Thursday, March 14, 2013

I feel like you sometimes.
Spiky, branched out,
brittle body incongruous
snake-shadows strong,
pinned, wired, and alone.
Your glass thorns are dancers
in a savage fairyland,
one touch would crush
those delicate stiletto claws.
Infinite fragility took you to the edge.
Did you fly?

Last week was the first session of a new initiative from Black Swan Arts ~ a writing group which will explore to each exhibition in words that will be featured alongside the visual art. The first workshop inspired some brilliant responses about Charlie Murphy's installation 'Retort', now on display till the end of the exhibition as well as on facebook.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play that rarely disappoints, however fanciful or experimental the direction. There's something psychologically primitive, as well as excitingly visceral, about Shakespeare's night forest where love is lost and found again ~ it's the blending of natural passion with supernatural magic, and a great production can create tingling atmosphere with no scenery at all. But not, it appears, by having the cast restlessly toting planks about and tapping on them. And call me fuddy-duddy but I'd rather listen to Puck's words as if uttered by a sprite rather than a trio of Kwik-Fit Fitters wielding bits of junk, presumably to blend with the notion of extraneous elements like puppetry. Don't even get me started on the puppets. When the lovers dropped their action-man lookalikes and addressed their lines to each other there were some really good moments, but that didn't happen for most of the first act so the interaction was as static and tedious as an old episode of Thunderbirds. No life-size, War Horse style, fascination from Handspring Puppet Company this time. Titania and Oberon ~ who doubled as Hippolyta and Theseus, in the same workman-like attire ~ had big heads like faux-stone garden ornaments which they carried aloft, and the only character who might have benefitted from a mask was denied one: Bottom had to use his own massive naked bum as an ass, which had a crude kind of logic but seemed, like so much of this production, to belong in a drama school romp rather than Bristol Old Vic. Some good individual performances ~ Colin Michael Carmichael, whose Quince found a character beneath the parody, and David Ricardo Pearce the Duke-cum-King of the Fairies ~ but the directorial concept explained in the programme simply doesn't work: there is no excitement in this production until the end, which is thrilling but two hours forty minutes too late.

It's five years since I went to Stratford on Avon so I was chuffed with my late-Christmas present: a trip there to see play of my choice... I picked Bertold Brecht's A Life of Galileo in a new translation by Mark Ravenhill at The Swan, in a fabulous RSC production that found richness of emotion, colour, and pageantry in this rather cerebral play. The motif of orbit was echoed in on-stage movement and in the cycle of fortunes, revealing a more human story than the basic plot of conflict between the astronomer and the Church officials he strove in vain to convince. Ian McDiarmid was fantastic as Galileo Galilei, whether near-crowing with Peter-Pan-like childish pride or decrepit and broken as Lear after he had recanted ~ indeed all the cast were excellent but I'd pick out Matthew Aubrey as Andrea the young assistant, especially in a final showdown that passionately transcended mere polemic:  It's not about the planets, it's about the peasants... You will progress, but away from humanity. Stirring stuff.  And along the river Avon sunshine, spring flowers, blue skies and white swans all make this two-day break sublime.

Finally: an eyebrow-raising footnote from author Terry Deary who joined the debate on Library closures on the opposite side to most of the literary world, countering their protests with the assertion that "we've got this idea that we've got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers." The Horrible Historian receives a huge cheque from PLR annually but appears to believe that those who borrow his books from libraries would all buy all of them if such access were denied. Which makes you stupid, as well as greedy, Mister Deary.

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