Friday, October 26, 2012

Writing drama isn't like writing fiction or poetry which have a kind of formal self-sufficiency that means, like those grownup kids the Guardian keeps doing features about, they never really leave you. They linger in books, magazines and anthologies, occasionally asserting their existence in an unexpected reference or a PLR payment. A play is brutally finite: there's the thrill of the production, climaxing in performance, and then people either see it or they don't, and then it's all over. How did it go? Great, thanks. Well, you can't say, like watching your tiny child through the school gates for a week and then never seeing it again. A nice review is comforting at such times, so thankyou WhatsOnStage for this one for Park and Ride at the Alma Tavern Theatre: "The evening begins with a short warm-hearted piece by Crysse Morrison about two strangers who form an instant emotional bond after meeting at a park and ride on the edge of the city. The two-hander follows Jack (Dan Maxwell) who dwells on the outskirts of society and who feels no sense of belonging having been brought up in various care homes. Jack is at the park and ride harbouring thoughts of suicide - after witnessing a particularly traumatic event - when into his world steps Fran (Dee Sadler) an unhappily married woman looking for more from life. This brief vignette about two lost souls is beautifully played by the two actors and has a script which is both natural and believable."
Back in Frome, the students of Michael Harper organised a Musical Soiree at East Woodlands Village Hall featuring pieces ranging from personalised Rumi to Madame Butterfly, all exquisitely and movingly sung. One of those precious evenings when there's a palpable sense of privilege to be present. Frome Poetry Cafe had that quality this time too ~ an all Open Mic event, since the last few sessions have featured guests so contributions from the floor have been constrained, but this time unusually few of the audience arrived rustling pages and it seemed at the break that like the double-ended candle we might not last the night. Luckily, true to the spirit of Edna St. Vincent Millay, words from all the poets did give a lovely light, with excellent debut performances by Rick Ryecroft and Karen Eberhardt-Shelton as well as wonderful sets from some of our favourite regular contributors - I found Rose Flint's prose-poem, inspired by caskets for the dead seen in Crete, especially thought-provoking at this time around Samhain when the veil between the lived and living worlds is thin and we move towards the darkest time of year. Stirring end to the evening at the Olive Tree with a brilliant set from Mark Abis Band.
And then to Bath, for a revival at Theatre Royal of The Judas Kiss, David Hare's 1998 play about the flawed heroism of Oscar Wilde. Rupert Everett, while not as beautiful as those iconic photographs of the playwright, is awesome in the central role in a fictional bio-pic that centres on two key evenings showing Wilde at his most passionately selfdestructive. Act 1 is the famous scene in the Cadogan hotel where, while all around him try to argue him into action before arrest, Wilde eulogises the 'hideous glamour and romance of destruction' and decides “I’m trapped in a narrative that has a life of its own” as he tucks into lobster. Act 2, after his years of penal servitude, shows the final evening with Bosie in Naples when once again Wilde submits to betrayal by the man he mysteriously loves ~ indeed if the script has a flaw it's the ongoing challenge to credibility of Wilde's devotion to so obnoxious and transparently self-seeking a character without even charm to redeem him. More credible is Wilde's assertion that "the governing principle of my life has been love," and director Neil Armfield commendably resisted overplaying the many Christ-like analogies of this figure so beloved by the poor and persecuted by the mighty.
     While this play is classic tragedy ~ the hero's hamartia his downfall ~ as with Wilde's own writing, the script is laced with witty aphorisms, firing on all syllables with quotable quotes and social commentary. Both acts open with terrifically erotic scenes and the nudity warning is seriously necessary in the second half - and I mean that in a good way. All the cast are superb (top tip: look out for Ben Hardy, possibly in the next Bond movie) and evocation of era is superb: set and costumes creating a muted tonal range mostly mahogany and bleach-white apart from the luminous glow of a Naples sunset. Lighting is fantastic, especially in the second half as Bosie's threatening shadow overwhelms the shrunken figure of his erstwhile lover.
     Attitudes and laws have changed since 1895 but truly great plays, however historical, chime in some way with contemporary life (Elizabeth I thought that too, which was why she kept a wary eye on Shakespeare). Here it's the recurrent theme of witness ~ the need to be heard and to be believed. It's shockingly plangent as Bosie insists to Oscar he could easily deny his conquests as unreliable witness: “These boys are just renters!" David Hare in interview as asked if he saw it as his duty to reflect issues of the day and answered firmly “No. Playwrights should write about whatever they like.” And on social attitudes to sexuality, he points to suicide figures. "Some things never change."

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