Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bold, bonkers, brilliant and British was Gary Lineker's take on the Olympic opening and despite all that carping on twitter about puerile BBC commentary, the overall verdict seems summed up in the Guardian: "It's been a terrific night, a glorious ceremony, a rousing history lesson and far and away the best film that Danny Boyle never made." Certainly fantastic spectacle - who could forget those glowing white cycle-birds and the towering cauldron - but for me what was inspired was the theatricality: drama with characters, storyline and heart. Well done Mr Branagh, stepping forth as both Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Caliban in an extraordinary sequence that apparently baffled the world. For me it had just about everything: our www lives, grime, disability, suffragettes, CND logo, fantastic big-up to the NHS, and overall an unmistakable political edge: Tory tweeters were apparently apoplectic at "the most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen!" ~ "Not even communist China were so brazen as to extol their nationalised stranglehold on their country so blatantly." (I got all this from the G too, in a piece that ends "But a stranglehold the nation loves is called a hug.") All that was missing was a sequence of policemen kettling protesters, which was on as a Fringe event outside.
Critical Mass, who tweeted the picture, praises Danny Boyle for "a ceremony "that bore a closer resemblance to the country we recognise than most of us had expected. We’d like to thank him for placing collective action, dissent, humour and – above all – our public services at the heart of his story... However... a peaceful mass cycle was met with police aggression, pepper spray, violence with truncheons, kettling and multiple arrests." Back to Dizzee Rascal & Gary L: Bonkers, and British.
(Full playlist here.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ferment is the Artist Development strand of Bristol Old Vic, run by Sharon Clark in her role as literary producer, and twice a year there's a showcase for the 'exciting and adventurous' new work which has been developed by workshops and dramaturgy. Rosie & I went along to their 70 minute programme of short plays Get Shorty, curious to compare this more professionally supported and funded event with our own highly-acclaimed Flaming Voices in Frome Festival. One exciting aspect was that these 5 plays were also directed by fabulous Emel Yilmaz, though the tiered seating of BOV studio made a big contrast to our intimate pub-theatre venue.
Short drama sounds easy but it's actually a difficult structure to master, as the characters need to make immediate connection if we're going to care about their challenge, with some kind of palpable change evident within the brief running time. The 10-minute limit was very loosely interpreted and, perhaps significantly, the longest piece was the least interesting. By far the best was Rainy Season by Chino Odimba, a brilliant confrontation between a child and a wounded soldier in a war-torn African country: lyrical, moving, and pitilessly unsentimental.
Script-in-hand performance continued after the interval with The Heat, a 60-minute play about four university friends remeeting on a sultry summer night in France. Immediately engrossing, with characters who were credible as well as fascinating, this was witty and touching as well as thought-provoking: if friends are the new family, is it impossible to avoid family-style feuds and jealousies? And if Mike Bartlett could write dialogue this good, then would Love Love Love be more than an over-rated parody of social mores? Writer George Gotts' new play about the tensions of loving intimacy made me want to see more of her work.

It's been a perfect week for a Leo ~ blue sky and dazzling sunshine from dawn till dusk ~ so I can't resist ending with a birthday image from our lunch party at Annabelle's, and a starry particle by PK Page from Dark Matter, the collection of 'poems of space' that Emily gave me:

The very stars are justified.
The galaxy
I have proofread
and proofread
the beautiful script
There are no

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jeremy Hooker is now Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Glamorgan but he used to live in Frome, and came back on Thursday for a conversation with still-local author Lindsay Clarke at Rook Lane Chapel. The event was entitled In the Household of Words and the words were mostly Jeremy’s own: a well-judged selection from poems spanning 60 years ~ lucent, sensual, and deeply interrogative, exploring the nature of nature itself:
From debris
of collapsing stars,
from gas and dust
where nothing is wasted
a stream of images

The conversation was a meeting of like-minded friends, reflecting on the role of a nature poet in a contemporary world. Lindsay quotes Brian Swimme: The universe is not a place, it’s an emerging event, and adds “The poet has a crucial role to play in this evolution ~ poets are a keystone species.” Their role, now as always, is simply and lucidly to remind us we are the earth and all that is on it. Since the 'Cosmic Walk' with Annabelle I've been more than ever aware of profound underlying connections, and that every destruction on earth is a depletion of ourselves. Whatever else we believe, we need to believe this or, like Tinkerbell, humanity will simply flicker out and die.

