Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Home again... for a bit

There's always a lot going on in Frome, as a recent online travel site found ~ though focusing rather on the charmingly quaint angle rather than the determinedly egalitarian nature of many community activities. Don't get the idea the 'Frome revival' is led only by incomers: the calendar is full of local traditions like Carnival and fairs and sporting events. New initiatives thrive here because it's a fertile ground, not because of need to irrigate arid land.
Which is why innovative international apprenticeship Edventure has its UK base in Frome, with the second year of intake celebrating the start of their year-long self-shaped work scheme last night at the Works Canteen with a pizza party. The new recruits not only made the pizzas themselves, but found time for Q&A about ideas for community projects to raise funds to advance their own plans. It's a brave & brilliant venture, and if anywhere can nourish a work ethic that's not about fitting pegs in rigid social holes, I'm sure Frome can. (And btw 3 parties within 24 hours of arriving home is another local speciality...)

Just down the road from us, crow-flying style, Devizes celebrated the August bank holiday with a Street Festival, including international circus acts and theatre. Brilliant Aritista di Strada e di Circo Ian Deadly entertained on the green with a clever and very funny juggling act, controlling the crowd with as much skill as he manipulated his props. I'd gone along with Annabelle, who's planning to use street theatre as a daytime addition to our autumn Carnival, and she ended up performing as Ian's glamorous assistant.

Theatre Royal Bath is ending its summer season with a classic french froth: the Parisian hanky-panky of Feydeau's farce A Little Hotel on the Side, adapted by John Mortimer and superbly directed by Lindsay Posner. Naturally, for a show heading to the West End, the cast were all excellent ~ Richard Wilson's seedy hotel proprietor and Richard McCabe's portly philandering Pinglet have rightly garnered critical acclaim but it was Natalie Walter as the dithering object of his affections who illuminated every scene she entered. And the star of the show was probably Michael Taylor for his set design, especially the swivelling hotel interior alternating sleazy bedchambers and shadowed haunted room. Farce is an endlessly popular form, perhaps because it's rooted in human dread of personal embarrassment, and added elements of Benny Hill and St Trinians worked in nicely but for me the spasms and gagging of stuttering Mathieu were an uncomfortable reminder that once people bought tickets for Bedlam. Overall though it was easy to see why this happy-ending story met with noisy audience approval at the final curtain.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"All imaginative writing is to some extent the voice of what is neglected or forbidden..." ~ Ted Hughes. 

A gekko on the wall at the start of my Writers Lab in Skyros Centre might have wondered how an apparently random selection of creative exercises could develop firmer and more supple writing muscles in just two weeks... Some of the fifteen brave participants wondered, I know.  But that same gekko returning on the final days (as apparently it did) must have been impressed and deeply moved to hear how this exploration of the writing process was now producing an incredible range of extraordinary work. Powerful memories sparely crafted, lyrical inspirational thoughts, delightful imaginative absurdities, wicked wit and edgy satire ~ the range and sharpness of personal style was impressive by the final sessions and at our 'poetry soiree' & the last night cabaret.  From lipogramic lists to viewpoint inference, from haiku to impro, this amazing group took on every challenge, not only focusing on their own writing but able to interact in groups and pairs, to give the kind of support and positive critiquing all writers need.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust

Packing for home:
I pack in my case a heart-shaped stone from the sandy beach,
 and all the sugar-lump houses that crawl the tall rock of Skyros town.
I pack every word for the blue of the sea and the sky: azure, indigo, amethyst, cerulean, turquoise, sapphire, jade...
I pack the plum-jammy sweetness of splitting figs,
with fresh-squeezed orange, coffee metrio and local white wine,
I pack the gaze of the patient grey pony, the free-soaring raptors, the fallen jasmine,
sunrise and yoga, sunset and dance, windsong and rhythm of waves,
 and I pack in my case all the voices I will still hear silently that this week I heard aloud.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

on the island

 Skyros like all Greek holiday venues needs visitors to survive and thrive, so it's impossible to resent sharing the beach or streets with other lovers of this magical island, which this year appears to include half of Athens as well as us holistic seekers. There’s always been a Greek city vibe in the town ~  frappĂ© and cocktails easier to find than filter coffee ~  a bit like a vast family wedding every night, but it's overwhelming this week, perhaps because of the festival of the Assumption that has church bells sounding down the cobbles daily. And the beach, where Juicy Bar’s grass sunshades were once the only place for ilio therapia ~ sun therapy ~ is now just one of a long row at the rim of the sea, swarming with bronze bodies either flopped on loungers or leaping athletically to the rhythm of beach bat-and-ball. Walking the rim of the ocean is no longer a quiet meditation, more like skirting rush-hour traffic. It’s a beautiful scene of enjoyment and vigour and I love it that the island is thriving, but a bit of me feels like a cow in Worthy Farm must do at the end of June when their placid fields become Glastonbury Festival.
There is much that hasn't changed, of course. The southern rocks, mysteriously morphing from grey to violet each evening and edging closer just before sunset, are still untouched by the threatened wind farm.  The marble streets are still sluiced down each morning by householders clearing the debris of a windy night. Kalimera... Kalinichta...  Figs, ripening and falling along the paths. Dimitri's ouzo bar above the beach,  dawn over the sea from Brooke Square. And at the Skyros Centre, Vasso's amazing meals, yoga on the terrace, and a fascinating range of voices in my writing group. Fifteen of them. Well, that's a bit of a change in terms of size, but an exciting challenge for all of us.
Skyros is 
~ a wild wind symphony, with soothing bass notes of waves on sand, wafts of Greek voices, percussion squeals from the beach, smattering of dub from rhythmic bat and ball along the shore, goat bells on the piney paths.
~ a feast of herb-rich dishes: tangy salads, creamy dips with crusty bread, squid stew on a bucking yacht, splitting jam-sweet figs, acrid black coffee (hot in tin pots or ice-chill) and wine
~ a warm embrace, sensuous cling of salt water, soft touch  of sand, swaying hammock, warm breeze fingering. 
~ a landscape of white sugar-cube houses, trees and vivid blossomed bushes, stony paths where tiny bronze geckos dart, with a backdrop of champagne sand, azure and indigo sea against a cerulean sky all photoshopped to impossible intensity, except they're not. Skyros is real. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Pastimes and past times

