Saturday, December 07, 2013

Mainly about performance..

Frome Poetry Cafe is always a sparkling way to start the week, like having champagne for breakfast, and this Monday night was a very special cuvĂ©e. Mell Oliver, our 'festival poet laureate' was on fizzing form, and Daisy Behagg, slightly startled herself to discover she was our 'surprise guest', showed exactly why she's this year's Bridport prize-winner. As this was our annual tie-in with the Merlin Theatre Christmas show, open-mic poems were on a theme of Alice's travel into the wonderland of imagination, and nine poets shared journeys lyrical, cynical, dramatic, witty, and full of rich imagery. Ali Campbell, actress and Merlin marketing officer, came to pick her personal favourite for 2 free tickets to the show, choosing Rick Ryman for his beautiful dreamlike Sonnet with rain. (I didn't get a good picture of that, so here's me with Mell, taken by Skip.) It was great to see new faces among the full-house at the Garden Cafe, and hear poetic voices both local and travelling specially to join us. The evening ended with Mell's unforgettable poem Learning the language of the sky: "basically about connection and learning to be together as one - the only thing I really know how to write about." Thanks to all who came, performed, and listened. 

Meanwhile at Merlin Theatre, Alice's journeys have begun. Tiny animals and playing cards are performed by different teams on alternate nights: I saw Team Hearts, all delightful especially the dormouse and the enchanting little Alice. The set is charming, enhanced by great lighting and effects, and the Cheshire Cat unforgettable: a vast Tenniel-style grin combined intermittently with enormous eyes and a tail, manipulated with feline slinkiness by a sextet of young puppeteers. Add a lugubrious Mock Turtle song, flamingo croquet dance and other fantasies from the imagination of Lewis Carroll, this added up to another show that producer Claudia Pepler and the whole creative team can be proud of.

Over in Bristol it's family-show time too, with The Little Mermaid at Bristol Old Vic, based on the Hans Anderson story but without the sombre ending. This version is billed as a tale of adventure, courage, and the pursuit of true love.  It’s also a tale of family dynamics psychologically explained as Mer-dad and Queen-mum analyse their interactions to us, and it's a Richard-Curtis-style hero’s journey with the shy Hugh-Grant-ish Prince questing a bride, and there's a bit of a trad panto as we hiss the witch and clap the mermaid back to life from her disintegration into bubbles (don't have nightmares on bath-night, kids!) with a nod to X-factor in the singing competition and a Jackanory thing going on too as the action is explained in voice-over...  So there's a lot in it, and despite fabulous sets, exquisite lighting, and some good comedic moments, it doesn't really flow.  Katie Moore is simply dazzling in the title role: she looks, sounds, and moves superbly ~ which makes it all the more of a mystery why she wasn’t allowed to move her own tail like her sisters instead of being carted around like a rolled-up rug delivered by two bell-hops. The nine actors were all faultless, but the adaptation and script didn’t do them justice and the production, at 2 hours 20 minutes, felt too often laboured and long.

Media Monsters update: Rosie & I spent Saturday at the Hen & Chickens in Bristol with director Marc Geoffrey at auditions, with the people who might become our characters in January when our double-bill goes onstage (24th & 25 in Frome then two weeks at the Alma Tavern Theatre, for those of you with next year's diary to hand). It's a strange experience, encountering different incarnations of people conceived in our heads, wondering which one will birth into our dramas. Olivia Dennis is already cast for both my play Fixing It and Rosie's, My Big Fat TV Bitch, so she had the surreal experience of flirting with seven Ricks and challenging three Glens. Marc was mega-impressive, running the day like a military operation from a corner-table smothered with CVs and printouts of selected scenes, while Rosie and I sat like kids at a panto, all big-eyed with excitement.  A fantastic shortlist, some awesome performances ~ final decision to be announced on Wednesday.... 

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