Friday, November 29, 2013

An elegant Betrayal...

Harold Pinter's Betrayal begins at the end, with the 'adulterous' couple Emma and Jerry meeting after their affair is over and her marriage has ended. Their brittle exchanges linger with an unease so infectious a woman behind me in the Merlin auditorium murmured "I think a prompter's needed." Sequential scenes told the story of their seven-year affair in reverse, showing the impact on Emma's husband Robert who is also Jerry's best friend.  Rebecca Pownall and Steven Clarke as the wayward duo and Pete Collis as the colluding husband all gave brilliant performances in this classy LCT touring production directed with razor-sharp precision by Michael Cabot.  The play looks terrific throughout, set against non-specific ruins and debris with characters hard-lit like Hockney couples, and with the same sense of emotional distance ~ I've used one of Hockney's paintings here, as the flyer image throbs with red-hot suggestiveness totally absent from the play. The love affair itself is a grey shadow of the past like the rubble around them: as audience-voyeurs we are granted no glimpses of exquisite intimacy, just key moments of destructive duplicity. The affair ends, choked with its own deceit, with not a bang but a bicker, as the story continues in retrospect, taking us on the journey of insight about which the protagonists themselves still seem oblivious. If the plot sounds dreary, the production is not: it sparkles with social-observational wit, and the absence of musical sound-track keeps a focus tightly on words ~ the said and the unsaid, the secrets, silences and lies that are Laing's knots binding these three together.

The script for Betrayal is notoriously based on Pinter's own affair with Joan Bakewell, and Jerry voices the playwright's anger at her husband's unvoiced knowledge which he saw as another, perhaps more profound, betrayal. It's inevitable to wonder in the final scene, when Emma allows Jerry to seduce her, whether his cosmic passion is expressed with lines the playwright used himself back in 1962 when everything in his world disintegrated and falling in love was "the only thing that has ever happened..." No-one who's been there would judge either the character or his creator, however forseeable the future. Superb revival, timeless masterpiece.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nevertheless ventures and adventures

"Women have been taught that for us the earth is flat, and if we venture out we will fall off the edge. Some of us have ventured out nevertheless, and so far we have not fallen off."
I don't often quote Andrea Dworkin,  anarchist, feminist & anti-war activist, but it seems appropriate for this posting which is all about Nevertheless Productions.  It's only three years since my amazingly dynamic, entrepreneurial and all-round gorgeous friend Rosie Finnegan asked me to join her in bringing pub theatre to Frome...  we had no funding, no production company, and no idea how this would work but nevertheless we went ahead using an upstairs room at the Lamb, now The Cornerhouse and probably the most popular venue in town.  Rosie and I made countless theatre trips to find shows with the kind of edgy writing and professional production values we wanted, and last year founded our own group, the brilliant Frome Scriptwriters, and also linked up with Bristol's inspirational Stepping Out Theatre Company.  We've now given Frome 12 productions, mostly sold out and all receiving enthusiastic audience feedback, and there's another show simmering: On Thursday & Friday December 19th & 20th you can enjoy an hour's original entertainment comprising short plays written by Frome Scriptwriters ~ and this one is definitely the best yet.  Festive Stockings features four 15 minute plays chosen by director Chris Loveless: Kate's Story by Eddie Young, Who is Santa? by Tim Addams, and Letter Home by Emma Stadon will be performed as rehearsed script-in-hand, and Ackroyd's Christmas Stocking by Alison Clink fully produced.  And we have a dream-team of actors: Olivia Dennis, Danann McAleer, Gerard Cooke, and Kim Hicks ~ so get your name on the list for a seat now!

And even before the tinsel is down Rosie and I will be deeply involved in another drama, which will be be premiered at The Cornerhouse before its 2-week run at Bristol's Alma Tavern Theatre 28th January to 8th February.  Rosie and I were commissioned by Stepping Out Theatre Company to write a double-bill, and Media Monsters is the result.  Director Marc Geoffrey is holding auditions on December 6th and rehearsals start early in the new year! Is there anything as exciting as seeing your play in a Casting Call in Theatre Bristol 'Jobs' section? Talk about Christmas coming early...


