Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pastoral thoughts

 It's exactly a hundred years since the poet Edward Thomas embarked on a cycle ride from south London to the Quantock hills, stopping near Frome to visit friends with whom he used to go wild swimming in the river at Tellisford Weir, and travel writer & poet John Payne suggested a centenary anniversary visit to the spot.
The last time I swam here, seventeen years ago in similar glorious heat, became the central experience of my first novel Frozen Summer so this felt like something of an anniversary for me too.  John, who's written about Edward Thomas's journey in his cultural history of the West Country, poet Helen Moore, and I were joined by Claire Crowther and her writer husband Keith Barnham and three other enthusiasts for a loose recreation of that Seine at Asnières scenario on the grassy river bank as we picknicked and read poems after swimming under the willows by the weir. An amazing afternoon.
Illyria Open Air Theatre Company brought As You Like It to the Merlin amphitheatre that night. Illyria is now a company so confident of its prestige they offered no programmes to enable those less familiar with Shakespeare's later plays to have any idea where, or why, we were supposed to be, and much as I dislike harping on a detail extraneous to performance, with five players dashing through 16 characters not to mention three sheep, it really would have helped. The cast are undoubtedly skilled at leaping from robe to robe in seconds and some ~ the wrestler/King/Jaques ~ managed to change character too. There were undoubtedly sequences the audience adored, but most of those ~ viz the sheep-shearing & de-bollocking and the rock&roll finale ~ were not in Shakespeare's script and the show would have been perhaps better (and certainly less arduously long) with judicious pruning to this complex pastoral piece. Attention to historic enunciation is fine, up to a point, but when actors shriek rapid-fire into an uncomprehending but benign audience, it begins to feel unfair.

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