Thursday, June 28, 2012

Final meeting of Frome Scriptwriters before our festival debut event Flaming Voices, last readthrough of some cracking pieces. Bristol's Stepping Out Theatre Company stepped in to supply professional actors & direction for this rehearsed read-through ~ a fantastic & exciting support for our fledgling group. As Rosie says,"New writing is always exciting because you just don't know what gems are hidden there." All that glitters will be revealed 8pm Friday 13 July at the Cornerhouse, and it's FREE so come early for a seat!

Still on the subject of new writing: Short Shrifts is the collective title of twelve short plays by Peter Oswald ~ we're talking really short here, 90 minutes for the full dozen with an interval thrown in ~ which are bizarre and often beautiful. The writing is superb, both real and surreal: clever, lyrical, and often savagely funny. Meet the couple who discover when meeting on holiday they share the same town.. street... house... name.. ("small world!") and the husband who reads out crazy newspaper items that reflect his own broken relationship, the wife who taunts her husband with his inability to do anything ("you can forget about death Donald you're not up to it, death is a leap in the dark and you've never been able to leap.")...a ventriloquist, a trumpet player, cannibals, and Medusa. And more. Despite the disparity, these pieces hold together through an enchanting discordancy: however absurd or baffling the situation there's always a thread of uneasy but palpable connection with human feelings of frustration and longing, hope and disappointment. I absolutely loved the cadence of language and the theatricality of form in this boundary-pushing writing, and the actors ~ Josephine Larsen, musician Nemo Jones and the writer himself ~ are stunningly good. It's on till July 7th at the Brewery in Bristol, go!

Scoring poetry is arbitrary bullshit, says Jack Dean in his introduction to the National Slam Final at the Bierkeller on Thursday: the poetry is the thing. And, with teams from Bristol, Bath, Birmingham, Cardiff and London, the thing was mostly brilliant. There were a few new-wave formulaic recitations with fluttering hands and heart-stopping pauses, a couple of William Burroughs-stylee rants, but most were funny, funky, and original. Bath's poets, including and especially Robbie Vane and Liv Tork, did themselves proud but despite the judges' sometimes baffling corroboration of Jack Dean's thesis, no-one could deny team London deserved their first place. Fantastic stuff Keith Jarrett and the rest of the trio!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The last weekend of June is Winchester Writers’ Conference, a bitter-sweet event since although there’s the usual camaraderie, fascinating talks and enjoyable meetings & reunions, this is the last year that much-loved founder & organiser Barbara Large will be at the helm. And I use ‘much-loved’ factually: I’ve never heard anyone mention her name without affection & admiration bordering on awe. For 32 years Barbara has been inspirational to her every-extending ‘family of writers’, not just a pioneer in egalitarian provision of routes to success, but also a warm & nurturing presence – tales are legion of her personal involvement in solving delegates’ difficulties way beyond the scope of a director. I’ve been recipient of her kindness too, so I hope this doesn’t sound like an elegy for a this lively lady when I say for me this is the end of an era…
So… back to the highlights: Friday night I joined John Jenkins, Adrienne Dines, Veronica Heley and John Gilbey on the the Writers’ Panel in the Vault, where audience-inspired topics ranged from issues of integrity & the place of reportage in fiction to appropriate use of research: “Don’t do too much,” advised Veronica, “the story is king.” Saturday morning’s plenary session featured Alan Titchmarsh with an excellent talk on How to Grow a Writer – entertaining anecdote and genuine advice in pithy soundbites, like “There’s no one way to write – there’s only your way.” And on the writer’s journey: “You go in all bells & whistles & flourishes, you spend the rest of your life making less and less of it.” He recalled telling Alan Bennett how his characters were deciding what should happen next, and receiving the sage reply: “The mind is a bigger bucket than we know, there’s stuff at the bottom you’d never dream of.”
Sunshine flitted around the proceedings and delegates flitted around the construction works - an intrusive presence here for the last 3 years – as the day continued. I always appreciate opportunities to go into other speakers’ sessions, and enjoyed both Patrick Sandford’s drama workshop & a fascinating talk from Debby Holt on finding inspiration. Debby’s list of ten sources was an inspiration in itself, including such diverse stimuli as following current events ~ we read, she suggests, to make sense of the world, so if as writers we cut ourselves off we’re not doing our job properly ~ and trust of the unconscious, as recommended by Martin Amis.
And when evening falls and the talks are over, and bottles of wine replace the thermoses on the welcome table, there’s the Awards Ceremony, a key aspect for many of the delegates since 18 writing prizes are up for grabs. This inevitably over-runs even the hour-and-a half allotted, so since unlike most of the rest of the audience I wasn't biting my nails with hope & apprehension frantically mingled, I indulged in the alternative self-entertainment of a gender watch. From which I can tell you that prizewinners consisted of 40 women and 9 men (one was the same man 3 times), with 65 women and 21 men making up the list of Commended and Highly Commended. To complete statistics corner, the adjudicating board comprised of 10 men and 4 women...
But Winchester weekend is more than the talks, workshops & speeches: it’s about exciting random interactions over depleted thermoses and those peculiar pastry-obsessed meals, too ~ sometimes useful leads like enterprising Cat Randle's BigUp Words project, or just pleasant chat like John Gilbey explaining Singularity, parallel processing, and neural networks over Sunday breakfast, and Craig Batty ~ my main mate & ally when I was external examiner for Southampton but now living in Melbourne, who silenced the lunch table by remarking “There’s loads of funding for the Arts there!” And many other speakers and delegates, and the delightfully appreciative group who came to my talk... thanks all of you. And thank you again & again to Barbara.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hay-on-Wye I used to think was a pop-up town made of books specially for the famous festival, but actually it appears to be made of books all the time. Also not a town but a kingdom, with bookseller Richard Booth the crowned head, and laws like Ban the Kindle! which is perhaps understandable in a place where every building from cafe to garden shed hosts its own bookshop. I specially liked the Crime & Mystery specialist shop, with corpse outlined on the pavement outside and Arthur Conan Doyle characters musing on the stairs. And when you're booked out, there's lovely Wye Valley river trails to follow as summer solstice teases us with occasional sightings of blue among the fifty shades of grey.