Salary: £300 per week Application Deadline: 30.11.13 17:00
A double bill of new writing
Directed by Marc Geoffrey

MY BIG FAT TV BITCH by Rosie Finnegan
An original and comic satire on Reality Television 
FIXING IT by Crysse Morrison
A complex, subtle and fascinating look at the erosion of personal ideals and the changing face of sexual mores over the last 40 years set against the background of the Jimmy Saville scandal.
Rehearsals begin 6th January 2014 

Performance dates : 
Fri 24th & Sat 25th January 2014 at The Corner House, Frome. 
Tue 28th January to Sat 8th February 2014 at The Alma Tavern Theatre, Clifton.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Trending this week: Deadly females

Frome faced the first frost of winter flamboyantly with a plethora of varied creative enterprises this weekend: Friday's brilliant Acoustic Plus night at the Cheese & Grain featured the legendary Bugs as well as Frome Afrobeat Project ~ a town-sponsored scheme for young musicians led by Lekan Babalola. Saturday was the 5th birthday of Deadly is the Female ~ internationally famed since Nigella Lawson's twitter endorsement~ celebrated in quirky baroque style with tequila cocktails and live mannequins in the window... great fun ~

~ and strangely surreal to go direct to Marian Bruce's exhibition a few doors away... "Studio Collection" is what the title suggests: an assembly of random items from the artist's working area, in various media. I've worked with Marian on several projects and it's almost impossible to find words to express the life-vision her work embodies or the dark energy that emanates.  The small pieces cramming The Parlour stir memories, evoke myths, and dig deep into feelings of human endurance and frailty. They are provocative, disturbing and inspirational. Picasso said art should 'bristle with razors' and these disempowered, dismembered, silent heads and small sewn-up bodies have that power.

Another woman artist's exhibition opening too: Charlotte Moore, taking classic paintings 'Off the Wall' at the Black Swan, presenting familiar images from art ~ mostly naked women ~ recreated as daubed figures on wire mesh, cut and layered to offer spaces for the intruding viewer. Words at the Black Swan group found much to discuss and debate in this challenging re-making of cultural iconography. Our responses when shaped into poetic form will displayed with the exhibition, which runs until 24th December.

And, loosely connected with surreal journeys through time & place, a quick plug for the next Frome Poetry Cafe on Monday December 2nd, themed to tie in with the Merlin Theatre winter show,  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  By then Frome will be all a-glitter with festive lights switched on by local hero Jenson Button, Nevertheless Productions will have moved into top gear with our seasonal Pub Theatre production Festive Stockings, and it won't be long before the mayhem begins...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Just when you thought it was safe to leave Transylvania, another irresistible beast...

What do you get when a born freak, a former beauty queen and an award-winning director tell the true story of Beauty and the Beast? asks the promo for this ONEOFUS/Improbable touring co-production visiting Bristol en route to London. The answer is a full house in BOV studio and a stunning show, impressive as much for its honesty, humour & humanity as for its startlingly erotic interpretation of this classic fairytale. Mat Fraser, probably UK’s best-known disabled actor, uses his deformity to become a beautiful beast to Julie Atlas Muz, burlesque artiste from Detroit, his feisty fairy-tale captive and real-life wife.
 “What better way to make a fairy tale than to fall in love?” Julie asks the audience at the start as the couple introduce themselves to us with an intimacy that becomes integrated with the performance as personal anecdotes and private moments in their own story are spliced into the legend. Silently assisting these two extraordinary performers, puppeteers Jonny Dixon and Jess Jones dexterously manipulate props and contribute much to the wit as well as the glamour of this amazing study of human emotions: fear, lust, loss, loneliness, tenderness, and finally redemption through love.
There’s a lot to laugh at too: from complicit looks to the audience at dramatic moments to a raunchy banquet scene which would make Tom Jones look like taking tea with Philip Larkin. The final scene strips any last vestige of vanilla from the traditional fantasy as bridal Beauty stares at her newly-transformed Prince Charming, yells “Where’s my beast?” and tears off both their clothes again ~ most of the story has been performed naked ~ to create a fittingly explicit finale with the puppeteers as rose-strewing cherubs to their erotic romance.  Mat and Julie are supernova stars, but it clearly took teamwork to devise this unforgettable show, with special credit to Philip Eddols for the atmospheric set, Kevin Pollard for exquisite costumes, and director Phelim McDermott.

