This has been a good week for intimate performances: on Tuesday I was at Bristol's Bierkeller for Panning for Gold, back from its 4-star run in Edinburgh. From a simple premise ~ three jilted brides meet in a therapy group for a series of sessions ~ writer Jasmine Smart has crafted a play of surprising diversity, devoid of cliché or sentimentality, and with deep emotional impact. The women's words are angry and painful but also witty, lyrical and inventive, and the actors (Anna Gillingham-Sutton, Charlee Lauren, and Jasmine herself, with Penny Lamport at the counsellor) all movingly credible. The slow reveal of each suicidal story continues to the final moments ~ no spoilers as hopefully Thrice Three Muses will tour this show further ~ but this is ultimately about human capacity to heal. As Auden says, we must love one another or die.
Bradford on Avon Fringe Festival began in 2010 "to give an opportunity to local talent... with events that reach beyond the familiar arts format, to surprise, startle and delight perhaps." The even-better news is that even though the actual festival promptly took a 2-year sabbatical, lusty toddler Fringe B.O.A has decided to become a stand-alone event. There's a range of events from bring-it-yourself BBQ in the park to burlesque night, and a lively cartoon-style programme - wish I could find a link to the brilliant artwork: punching stylishly beyond its weight is the phrase that springs to mind. I went with a Frome posse to be surprised startled and delighted perhaps by the double bill in the Cellar Bar at The Swan: Bootleg Theatre opened with Rosie Finnegan's 'poignant, gently funny' short play The Girl with Blue Hair in an excellent revival with the same cast (Sara Taylor and Joe Bossano) successfully adapted to suit the small performance space. A change of mood followed as Bath Drama group took on Shakespeare's mechanicals from Midsummer Nights Dream to give us the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, both in rehearsal and final performance. 'Definitely an Arty Farty evening,' as the listing promised.
Thursday too was a night of intimate delight at Poetry Platter, a dramatic supper-party-on-stage concept unique to Frome's Merlin Theatre, as Chris Redmond and Patrick Jones shared their Private Passions. Chris, whose passions include food, foxes, family & most of all music, crafts his performance pieces with wonderful lyricism and rhythm. Patrick's experience of social outsiders & personal hardship gives his reading a more overtly political edge though he too introduced us to the family he loves. Two fabulous & very different poets, both able brilliantly to engage and entrance their audience, to mix moods between hilarity and profundity, and to consistently surprise ~ what else could we want? Well, nothing, and even the heckler ended up new-best-friends with Chris - you'd need to be there to get that one though.
Finally on Friday, The Deep at the Brewery, a sea story 'based on a true event' ~ or maybe thousands such: a monologue account of the last hours of a fisherman drowning in the North Sea. Timeless simplicity and a rich poetic voice made for a powerful script, adapted from an Icelandic play by Graeme Maley, and Joshua Manning was superb as the 'big, braw' young sailor who finds himself living for real the Titanic disaster he's just narrated to entertain his shipmate. My only quibble was the unsubtle embellishments: lights popping on and off, violin soundtrack appearing and disappearing, and an unnecessary amount of pacing about. With an actor of this calibre and a story this moving, less would definitely have been more.
Final footnote for a busy week: a thought from poet and dramatist Edna St Vincent Millay:
My candle burns at both ends,
It will not last the night.
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends
It gives a lovely light.
And after quite a bit of candle-burning recently, I'm poised now for a change of pace for a while on idyllic Skyros island. I'll think of you all as I watch the sunset...