Dolphin Crossing at the Brewery is a tale from an earlier and more innocent time, an era when boys were brave lads and men were chaps who went off to fight for King and Country and every story ended with lashings of ginger beer. Blue Brook Productions took a brave step, in these post-Comic-Strip days, in adapting this Blyton-esque tale of daring-do by Jill Paton Walsh about two plucky boys joining the Dunkirk rescue team in their motorboat and coming home to a jolly good spread made by Mummy. It's a simple tale, both in narrative and moral values, but complicated to stage, and the two actors had to lug props around a lot to make both land- and sea- scapes. Characterisation was limited to their respective posh & gor-blimey accents, and 'memoir' links were provided by the sonorous & slightly parodic-sounding recorded voice of Tim Pigott Smith. Ironically, the Dunkirk miracle has since been proven to be an early example of media spin: The story of the small boats was soon enshrined in British popular consciousness, an example of a people coming to the rescue of their army. It was a very British story - the gallant loser escaping from disaster at the very last moment - and one that the public liked to be told. The audience seemed to like it, but for me it's not enough to tell the old lies with such high zest. Patriotic death ~ in any war ~ is not, and never was, sweet and fitting.

Holburne Museum gardens are worth a visit on a sunny Sunday afternoon anyway, and a site-specific happening evoking voices from the past was an added attraction. Ghosts in the Garden is the innovative idea of splash&ripple and features a 'special listening device' housed in a very smart casket and a great deal of painstaking research into Georgian history. Apparently these tranquil lawns were once as busy as Alton Towers, crammed with edifices from tea-rooms to castles and even a maze, and with entertainers from comedians to high-wire artistes. It's the story of some of these colourful characters that our magic box allows us to overhear, through time-slip techical sorcery, and we have a chance to alter the outcome by our responses as their disembodied voices gradually reveal their plots. For me there was too much plot and not enough sense of the actual lives of these people, but I like the idea of overhearing fragments from another reality and I wish I'd known from the start that the story was based on real characters. We were there on an early trial day but the tweaked version will be on August 5th so you can go along and hear for yourself.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

When one is tired of London one is tired of life, Oscar Wilde famously quipped. Even as a Londoner I'm not convinced losing the will to live is so geographically specific, but you'd certainly have to be in a bad way to feel lethargic in that city with fantastic shows like Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi and - even more mindblowing - Richard III at the Globe. Sondheim's musical, featuring Michael Ball and glorious Imelda Staunton, is beautifully lit and staged as well as movingly performed. I loved the Tim Burton movie, but hadn't appreciated how powerful a really good stage version could be.
But nothing could surpass Mark Rylance as Shakespeare's most vicious and mendacious monarch. He inhabited the role to an extraordinary degree, as though his lines were not memorised but chosen in that moment, his eyes flicking around to seize any advantage, seducing us to laughter and pity with the wit of a standup comic and the pathos of a sad clown. As Al Pacino put it, 'he speaks Shakespeare as if it was written for him the night before.’ Strong performances too from his supporters and victims ~ most were both ~ especially Roger Lloyd-Pack, a long way from Dibley's parish council meetings. This was my first experience as a 'groundling' in the pit and I was lucky to grab a footage right next to the stage, where I could have reached out to pinch the king's ankle when he stepped forward ~ which was often, as the Globe's policy is to recreate the production values of Shakespeare's day, so women are played by men, scenary is minimal, and Richard gloats direct to the audience like a pantomime villain. He's duly hissed and heckled, too. Thrilling stuff ~ can't wait to go again.

Fun footnote: Frome Festival pictures are in the local paper now, and I'm delighted with this review from journalist Suzanne Norbury:
Four witty women wordsmiths wowed the crowd with their tasty poetic treats in a comedy send up of TV's food favourite Come Dine With Me.
Crysse Morrison, Alison Clink, Rosemary Dun and Muriel Lavender transformed into incredibly glamorous but equally catty and critical dinner party guests rating each other's feast of words as they competed for the chance to walk away with the title of Frome Festival Rhymster.
Oranges, wine, Ambrosia, aggressive male chefs, botox, men in glasses and the exciting possibilities life can hold for women no longer shackled by a wedding ring were all on offer as visitors to the Garden Cafe joined the ladies around the dinner table.
Armed with score cards, wicked words and cutting jibes the poetic princesses dissected each other's offerings then rated them out of ten.
Frome's Muriel Lavender was crowed the champion thanks to her witty ditties exploring the lives behind celebrity super injunctions, the appeal of strange men and what happens can happen when cookery recipes and erotic fiction collide in the kitchen.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sunshine on Sunday made this the perfect day for a scamper round the Open Studios trail and marvel at the dazzling inventiveness and skill of Frome's artists. Two which stood out were the vibrant collective work at Circus stands out ~ I specially enjoyed the wall poem written in wire ~ and the theatrical pieces of John M Robinson, who creates narratives drawn from fact and fantasy for his characters: here's the corrupt tarot-reader but I was also fascinated by the notion of Albrecht Dürer's portal to the future leaving him trapped in 2011...

