of the difficulties women faced in a society controlled by men, and my particular disappointment was Falstaff’s ludicrous Tweedledum outfit: I wished he'd been shown in fat-Elvis glory to introduce the poignancy of misplaced aspirations. Without these elements it’s a tale that’s tediously one-dimensional.
But the audience laughed and clearly love this endearing troupe, which is what matters.

Frome Scriptwriters, a new group for local writers developing work for stage or radio, launched this week at the Cornerhouse. This is another initiative from Rosie Finnegan, enterprising entrepreneur who brought Nevertheless Theatre Company to Frome, and once again I'm chuffed to be on board to support this venture. We started small, but aim to grow. It's a cliché but true: there's much talent in this town - and, unlike other places I've been, much goodwill & mutual support. Meetings will be monthly, democratic, free, and open to all.

Interesting developments for all who hanker for an effective library service: the anti-closure protest has won its case against Somerset Libraries on grounds of European diversity legislation. Opening hours in 23 libraries have been reinstated and 11 are no longer headed for closure, but councillors remain defensive about their plan to 'pass the least-used libraries into community hands.'
"The world is changing and we need to change with it," said Cllr John Woodman, Conservative, citing pressure from a 'zero book budget' - a claim corrected online to £200,000. Another comment suggests: "Somerset library service has been one of the worst managed in the whole of England for many years... Now the council has a chance to rethink the whole future of its libraries the first item on the agenda is to dramatically improve the quality of the management. What (John Woodman) has said is such rubbish it hardly is worth the ink used to print it."
Frome Library, under the tireless and imaginative stewardship of Wendy Miller-Williams, has a high profile for community book-related events and is always at the heart of the summer Arts Festival. The coldest day of the year so far - we're talking minus 7 degrees - saw a posse of local bibliophiles and writers converge in the library foyer for tea, biscuits, and book sharing to celebrate National Libraries Day. Travel writer John Payne signed copies of his new book on Bath, which opens with another wintry scene, from a walk we did last year: The city is there, somewhere beneath us. Thick snow beneath our feet and a swirly misty frozen rain falling gently from grey skies stained with yellow... How very apt, on a day that began subzero and has now shrouded the town with snow.

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