Tuesday, June 11, 2013

  A 'family show' that really engages and entertains all ages is as rare as sunny afternoons in June this year.  Merlin's amphitheatre revelled in both on Sunday when Quantum Theatre brought Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, an unpretentious and delightful version of Beatrix Potter's classic tales adapted by Michael Wildmore and performed by four lively actor/musicians. The two stories combined to a running time of nearly 2 hours, ambitious for an audience compose largely of littlies, but the combination of energetic action and pantomime-style interaction kept everyone gripped and Scottish-reeling Mr McGregor had the children yelling themselves hoarse to direct him to the hidden rabbits. (Not sure if it was supposed to be the other way round, maybe Frome children disapprove of deviant rodents). The fact that all the props have a slightly here's-one-I-pulled-out-of-the-skip-earlier look detracts not at all from our enjoyment and confirms that you don't need to throw a bucket of money at a company to get a show that does what it says on the flyer: 'an enchanting experience for young and old alike.'

The Big Wedding, shown at Frome's independent Westway cinema on Sunday, has no particular connection with writing or theatre, or ~ since it's set in American Richlands ~ local culture but I'm going to include it here because I'm intrigued by the vitriolic mauling this movie met from the critics. Flippant and frankly farcical, it's a quirky take on the posh-facade-implodes-at-family-gathering cliché, well-acted and frequently very funny. Rotten Tomatoes website is near-unanimously incandescent with scorn, some of it quite inventive ( jokes squeezed from the ragged plot with the grace of an arthritic senior citizen trying to get milk out of a coconut) but mostly summed up as "the misery of watching actors you once respected demean themselves." This indignant thread runs through all the reviews, with snarling castigation of cast members because they have (Robbie Williams, Diane Keaton) or have not (Robert de Nero, Ben Barnes) played similar parts before. Robert de Nero is particularly berated. "With De Nero inexcusably using what is for many people the single most obscene swear word, this is well off target" was the final judgement from Birmingham Mail.  And I think this is the key, not the capricious and unlikely (or "chaotically disparate tones" in RotTom speak) storyline.  There's cunnilingus on the kitchen table, discussion of the length of orgasms, and a highly inappropriate one-night stand ~ all featuring the oldsters, which makes de Niro according to his anguished fans a 'sleazy old creep' and the film a 'potty-mouthed fiasco... just embarrassing'. De Nero is 69, Keaton 66, and neither is chastened in this movie for their regretlessly sexual appetites. "Sinks to new levels of horrid" as the Utah reviewer put it. Reader, you decide.

Back to proper culture, with BOV’s monthly BlahBlahBlah, a bitter-sweet occasion ~ I quote host Byron Vincent here in a rare moment of familiar imagery ~ as this is his final appearance here as a performance poet. He has no new poem for the occasion due to arm injury (not a stabbing, he clarifies, he's been stabbed five times in his life but this is not one of them) so he reads a brilliant one about teeshirt logos.  Main guests for the night are Andy Craven Griffiths and Caroline Bird.  Andy has been researching altruism and urges us all to do acts of kindness and tweet him about them. His poems, especially the first which is about snow, in childhood and in love, are brilliant. Caroline's surreal poems have won prizes and been published since she was 15  ~ she shared one about eating a parrot from her early teens. 'The early bird knows sod all about perseverance’ she suggests, strangely. It's a strange night, overall, and for Byron's many followers, a sad one.

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