On the subject of that elusive golden orb, Andy Burns and his team from the Herschel Museum of Astronomy were out & about in Bath Abbey precinct inviting passers-by to enjoy a bit of solstice sun-gazing. Did you know the sun has an eleven year cycle of building up magnesium activity which is then released as a vast plasmic sun-spot? Nor me. Sadly, and unsurprisingly really, this is the quietest the sun has been for about 130 years so no sunspots today.

Shakespearean activity, however, has been building up visibly as we near July's pledge of "a national celebration of Shakespeare to coincide with the London Olympics." Bristol Shakespeare Festival was launched last night with balloons speeches and sonnets, appropriately in The Shakespeare Tavern beside the docks. "This year it's about pushing the festival further and bringing the plays to life in different ways" said artistic director Emma Henry. I'm very proud that PlayText, the Living Bard, a text-speak version of two well-known dramas by me and Alison Clink, is one of those different ways, sited in one of the further pushes: viz, Colston Hall on July 7th. Lots of other great reworkings there too - dance, photographs, and a randomly-reciting robotic cat... and it's all free!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tautly titled Can't Wait for the Festival? POETRY ON THE FRINGE Frome Poetry Cafe on Monday was generally acclaimed a brilliant night, thanks to three great guests: Carrie Etter, Alasdair Paterson and Frome's own dazzling Robbie Vane - and also to our open mic-ers, including a small explosion of performance from Liv Torc and Jesse Perrett, limbering up for the National Slam Final in Bristol next month. And Carrie held the crowded room spellbound with a profoundly moving reading of some of the superb poems in her pamphlet The Son (Oystercatcher Press). Unforgettable.

So now it's time to look beyond the fringe as Frome Festival begins in three weeks! Come Rhyme With Me is my main poetry event, but I'll be an avid audience member at Hip Yak Poetry Shack featuring Tim Clare... then there's Pub Theatre, nightly music, writerly talks, and delights for every taste... if you haven't picked up a brochure, check out the events here and book your tickets!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fortuitous sunshine in the midst of this car-wash summer (thanks Audrey for the apt phrase) as Stourhead becomes a concert hall for local community choirs, so no better way to spend Saturday than picnicking by the lake listening to massed voices singing Dance me to the end of love...