I expected a quiet start to August as much of Frome evacuates to voice camps, music festivals, or continental projects, but the town's creative scene hasn't taken a break. In fact, I even discovered a fascinating ongoing project I wasn't aware of when Carolyn Griffiths who runs the Creative Network showed me round the Frome Textile Workshop, at the Thomas Bunn Centre just off Zion footpath. Dr Bunn was an 18th Century artist-physician with a passion to promote our town to the cultural status of Bath, apparently, so it's apt this is one of only three fully-equipped weaving workshops in the country, with four rooms filled with floor looms, table looms, yarns, samples and other colourful paraphernalia, keeping alive a traditional skill that's died out in most other country towns.

Music and visual arts don't hibernate either, with Jazz Jam at the Cornerhouse and Geniology at the Olive Tree, and a new exhibition at Frome's tiniest gallery: The Toolshed was recently listed in the Artist-Led Hot 100 of venues offering "some of the most superb activity being facilitated by emerging independent artists and curators right now in the UK" which is nice for Tristan Stevans and Tom Bayliss, whose exhibition Floor Games of the Recumbent Strategist is currently showing. "I populate realms in my head but only get as far as setting the scene, I never apply the narrative," Tom said at the opening about his toylike pieces made meticulously from layers of recycled plywood ~"all components of a wider world with a history before me" ~ standing in artificial grass like the model farm I had as a child. Tom wouldn't mind that analogy: he believes "a board game can be a way of codifying reality," and sees himself as a creator of pieces for 'serious play'.

Wednesday saw serious play in Victoria Park, as WPA-play brought games and activities to help the families of Frome to celebrate National Play Day. I googled the logo and discovered "WPA is a small, dynamic, voluntary sector organisation committed to the promotion and provision of outdoor play to inspire, challenge and empower children, young people and communities to affect positive change." The pedant in me wishes they would effect change, not just affect it, but it all looked terrific fun.

Another incoming group with a mission to entertain is Wonderlust Theatre, a 'new theatre company with a nomadic sense of home'. Their first project is LIVE FROM FROME, 0% FUNDING, 100% ART, a performance based on remembered performances contributed by Fromies. Interviews and the devised show this weekend are all at The Works Canteen, and after chatting with actress Kirsty Mary Wood I'm especially sorry I won't be able to see the outcome because I won't be here...
... I'm packing for the Writers' Lab on Skyros, in the island's name-sake town: a cluster of white-washed buildings climbing up the huge landmark rock on the eastern coast, ancient cobbled streets soaked in myth and vibrant with modern Greek culture too. It's a fallacy of course that the future will resemble the past, but I'm hopeful of once again watching sunrise from Rupert Brooke square, writing and sharing words under the fig trees of the centre garden, herb-scented walks down the cliff-path to the beach in the afternoon, and supper in tavernas open to the music and talk of the townsfolk in the warm night air. 

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Well that's it, I'll never want to watch King Lear again ~ I'd never see anything better than the one I've just seen at Theatre Royal Bath. Directed by Lucy Bailey and set in 1960s gangland, this amazing production found every emotional nuance conceivable, with David Haig mesmeric as the destructive and self-destroying king. The acting is superb ~ William Postlethwaite's Edgar and Simon Gregor as Fool stand out even from an overall stunning cast, with extraordinary black-comedy scenes between the maddened King, the Fool, and the faux-crazy 'Mad Tom' ~ and what makes this production unforgettable is its sensational imaginative sets... this is an admission from someone who tends to object to anything that vies with the script. But I loved these complex projections evoking scenes from excessive luxurious indulgence to brutal concrete, dissolving in the tempestuous rain into a raw film-set abstraction for the Reservoir-dogs violence of the last act...  terrible, yet so rich I didn't want the play to end.

A fantastic end to a fabulous July, with continental temperatures and blue sky virtually every day so even after the festival there seemed a party atmosphere in Frome... not  just because I had a lovely birthday but because of so many other great events, including the Frome Half Marathon which kindled nostalgia for my own running days (fifteenth woman in the New Forest Marathon 1990... maybe next year I'll enter...)