Music has been stonkingly high standard too: mindblowing two-hour sets from fantastic headliners like The Critters at Olive Tree and Pete Gage Band at the Cornerhouse... wow. I wish I could think of more superlatives but wow, wow, wow says it all really.

Against all odds we had a balmy night for The Importance of Being Earnest in the beautiful Merlin amphitheatre. Miracle Theatre have a great reputation for over-the-top open-air performances of well-loved classics, but I remain unconvinced that Oscar Wilde's wit needs any enhancement, or that playing sophisticated Jack Worthing as a buffoon and giving suave Algy's lines to his manservant are valid adornments to social satire. Ben Dyson, though brilliant as a neurotic butler, failed to create a formidable Aunt Augusta despite vicious umbrella-jabbing. Certainly not vintage Miracle ~ but the audience laughed and the weather was perfect.
Overall verdict on Frome festival: a fantastic, if exhausting, week crammed with brilliant experiences and performances. Especially the music.

And with all that going on I nearly missed The Hollow Crown: Richard II on BBC iplayer, which would have been a pity as it was visually beautiful with some superb filmic moments. This version played much with homo-erotic and quasi-religious overtones, even to the extent of rewriting Richard's murder to evoke a Judas-style betrayal and a crucifixion image. Ben Wishaw was compelling as the King raised to believe himself omnipotently above the rivalries and intrigues that swirled around his realm, and all the rest of the cast were excellent too though Bolingbroke did sometimes look disturbingly like Corrie's Tyrone.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Due to a terminally-slow train which ground to a halt before reaching Frome, Brian Madigan was quite late starting his session at the Garden Cafe on Wednesday night. The small but cheerful gathering agreed to wait, and were rewarded with two 40-minute sets of Brian's quirky mix of personal passions: songs about family, politics and society all performed with great acoustic skill. I especially like his anti-war fervour: fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity... is like bombing for liberty...

Friday Night at the Cornerhouse was Flaming Voices, a presentation of short scripts from Frome Scriptwriters, the group Rosie and I set up in January. Incredibly, since then no less than seven members each wrote & edited an excellent script, performed script-in-hand in a totally crammed 'pub theatre' room Upstairs at the Cornerhouse. Stepping Out Theatre from Bristol, which has for two years now supported our production company Nevertheless in bringing quality new writing to Frome at affordable prices, provided a cast of 5 superb actors ~ Gerard Cooke, Livi Dennis, Danann McAleer, Christine West and Simon Winker ~ and a wonderful director in Emel Yilmaz who steered the chaos with a light touch and huge good humour to a resoundingly successful outcome. Cosmic congratulations to all the team and especially to writers Tighe O'Connor, Morgan Rivers, Eddie Young, Simon Williams, Brenda Bannister, Paul Ralston, and Rosie Finnegan.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In the words of some of the enthusiastic audience posting late Monday night on facebook, Come Rhyme With Me at the Garden Cafe was "Fabulous... LOADS of fun... Really enjoyed - A culinary delight... a buzz for all in the melee and audience... a wonderfully fun event" and in case this sounds like all we did was make 'em laugh inordinately all night, "The themes of the competitors were unique, yet convergent. Synergy was the order of the evening. It is wonderful to see a respect for the power of poetry."
Huge thanks to wonderful Rosemary Dun, Alison Clink, and Muriel Lavender for embracing so whole-heartedly this quirkiest poetry competition ever, and mega congratulations to our stunning and popular winner Muriel!

And on to the Cornerhouse, for Griff's fabulous band The Dempseys, "jazzy blues with loadsasoul" and a bit of a dance.