That evening was the last night of my play Mascara at the Alma Tavern Theatre, with the best performance of the run. This has been the most intense experience of my writing life ~ not even publication of my first novel came near the excitement of being included in a close team all much more experienced than me in this chaotic, emotional, seductive world of theatre... Now the get-out's over, set dismantled, the imaginary world we visited nightly for two weeks gone forever, and it feels a bit weird. All that's remains is those audience messages after each show. So here, as a way of pinching myself to prove it's all true, is another selection ~ a bit long, but indulge me, there are lots more too!
"Powerful, real, intense, upsetting, brilliantly acted, relevant. I couldn’t fault it."... Fantastic. Actress stunning and sexy. Thanks for a good night!... Wow!...WOW!!...clubbing scene was hilarious and the end really packed a punch... Clever shifts in tempo to keep the pace going, clever mirroring of relationships ..."A very impressive performance all round: a well crafted and thought-provoking script, a superbly directed mise-en-scène and wonderful acting – Olivia particularly subtle and one to watch. " ...Brilliant explosive and chilling ending. Great performances... The author did a wonderful job on threading opposing views.. I loved this... I was riveted throughout... "We regularly go to the theatre all over, including London and this performance was equal to any." ...gripping, thought-provoking play, excellently acted, directed, set... The most insightful and powerful studio production I've ever seen....deserves to be seen elsewhere. Highly engrossing. Beautifully subtle and sensitive writing – intriguing and challenging subject matter, adapted and implemented with intelligence and skill... original and fascinating... welcome moments of humour. Strong performances and perceptive, well-judged direction with a visually arresting set. ...highly emotive and beautifully performed. I would definitely recommend it to others. I was captivated and completely engaged from start to finish. "The actors gripped me from the moment they came on stage. They were able to switch between characters so effectively – they really took the audience with them through the whole journey... Thank you all for such a fantastic evening!" ...Fantastic, incredibly intense and the tension built to a great climax...definitely a hit. Terrific. Absolutely brilliant. Clever and complex. Totally engaging all the way through – varied pace and clever dialogue, sensitively written and consistently intriguing. An amazing evening. Deeply moving and thought-provoking. Brilliantly written and staged. God! Riveting performances of an amazing, deeply disturbing play.. "I kept thinking these were the actual people not actors!!! Even though I cried I thought the acting was superb and the writing of the script very clever and the twist brilliant... The best play I have seen."...Very well staged and acted, with an original and exciting script. Dynamic performances and directing– hugely enjoyable evening! Well done all round! Very emotional. Loved the club scene! Well done Stepping Out!...Powerful, educational, amazing drama, loved the disco scene. Acting fantastic. Moving....Fantastic performance. Well-written play, well directed... should be should be shown again, perhaps even afar. Congratulations, a fab show. ...Riveting – superbly acted overall, fantastic theatre....What good theatre is all about. Very sensitively done, fine writing, well directed. A thought-provoking exploration of the subject. Congratulations.... the nightclub scene was genius...Best play I've seen in a long time. ...All that one would hope from a play... "Huge congratulations on Mascara. The writing was incredibly condensed and raised so many unnerving questions about the family and social norms – I could watch it several times over and still get something new from it. I love the way it never tells the audience what to think – you have to think for yourself! It is an excellent piece of writing and certainly deserves many further outings. I do hope it can be brought to London at some point as I am sure it would be perfect for a fringe audience down here."

Back in the real world... there's Winchester to prepare for, and Frome Festival is less than a month away... And if you're in Bristol on July 7th, there's The Complete Reworks of Shakespeare at Colston Hall including PlayText the Living Bard which since you ask is café wall projection of 2 popular plays rewritten by me & Alison as mobile texting scripts... Lord what fools these mortals be. Lol :-)

"Amazon will tell you it's incredibly easy to publish on Kindle, you just press click, but that's actually not quite true" warned marketing expert Jenni O'Connor in her Sunday workshop at New Oriel Hall for Writers Events Bath. Her power-point presentation rapid-fired through the complexities of e-book publishing in exhausting detail but Alison and I were both inspired, so blog musings may well take a kindling turn before the end of the year...

And no need to wait for July to hear sensational performances as Frome Poetry Cafe next Wednesday has a sizzling line-up of new guests. Real world looking quite bright, all in all!

Monday, June 04, 2012

First week's run of my play Mascara at the Alma Tavern Theatre has left me still reeling at the enthusiasm of audience feedback. Gripping, mesmerising, fascinating, totally absorbing, were frequently used words, along with believable, convincing, and - of course - brilliantly acted. "Worth seeing more than once" was also good to see, and appreciations of my intentions in choosing a real-life kidnap story: Excellent play, well researched and an interesting angle, cleverly brought humour into a dark subject... the way the play managed to mix humour and intensity wonderful, it raised a lot of profound questions in a very interesting way.
And I specially like this facebook review from Dave Clark:
"This is a very well acted and written two hander exploring the Natascha Kampusch story, with wider references to the nature of abuse within relationships, the meaning of love, and the role of 'victims' within society. We were gripped from start to finish - the climax has a visceral intensity which works brilliantly in this intimate space. Bloody Marvellous!"
Thanks to everyone ~ and to Jose Navarro for these evocative stills.

Back in Frome, Sunday is our annual Fun Day and streets are full of stalls selling pottery & beads, candles & retro clothes, vegan cakes & ewes cheese. There's a cup-and-saucer roundabout outside the petshop and a champagne bar by St Aldhelm's well where the excellent Pigeons are playing. My highlight is street theatre from SATCO with their mountaineering ascent of Cheap Street, gloriously achieving the summit at La Strada despite avalanches as onlookers smile and murmur "Only in Frome!" while they sip their lattes. Not true, of course, but perhaps only in Frome would the team be led by the town mayor who also smashed the mayoral chain competing in the CobbleWobble cycle race last year...