Friday, June 28, 2013

"Comedies of Manners become obsolete when there are no more manners," opines Crestwell, the erudite and eloquant  butler in Relative Values, Noel Coward's 1951 play of that genre currently revived at Theatre Royal Bath to critical acclaim. Topicality is evident through viewing figures for Downton Abbey, a show I've never watched (and I doubt if Crestwell would either), but the charm for this audience is clearly nostalgia, with faux Path√© Newsreels recalling of those simple days when Queen Elizabeth and the post-war world were both young.  It's not just about class distinctions, however: there's a plot-line straight from soapland and quite a lots of witty one-liners as well as Stephen Brimson Lewis's totally exquisite set. Directed by Trevor Nunn, who ensures no cushion remains unturned as emotional turmoil hits the drawing room, this production features a starry cast including Rory Bremner's Wodehouse-style butler and Ben Mansfield appropriately irresistible as Hollywood star Don Lucas, but without a doubt the production was held together and raised aloft by Patricia Hodge as the Countess and Caroline Quentin as her maid. These two are simply brilliant, their comic timing and nuance transforming this slightly stately vehicle into a flying chariot. Overall, however, I'd say Crestwell's sagacity on the matter of Comedies of Manners is valid.

It's been over a week, at least, since I extolled the extreme amazingness of Frome so here's a snap from the Welshmill Pump Track, which on Saturday hosted a Bike Jam for all-comers, a brilliant event with participants aged from 4 (!) to 18+, and a fastest lap time of 13.9 seconds. That's less than fourteen seconds round a double loop bike track with no peddling allowed...  Think about it, and be massively impressed!

Over in Bristol's Brewery, there's a special brew of madness and mayhem on tap as Stepping Out community theatre company present Hermione Steel and the Island of Lost Minds.  This complex and often bizarre story begins with a bemused writer and the polar bear who eats his characters before he can find their story  (don't we all have one of those) and ends some time later with a happy outcome and a song, and an exuberant cast convey with palpable integrity the depth of their commitment to this tribute to a much-missed member of their group. Audience feedback has been impressive, reflecting appreciation of the humour as well as the poignancy of this high-spirited story of self-discovery and redemption. Costumes were superb too.

Final footnote: with Frome Scriptwriters already planning for our festive special, and Quantock Court poised for a new series on Frome FM, the tricky matter of timing is again a hot issue as fans of word-count argue font size with proponents of page-count, so I was delighted to discover (thanks Tighe) a way to slice the Gordian Knot with this excellent timing tool for all spoken word. Worth bookmarking!

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