Frome saw a small surge of sensuousness too, when the Lip Smacking Chocolate Festival arrived on Sunday to fill the Cheese & Grain with all things chocolatey, syropy, and luscious. Sacchariferous consumables are currently off limits for me but the aroma was ambrosial, and entrants in the lip-smacking limerick competition were olfactorarily inspired, according to judge Muriel Lavender. (I only made up one of those words, btw.) Here's my entry, declared by Mlle Lavender as quintessentially about her and thus winning a place in the runners-up:
If I was a champagne truffle
I'd lie round all day on a ruffle,
     Dance with Viennese Whirls,
     Flirt with Caramel Swirls ~
I bet that would cause a kerfuffle.
First prize went to Jackie Cornish aka Miss Marshmellow. I think it was a big box of chocolates...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Black metal, black magic, autumn sunshine

I had no plans to watch Andrew O'Neill is Distracted  at the Merlin until I saw him on Stuart Lee Presents, when attendance became irresistible - not a general response unfortunately, as Andrew had a sparse sample of Fromies to analyse in his what-kind-of-audience-are-you routine. 'Offensive, yes, but also politically acute,' he commented, pointedly, after a paedo gag didn't get us rollicking. His 1980s heavy metal references were a bit over our heads, too, but by the interval howls of mirth were rocking the empty-ish aisles. The first half of his act had delivered everything you could want from standup: sharp observational comedy combined with surrealism, delivered in a noisy, unpredictable way and very very funny.  The real impact came in the equally hilarious second half, when Andrew talked about being a transvestite, how he's dealt with stigma, and about his ADHD. He's come to enjoy both, he says, and encourages everyone to accept and welcome their own distractions ~ for their mental health's sake.  For a black-metal occultist comedian, Andrew O'Neill has big humanity and talks much sense.

Henry Walker and the Wheel of Death was adapted for theatre by director Shane Morgan from the novel Mr Sebastian and the Negro Magician by Daniel Wallace. The author apparently agreed a title change was a good idea. Roughhouse Theatre took on this ambitious project, which was performed at Bath’s charming Rondo theatre. The story opens with profound and beautiful words taken from Carl Sagan's 'vision of the human future': Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark, to introduce this tale of a man first white then black, and his struggle to become a magician. Another fitting quote might be Tolstoy’s observation that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Specifically, Henry is unhappy: his mother is dying, his father is drinking, and his sister is besotted by a dog. Henry, well played at this stage by Dan Gaisford, unwittingly enters a Faustian pact with mysterious Mr Sebastian and discovers that by acquiring magical skills he has traded his beloved sister Hannah (excellently played by Madelaine Ryan.)  Much of the twisting plot offers metaphors for human life ~ as commented on, perhaps overmuch, by external narrators including a greek chorus on microphones side stage. Vast red curtains create a circus-like environment for the story as Henry changes persona, goes from riches to rags, and finally disappears but this "dark fairytale” is also an allegory of human life. Cue Sagan again: In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. Or, as the narrator puts it: "You need to let go of the past when the things you have to remember are sad."
Interestingly, the original story is set in a Southern US town in the 1950s and starts with the disappearance, focussing on the search for the real Henry by three outsider-status circus friends. Possibly this, rather than featuring the change in Henry's pigmentation, might have offered more dramatic scope ~ but new approaches and bold ideas should always be applauded.

Fictional footnote: Enterprising Clare Reddaway, doyen of Bath's spoken-word Story Fridays, has branched into audio and I’m delighted one of my stories has been selected for recording. Sisterly Love will be on the Word in Your Ear website soon.
And before winter closes in on us like Andrew's menacing claw-hand descending on the guy in front row on Friday night, here's how Stourhead does autumn... 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Meanwhile in Transylvania...

