Friday, February 22, 2013

Media excitement over the unearthing of Richard III's remains in a Leicester car-park makes this a good time for another look at Shakespeare's most melodramatic historical play, but the new production at Bristol's Tobacco Factory is more than timely: it's superb. One of the strengths of this theatre is its physical space which, set centrally to the audience on four sides, offers huge scope for imaginary landscapes both external and psychological. Andrew Hilton's production relishes this aspect and uses it vividly, from the opening moment when Richard's confidently casual entrance transforms us all somehow into witnesses in his own head, to the final battle raging imminently as he calls for a horse, a horse...
John Mackay (image by Mark Duane) is marvellous as Richard, playing the lines for callous wit and near-psychotic ruthlessness. It's a dominant but hugely subtle performance, with even room for fleeting pity for the killing-machine king as he looks on bleak and impassive while his mother the Duchess of York pours out a torrent of loathing dating from the moment of his malformed birth, recalling that earlier declaration since I cannot prove a lover, I am determined to prove a villain. He's not dog-scaringly deformed either ~ a bit gangly and with a useless arm ~ which is also effective to add psychological depth. A lead actor this charismatic needs some counterbalance, and the rest of the cast provide that with strong performances all round, especially in moments of respite from terror & treachery: Chris Donnelly as an inept murderer, Piers Wehner and Jack Bannell bringing a younger energy, and of course the sweet & solemn little princes. Costumes designed by Harriet de Winton are sumptuously of the era and look fabulous - gorgeous jewel tones teamed with sable, black and gold. Matthew Graham's lighting design enhances every mood and even the programme deserves recommendation: lots of fascinating history and no annoying stuff like most glossy ones. So there you are. Richard III, on till the end of March, and well worth seeing.

Fiction Feast on Thursday evening once again saw the Merlin stage transformed into a bohemian bistro where the audience became a supper club, read to by local writers:  Emily Gerrard, Alison Clink, Jill Miller, Rosie Jackson, Frances Liardet, Debby Holt, and me. Thanks to everyone for your warm and appreciative feedback, both on the night and in postings & emails.

Keats did it - Auden did it - even Wendy Cope did it, and writers throughout the ages have found inspiration in visual art. Now Black Swan Arts has started its own group of wordsmiths to respond to each exhibition.  Words at the Black Swan is launching with a free pilot session, with refreshments, at 4pm on Monday March 11th, so contact me if you fancy coming along. The inaugural exhibition is  Charlie Murphy's installation 'Retort'

Again looking ahead poetically, small yelps of delight echoed around Frome when we heard Luke Wright has included Merlin theatre in his national tour of Your New Favourite Poet with a show there next Friday, March 1st. This one has been travelling down from Edinburgh collecting 5-star reviews and lovely soundbites like  "visceral, poignant, and riotously funny" (The Scotsman) "Blisteringly good… heartfelt, true and richly human" (The Independent) and "Positively life-enhancing as well as hilarious" (Evening Standard). So come along, support the Merlin, support poetry, have a blistering riot and go home with your life enhanced. I am.

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