Friday, August 31, 2012

Rose by Martin Sherman, on tour & at the Brewery this week, presents a searing critique of Jewish America and the effect it has had on modern Israel: “If that’s all gone isn’t that Hitler’s final victory?” asks Rose, finding her son and his stridently-converted wife consider the old Yiddish words embarrassing and allow them no place in their serious study of Hebrew. Rose is the flip side of the Jewish mother-in-law-joke coin, silenced by the certainties of the next generation. To her “There was always joy in not belonging – maybe God is a question like everything else.” Rose survived ghetto, prison camp and the 1947 Exodus, always longing for the promised land: now she questions Zionism, studies Buddha, and believes ‘knowledge is more important than pain’. Sadly, neither searing critique nor interesting characterisation arrive till Act 2, after an hour of hand-wringing bathos which precedes Rose’s arrival in America. But the packed audience, largely her contempories, were generous with their responses and clearly moved by the familiar saga of Jewish oppression. Despite the tragedies of Rose's multiple bereavements I found it hard to connect with the case-study approach of the first act: Only in the second act did this woman's loss of her dream homeland become suddenly real. Two hours is a lot of words for a monologue and it’s a rare actor who can not only memorise but also deliver so many lines as though afresh to each audience. Fiona York despite a rococo Jewish accent and as much arm movement as her static position would allow, didn’t quite manage that, and I whiled away long chunks of exposition musing on what could have been done to improve the set (removing it, I decided). Next time Red Kettle Theatre choose to explore oppression through theatre, I hope they choose a play from their native Ireland.
The Tempest was Shakespeare’s last play, written when Queen Elizabeth, patron & fan of his earthy dramas, had been succeeded by a king who adored the magic, music and myth of Italian masques. Shakespeare added emotion to this mix, and created his marvellous allegory of rage and resolution through the power of love. This Theatre Royal Bath production thrills with every element. From the moment Prospero conjures elemental chaos as catalyst for his own inner storm, to his final violent abdication of power, this suberb production charms, entertains, and terrifies by turn. Tim Piggott-Smith is awesome as Prospero, making every familiar word seem a fresh thought, and the passion between Iris Roberts’ irresistible Miranda and her Ferdinand (Mark Quartley) is convincing as well as delightful as they crawl like babes towards their shared love. There’s comedy to best stand-up standard from Mark Hadfield’s Trinculo and his drinking companions, and a feast of spectacle: Ariel, looking like a Swinging Sixties postcard model and straddling his every scene whether on stilts or winged like a monstrous angel, Caliban a reptilian Prodigy, the sprites bizarrely costumed like extras in Scrubs as they watch the action like road-crash rubber-neckers (and even more bizarrely as they put shoes on their fists and river-dance them) the exquisite puppet sequence as goddesses come to bless the Miranda’s future union… I could go on. Dazzling direction by Adrian Noble and a superb cast make this one of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve ever seen.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Me and Iggy Pop at The Toolshed, Frome's new contemporary arts space. Stephen Haines trained initially as a waxwork artist and still makes meticulous measurements for his work. "I see Iggy as a sort of muse," he says: "When he goes on stage he's in another zone. That's what art is like. You become a sort of shaman. It's what life is about." I've been thinking quite a lot about art and life this week, and Alan Bennett's insight into his own process: “I write plays about things that I can't resolve in my mind.” I think this must be true for most artists ~ even when we aim to entertain, there's usually a journey of self-discovery.

And now summer has meandered into autumn almost imperceptibly, with walks & picnics and for me a big life change. You could call it ~ Oscar Wilde would ~ the triumph of hope over experience, but I'm choosing a less cynical quote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover.” It's attributed to Mark Twain though online opinion is unconvinced (one commentator with the splendid sobriquet 'Dude the Obscure' insists Twain would have blenched at such psycho-babble) but it resonated for me, and I have and I did and I am.

Friday, August 17, 2012

You know summer's effectively over when TV autumn schedules kick in, but the return of great drama is a reasonable price to pay for these slowly, inevitably, darkening evenings. Jimmy McGovern's Accused series restarted with a powerful story of transvestite Tracie, brilliantly portrayed by Sean Bean who overcame the need for a melodrama to fit the title, and made this a hugely moving human story of loneliness and struggle to survive the tawdry world of intolerance.
And The Best of Men was a moving tribute to the 'father of the Paralympics', Dr Ludwig Guttmann, a German-Jewish neurologist who revolutionised treatment of spinal injuries during WWII and in 1948 initiated the Stoke Mandeville Games. Brilliant performances, especially from Eddie Marsan and Rob Brydon, and a script which though necessarily simplifying roles never fell into clich├ęd stereotypes, showing with relentless clarity the existing responses the doctor had to battle with: sentimental {"My job is to make them comfortable!") and dismissive ("Moribund incurables - need a wet-nurse, that's all") And as the men's lives change without sedation & with return to hope, their own fears became another opposition: "I'll throw myself under a bloody bus" threatens Wynne at the thought of losing his refuge of institutionalised care. "I knew that upper-body strength would come in useful," twinkles the doctor, whose message is never about happy endings, only about reclaiming health ~ "You will have problems. We all do." He scythes through opposition by winning hearts and treading on toes with equal vigour -
- hugely apt timing for the start of 2012 Paralympics, and I'm hoping this inspiring true story will do for the disabled what Danny Boyle did for the NHS, and make it harder for those who control our community to ignore insistent demands for intelligent compassion.