Theatrical sensation of this autumn season was Dracula from Mark Bruce Company, which ended its highly-acclaimed tour in Merlin Theatre Frome this weekend. If you didn't 'kill for a ticket' as recommended by the Observer critic, you have missed a marvel. Erotic, beautiful, and violent, this adaptation arouses the all emotions evoked by Bram Stoker’s haunting classic before vampire tales became Twilighted. Without a word spoken, every dramatic element combines to tell the story: the music, atmospheric and eclectic, ranges from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata to 'Down at the Old Bull & Bush', and the visual effects are sensational ~ set, lighting, costumes, masks, and props all superbly support the shifts of mood from Victorian propriety to the terrible allure of the dark forest beyond. But it's the dance which defines the characters and weaves the narrative threads, exploring the monstrous side of being human as well as the human side of being a monster. All the dancers are amazing but Jonathan Goddard in the title role is simply unforgettable: whether your Dracula is metaphorical or mythic, terrifying or irresistible, you'll find him here.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Frome goes everywhere...

Frome's Queen of burlesque Muriel Lavender last week went to Leinfelden-Echterdingen to compete at the World Beard and Moustache Championship and came home with a runner-up trophy. Her Whiskerina triumph is featured by Frome Standard with the venue located obliquely in 'Germany' but with some comely shots of our Muriel, whose lippy talents are now turning to chocolate as she'll be judging succulent limericks at the Chocolate Festival  on Sunday 17th November at the Cheese & Grain. Only a quid, have a go!

Travelling metaphorically even further afield, the exquisite mandalas on exhibition at La Strada this week have all been inspired by Tibetan art, all meticulously hand-painted by Frome musician Pete Gage. Like Muriel's beard, they're more complex than a mere copy: Pete introduces Celtic themes, graphic design skills learned at St Martin's Art College in the sixties, and striking colour combinations to create enigmatic pieces with depths and even movement below the surface of their immaculate precision. You can buy, and commission, through Pete's website.

Moving my virtual sat-nav to Bristol for this post's footnote (sorry about these appalling segueways, I'm finally feeling better so probably all part of the detox process) Nevertheless Pub Theatre prepares for our next production: Festive Stockings, an evening of short seasonal plays which will be premiered in The Cornerhouse and then professionally performed onstage at the Alma Tavern Theatre in Clifton.  Frome Scriptwriters have been fine-tuning their dramas at our last few workshops and Rosie & I now have ten script submissions to send to our director for his verdict on the final choice... more details soon!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Hi, November...

I've been avid to see Philomena since I first read about the true story that inspired it ~ the lost little boy and his mother's journey of atonement ~ so the first showing at the Westway on release day saw me seated in style in one of the much-coveted half-circle 'boxes' at the back (I mention this because Frome's wonderful independent cinema deserves a plug at every opportunity.) I've not read Martin Sixsmith's book, but Stephen Frears' film superbly told this moving personal tale. Judy Dench and Steve Coogan are both utterly brilliant ~ Martin Sixsmith writes he hopes his 'snootiness and self-absorbtion' are both exaggerated in the portrayal, but both the mother and the journalist are shown with sympathy not sentimentality, and their relationship is moving but never mawkish.  Rotten Tomatoes is succulent with critical acclaim ~ I specially like the Financial Times verdict: "This is a doleful, radiant, understated comedy of hope and faith. That's almost a definition of good British cinema". Tears and laughter is the general verdict, though one squashed tomato was chucked on grounds of anti-catholicism, which seems strange for a film that despite the harrowing, angry-making, truth about Church practice in the past is delicately assertive that things have improved... and so they bloody well should, since this was a baby-farm business model run on cruelty and hypocrisy (not my summary, the Guardian's.) Only occasionally does the journalist fail to swallow his atheism ~ as when exasperated by Philomena's unshakeable insistence on her 'sin' he demands "Why did God bestow on us a sexual desire that he wants us to resist - was it just to alleviate the extreme boredom of omnipotence?"

Nunney Acoustic CafĂ© on Sunday afternoon always provides great live music ~ with newspapers and scrummy food on the side ~ but this month was especially sensational, featuring among others David WaddingtonJulian (Bugs) Hight, and the fabulous combo of Richard Kennedy and Pete Gage with a sumptuous & totally stunning blues set.   And rain doesn't stop outside play in Frome either: the streets were as crowded with witches, zombies, and vampires on Halloween as they were with shoppers for Sunday's lively stall-holders' Super Market. So I'll end this post with a Samhain scream and a morning rainbow.