Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lebanon to Arcadia

It begins like a bad joke:  an Englishman, an Irishman, and an American are taken hostage in Beirut... so which will stay imprisoned, which die, and which be released? Someone Who'll Watch Over Me by Frank McGuinness is a terrific script, topical when written in 1992 but timeless in its calm, incisive, investigation of the human capacity for love and fear, and exasperation too.
The three roles demand not only convincing accents but absolute emotional authenticity too, so all the more impressive that three young drama students from Strode College held their audience totally gripped with a brilliant touring production which arrived at Frome's Cornerhouse on Thursday night. Ross Scott as the Irish journalist, Lewis Elson as the English teacher, and Sam Rich as the American photographer, took us captive with them them for a breathless hour-and-a-half and brought real dramatic energy to this intense and moving drama.

Tom Stoppard said that nothing he wrote was supposed to be remotely bewildering, which bewildered me a bit when I read the outline of Arcadia ~ though it's often been revived since first performance in 1993, I hadn't seen before.  Two simultaneous timelines exploring the history of iterated mathematical formulae, landscape gardening and Byron.. the new Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory production sounded confusing but it isn't:  each thread is clearly & cleverly intertwined and each intriguing revelation neatly fitted into the story. And it's ~ mostly ~ very, very funny. Brilliant directing from Andrew Hilton, great costumes, simple and effective set (a table) and terrific acting from all the cast, with Matthew Thomas charismatic as the 20th Century academic, Piers Wehner & Hannah Lee totally enticing as the 19th Century tutor and his gifted pupil and Dorothea Myer-Bennett superbly Wildean-witty as Lady Croom. It's on throughout April ~ definitely recommended.

Frome footnote: quirky little gallery-shop OWL had a special event on Friday night to celebrate new work, including an impressive life-size African deity created in felt by Gladys Paulus.  Sande represents women in sisterhood, and is based on the initiation masks of the Mende people of Sierra Leone. She's on her way to America now, where I hope she inspires as much discussion as she did tonight. That's John Law playing jazz on keyboard beyond the brooding goddess. Which reminds me I missed Acoustic Plus at Cheese&Grain again... though I did make Rag Mama Rag at the Olive Tree.
There's so much fantastic music in Frome I can never get to all of it ~ and I'll miss everything and everyone in Frome for the next five weeks. I'm off to California for a writing retreat in El Granada so my next posting will probably show the sandy shore and long waves of Half Moon Bay. Here's a glimpse from last springtime there...

Heathrow update: I can't fly off without bigging-up another Frome success: Flatpack Democracy by Peter Macfadyen describes how a group of local people, exasperated by the dysfunctionality of current local government systems, campaigned for independence and took the whole town with them. Upbeat and easy-read, this story is an inspiring handbook for jaded or enthusiastic townsfolk anywhere, explaining the process and the pitfalls ~ with pictures ~ and emphasising crucial points like Keep it light and Party!
Typically unconventional, the Sunday evening booklaunch (which is why this missed the first edition posting) was a walk through Frome's radical past led by feisty duo Molly and Ruth from Bread Print & Roses. Much fascinating historical data, illuminating quotes from William Cobbett on the destitution that followed the Cloth bonanza (Frome was listed as one of the wealthiest towns in England in the Domesday Book) and a quick roundup of all the dissenting churches that flourished in a town renowned for its non-conforming ethos and support for workers' solidarity. and I didn't know our MP in 1914, John Barlow, was a pacifist throughout the first world war! Another reason to be proud of Frome's past.

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