Back in Frome, our local writers are winning gold everywhere: Alison Clink, who's had a busy summer collecting cuttings of her pieces in national magazines and newspapers, submitted her text version of Macbeth to Flash Fiction 500 and promptly won a prize - you can read her script here, and Rosie Finnegan's short play The Girl with the Blue Hair is being revived for the Bradford on Avon Fringe Festival And we're looking ahead to more pub theatre in Frome, and poetry at the Merlin... autumn is shaping up well already.
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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Home again now, after a sublimely blissful week in Cortijo Romero, a haven of tranquility and creativity in the foothills of the Alpujarras. Take gorgeous gardens, shimmering turquoise pool, frequent supplies of fabulous food, and slow-roast gently in steady sunshine, then blend in a mix of fun & physical options like yoga, dance, song, collage, theatrework, & games, and you have a recipe for fourteen happy, fulfilled, participants. For me the creative highlights were two processes I'd never previously explored Playback Theatre superbly led by Amanda Brown, who is officially the goddess patron of empathy, and propreoceptive writing - a magical technique for locating and listening to your authentic inner voice: immense appreciation here to Diane Samuels, who is more than a bit magic herself, for leading our afternoon writing sessions. This isn't a 'Prisoner' paradise either - you can walk down to the local town of Orgiva, as I did most days, and mingle with locals who make no concessions to tourists, so fragmentary Spanish is a pleasing necessity.

Back in the UK, with the closing ceremony only inches away, there's a palpable and pervasive 'Olympics effect' around. It's not jingoistic patriotism, more a kind of surprised positivity, which began with shocked delight that the opening ceremony was so sublimely Britishly bonkers, soared as mad mod Wiggo not only made history on two wheels but tweeted pissed pix of his celebrations too, and crescendoed with the double gold that made Mo Farah the first athlete to launch a disco-dance move to rival the Village People. Or maybe those are just my highlights. But I offer them here, into the pot of general rejoicing. May your own Olympic memories go with you, these moments of awe are the only innocent religion we have.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Perhaps because the word hysterical is usually followed by laughter, probably also from the press image and the blurb ~ when surrealist painter Salvador Dali unexpectedly turns up, along with a young woman who finds it impossible to keep her clothes on, all hell breaks loose ~ I thought Hysteria at Bath Theatre Royal would be a farce. There were farcical moments, and belly-laughs too, but at the heart of the story is a serious issue: Sigmund Freud's change of heart after his research was reviled, and the consequences for the clients he may have betrayed and for the future of psychiatry.
Indira Varma is brilliant as the disrobing young woman, appearing in the analyst's life - or maybe his dream - in chameleon roles as student, subject, and super-ego-conscience to reproach him for re-condemning women he'd initially liberated by his 'talking cure', by labling them fantasists who longed for, and imagined, their abuse.
It's a fascinating play and a tour de force for the three men too - Antony Sher, David Horovitch, and especially Will Keen's Dali, blazing like a giraffe in sock-suspenders through the absurd surreality of Freud's mind-slip and speaking ego-eccentrically of himself in third person as "Dally". Set & lighting were impressive both as Freud's den and darkly-dreaming mind, and Terry Johnson directed superbly this 20-years on revival of his masterly script.

Ten hours after emerging from the theatre and by the miracle of modern Easyjet from Bristol I'm in Andalusia, soon to be dipping my toes in the cerulean pool of Cortijo Romero. Only day 2 of my week 'Being Here' with Amanda Brown, and already I'm blissed out by the place, the people, and the peace... A more coherent report may follow. Or just more pictures...
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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Writing Magazine (which incidentally ~ and I hope coincidentally ~ has improved considerably since the days when I was a columnist and sometimes squirmed slightly at the house-style of cliched cosiness) has added its voice to many others in the publishing world who insist an author's place is on the Social Media map. You must venture online if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, and be present on at least one social network is the featured pull-out line of an article in the new issue.
As someone who doesn't need a literary excuse to roam happily in a virtual world, I don't really understand people who connect with family, friends & colleagues on email and do their banking & shopping online yet say, like a politician who won't inhale, "I do draw the line at Facebook!"
I start my day with Facebook. To think this means playing with imaginary farm animals or watching cute talking pets is comparable to assuming that anyone going in a bookshop must be heading for the press-me-and-I-squeak board-books. I browse national & international newspapers, journals and websites - some posted by like-minded friends, some direct from organisations I belong to. I've never been so politically informed in my life, and sharing posts initiates discussion & uncovers links to other publications, or online research, or Youtube evidence...
And then there's invitations to the rich creative life of the real, visceral, world - theatre, music, parties, festivals, fairs... It's like having flyers posted through your door daily, only much better because you can't tell a postman to filter out the stuff that wouldn't appeal to you, plus it's all stored tidily & chronologically in one readily accessible place. And then there's continuity of contact with friends & family through high moments shared in words and images.
As you can tell, I wouldn't willingly start my day any other way but next week I'll have to because there's no wifi in Cortijo Romero, which is where I'm off for a week of 30 degree sunshine. Apparently facebook is now an addictive disorder but even for a FADist you'll see there will be compensations...