Sunday, April 22, 2012

If your idea of theatre is sitting comfortably in anonymous darkness watching the same kind of easy entertainment you’d see on telly but without the cup of tea – probably not or you wouldn’t be reading this blog – then you might feel a bit insecure at Beyond, a site-specific performance devised by Karla Shacklock and developed for Bristol Ferment. Karla and her team are energetically redefining theatre in dynamic terms: anarchic, intimate and unpredictable. At the showcase on Thursday we were escorted through wet streets to St Nicholas market where Karla, poised precariously on glass jars, welcomed us. Everything we see or hear, she explained, is real, and is stored in scores of glass jars. The experiences released to each audience will be chosen without preplanning by the five performers: "What you see will be right for you."
Karla, scattering garments, led us barefoot round the corner to an old pub now the venue for this 'symphony of experiences spilling from the nooks & crannies of the building and into your hearts & minds.' Like children excited by discovering a dressing-up box, the performers scramble for attention ~ "someone come in the Laughing Cupboard with me!" ~ "I'm going to do something in here, do you want to watch me?" and our taster of these brief, sometimes baffling, experiences included funny, touching, erotic, and violent. I especially liked the flower poem, and the 'breaking-fixing' dance in the strobe lighting room. We became part of the action as viewers, even when not drawn in to participate. It may not be always comfortable, but at a time when leaders in the field like Tim Crouch and Mark Rylance are working for a shift away from 'safe' scripts presented to audiences identically every night, Beyond offers an exploration of audience-led theatre that anyone with a real interest in theatre will find too exciting to miss. It's on 23rd-29th, try it.

Bristol Spring Poetry Festival is underway at the Arnolfini, with some of the best performance poets around. I went along to As Good As It Gets on Thursday because I knew the line-up – Rob Gee, Ben Mellor and Chris Redmond – would deliver what it said on the ticket. I’ve seen Rob several times – in fact he’s overspilled my non-giant-sized sofabed after a great gig in Frome some years ago – and was keen to see his current show Fruitcake but sadly Rob had to cancel due to illness. However, as organiser Colin Brown proudly pointed out, Bristol is a city that slews with supernova poets, and local slammer Anna Freeman stepped forward superbly. Ben Mellor specialises in wonderful innovative protest poetry: he fills the stage with dissenting voices in his response to ‘celebrations for the end of slavery’, and personifies Poetry itself (“he’s turned out to be a louche, Byronic, bisexual lush”) in his satiric objections to being used for corporate promotions. Chris Redmond has great, often hilarious, stage presence too, creating compelling rhythms and and coaxing roaring choruses from our sparse audience. Check out the poo in the eye incident, if you’re brave enough. Chris is coming to Frome’s Archangel on April 26th for Hip Yak Shack so be there or your Thursday night will be seriously depleted.

The last major Picasso exhibition at the Tate was in 1960 and I was one of over 500,000 entranced by the colour and energy of his painting as well as his immaculate draughtsmanship. In those days commentary focussed on challenge of cubism – it wasn’t that long since art critics wrote derisively of his work as “a collection of coloured geometrical figures gone mad.” But what struck me about the current Tate exhibition was how small a proportion of his work is controversial in any aesthetic way. What is plangent is the humanity ~ tenderness, wit, erotica, anger, all the real passions of life are here. What's interesting too is the inclusion of work by contemporaries inspired by either admiration (Duncan Grant, Graham Sutherland, David Hockney) or envy (Wynham Lewis) as well as social context from catalogues, cuttings, and photographs. My personal favourites, apart from revisiting the sheer beauty of his blue period, were the costumes & stage designs for Diaghilev’s production of The Three Cornered Hat. And realising the secret behind those doubled faces in his series Head of a Woman: the profile in his portraits of Marie-Thérèse is the artist himself, her clandestine lover, kissing her as he paints.

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