Thursday, March 08, 2012

Red Light Winter by Adam Rapp is the first of director Laurence Boswell's American season at Bath's prestigious Ustinov studio theatre. Unrequited passion is a harsh subject in any era and place - here we are in loosely contemporary Amsterdam and New York - and this exploration of love and lust despite graphic scenes is more tragic than erotic. Putting aside the deconstruction of literature & its relationship to the American Dream, this story is a love triangle comprising two naive victims manipulated by one alleged charmer of TV-soap standard villainy. He lies, he betrays, and he buggers - in fact he does all three together while on the phone, in startling refutation of male difficulty in multi-tasking. Maybe the hooker's infatuation would have seemed more credible if he'd been less shouty and obnoxious, or maybe the point is that some people are inevitable victims. Whatever, the audience found much to laugh at (mostly the rude words actually, but this is Bath) in a busy script, the actors were impressive, and the set & lighting were superb.

Still on the subject of sex in the city, Bath Lit Fest offered an intimate look at the 'Frail Sisterhood' - 18th Century courtesy title for women who follow the oldest profession. Rosie & I joined historian Kirsten Elliott in her walk around the lewder & more lascivious streets, to hear tales of the beauties and bawds whose lives are a significant though hidden part of the history of Bath. From wealthy courtesans like Kitty Fisher, Joshua Reynolds' favourite model, to disorderlies who came to sticky ends, our 2-hour prowl around the staid pale Georgian buildings revealed scores of colourful stories. Kirsten's folder of quotes for every corner illustrated a timeless mix of lust and fear in male responses: 'panting breasts and soft music' to some, 'dissolute women and piano-playing so respectable people are ashamed to live here' to others. I especially liked Harris's List of whores, listing the qualities & even genitalia of each nymph rather as a garden catalogue might describe their floribunda. Among much intriguing data the overwhelming fact to emerge was that elegant Bath was once so notoriously licentious the very name of it set men salivating, though most of these women's stories were more of sadness and squalour than success... but who would expect anything different.
Another, and more specific, celebration of the 100th International Women's Day was held in St Michael's Church as a hundred women took turns to read a poem or prose extract by a woman. Six of Frome's writers - Rose Flint, Rosie Jackson, Rosie Finnegan, Alison Clink, Jill Miller, and me - contributed and as well as being fascinated to hear others' choices we felt immensely privileged to participate.
And I'm still in Bath as evening falls, for supper with my friend Diana, editor & broadcaster. Diana doesn't subscribe to the value of 'time-rich' living, preferring to be 'time-focussed', and takes the opportunity to interview me for her Glastonbury radio programme on 'love, loss, and therapy'. A fitting end to International Women's Day.

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