Cornerhouse again on Tuesday, to see Brenton versus Brenton, "David Tristram's madcap spoof of American soaps ~ a crazy roller coaster of family feuding, legal chicanery and inept hit-men. Late slot nightly laughter from Frome Drama Club." I hired a hitman to kill my wife and my daughter was his payment! roars advertising executive Deke Brenton, adding reflectively I guess that doesn't make me much of a family man, thus summing up the plot & characterisation style of a farce which in its best moments delivered wonderfully ridiculous Airplane!-ish word-play. Dan Gaisford as the brother-in-law attorney shone in this interestingly traverse-staged revival.

Monday, July 09, 2012

"This was the year of the car-crash." says Alison Clink. She's giving the lowdown on entries to the Festival Short Story Contest, which she organises annually, to the writers crowded into the Library children's section on Sunday Morning. Old Peoples' Homes are an overly-used theme too, and this year's obligatory anthropomorphic viewpoint was that of a motorway. Intriguing... and a very successful event too, with helpful winning tips from both senior judges. Maria McCann in her excellent short talk spoke of the importance of language, and avoiding both the'forced epiphany' at the end and the 'fossilised title' at the start. Crime writer Peter Lovesey needs to feel in safe hands, which is something that happens when the story is compelling enough for him to forget about style altogether. After useful & encouraging information from the experts, three of the winning stories were read aloud so we could all reflect on Maria's reminder that "ultimately it's all down to personal choice" and then go & enjoy a salad buffet in Divas.

Then on, via Green Fair in the Cheese&Grain, passing fabulous strains of Elgar in rehearsal at St John's, to Jazz in the Park - Victoria park, where there's enough sunshine for picnics and children racing round the bandstand as us oldies hummed along to Night and Day....

Mark Thomas brought his new one-man show Bravo Figaro to Merlin en route to Edinburgh. I'd seen, and raved about, Mark's previous show Extreme Rambling, about his walk along the Palestine border which he dubbed '723 kilometers of national self-delusion', so I wasn't sure what to expect from this 'work in progress' about his relationship with his opera-loving father. It was simply brilliant. With all the passion, insight, and stand-up-comedy skills of his more overtly political piece, Mark told an amazingly personal story "not of redemption or forgiveness - the story of a gift." The vastly enlarged photograph of his father, looking uncannily like Mark in a joke-shop beard, gazes across the auditorium as Mark describes this family despot ~ "there was no greater bigot" ~ who sang Figarofigarofigaro across the rooftops of South London although 'he can't sing and he doesn't know the language or the words." The complex feelings of a left-wing activist whose father combines addiction to opera with extreme and violent intolerance are in themselves a fascinating story which touches profoundly on the difficult nature of family itself, but the heart of this piece is an extraordinary reunion. When his father was debilitated with palsy and dementia, Mark had the chance to stage a concert in his home to try, finally, to connect with him. We hear the actual words as Mark's father speaks, laconic but lucid, about this event. And that's really all we need. "My dad and I are never going to 'make it up', we're never going to heal the wounds. I wanted to say goodbye."

Sunday, July 08, 2012

'Facebook' Frome is actually nothing to do with IT: ceramic artist Hans Borgonjon has cast local faces for display throughout Frome festival in the beautiful space of Silk Mill gallery. Hans has created both convex and concave versions of each face, and paradoxically its the latter which have most animation, their blind gaze seeming by some quirk of shadowing to follow us around while the 3-D ones are more like death masks. I found my mask eventually: it's the wincing one, although in fact I enjoyed the meditative experience of the casting.

The Parlour, Marian Bruce's art space in Paul Street, is showing works by Alastair Crawford on the theme of Conflict. 'Killing without the possibility of being killed is nothing new' says Alastair, writing of drones: 'Nothing changes except the uniform.'Personal experiences from Africa predominate in this visceral and passionate imagery ranging from 3D heads and figures to bold charcoals inspired by photojournalism as well as by monochrome artists like Goya and Picasso.

There's open-air art in festival week too, and desultry rain added a lonely lustre to the sculpture gardens on Friday. Natural imagery seems the primary influence in some lovely pieces at both the Blue House and Bastion Garden.

And as Frome Festival opened officially on Friday night with a plethora of creativity ~ Equus at the Merlin, fabulous (free) live music at The Griffin and The Olive Tree, and Festival Club at the Granary ~ only a total recluse or a Fromie with flaky diary skills would be anywhere else. I fell in the latter category, having arranged to perform in Bath at the Curfew Inn Story Friday event organised by Clare Reddaway who runs A Word In Your Ear. Immensely high standard and slick organisation made this a thoroughly enjoyable event well worth a visit and, writers note! submission is open for future themes.

Alison & I spent Saturday in Bristol with the Complete Reworks of Shakespeare day at Colston Hall, where our installation PlayText, the Living Bard was projected on screens in the foyer and box office areas. Very gratifying to watch people stopping to look and staying to laugh as they read our scripts of text messages between characters showing core action of the play in comic dialogue. What might Bottom say to Titania if he had a Blackberry? Imagine the Macbeths texting away between murders. Lol.
Unusual takes on Shakespeare's themes and characters abounded throughout the day: I particularly enjoyed the Taoist philosopher's take on Richard II's downfall, and contemporary cameos around classic moments like Kate's wedding to Petruchio, Juliet's teenage balcony-euphoria ("I think that's a Maria Carey lyric") and Ophelia's madness. There was small robotic cat reciting random bardic phrases, too, and pictures of the man from Stratford to decorate. An ambitious project, so congratulations to artistic director Emma Henry & her team and thanks to Eva Martino.

The famous Festival Food Feast was underway by the time we got back to Frome, the marketplace looking like a more colourful version of Renoir's Les Parapluies as families queued at stalls serving up dishes from round the world while the fabulous Frome Street Bandits showed everyone how to cheerfully disdain the rain. Inside the Cheese & Grain steamed and bopped to sets from fantastic musicians like Isis and brilliant Phil King as once again Frome shows the world how to party... great night - and more to come!

Monday, July 02, 2012

We all realise the earth roll’d round in its diurnal course with rocks and stones and trees, as Wordsworth pantheisticly put it, for a very long time before Homo Sapiens came along to blow up the rocks and cut down the trees, but Did You Know that if you decided to walk the history of this planet at a rate of 2 steps = one million years, you’d have to walk all day, and only after lunch would man’s ancestors emerge, jellyfishlike, and only in the last 2 centimetres would agriculture register anywhere in the world, followed within millimetres by war, industry, and religion? Nor me. Greg Morter has worked out a scale timeline from the Big Bang till now, and his Cosmic Walk is mind-blowing. You take hydrogen gas and you leave it alone and it turns into rose-bushes, giraffes, and humans, is how cosmologist Brian Swimme sums up the inconceivable surprisingness of our history - and it gets weirder than that.

The full journey takes two days, as the longest part of the story is lifeless chaos until on the morning of the second day, a mere 5 billion years ago, our mother-star Tiamat goes supernova and from the blazing dust of that catastrophe our solar system begins to form. We are indeed stardust, as Joni Mitchell sang, and as Greg beautifully puts it: we are a stardust cloud that has become conscious of itself and its own history – dust talking to itself, about itself.

Greg’s talks are full of fascinating facts and thought-provoking soundbites, though I admit round about Matter is not matter in the opening presentation I did start feeling like Dougal in Father Ted when Ted explains perspective by use of a small plastic cow. “This one close, that one far away. Now do you get it, Dougal?” “No, Ted.” But slowly, walking our time-line in kilometres which each represent a billion years – 13.7 of them – we all begin to grasp the full extraordinariness, if not the meaning, of life. It’s surprisingly late in the story before death enters ~ along with sex. As bacteria, we had no life cycle and basked in sunshine without predators or prey: only when plants evolved with chloroplast, enabling them to make their own food, did rudimentary animal life start to develop mouths in order to eat each other. So you could say that because 2 billion years ago we lacked one tiny element in our cell structure, we grew into a species programmed to attack and destroy…
Greg says no such thing, of course. He reminds us that “We are the species that reflects back to the universe its own majesty.” And it’s not all about the science: there are celebratory rituals and reflections, cosmic role-play (pictured is Annabelle as the earth being bombarded by comets) and lots of superb food on offer at the camp site. The weather was 90% excellent, so we could laze on our breaks in million-year old sunshine (a million years and 8 minutes, actually – rays take 8 minutes to travel to earth) and appreciate a celebratory rainbow at the end of the day,
At the end of the weekend as we ponder on this astonishing world which has somehow survived blazing infernos and ice ages and at least five extinctions, the two themes which emerge most powerfully are creativity and continuity. The world we recognise now won't survive, clearly, but something will happen and on past history "it will probably be beyond our wildest dreams.” So it’s up to us, really. But we all know that anyway.
I’ll end this posting as we ended the evening around the camp fire, with the Galaxy Song.