Sunday, March 23, 2014

Renaissance to Resurrection, and a town less ordinary

From A Very British Renaissance I learned it was Thomas Wyatt who made poetry one of England's most dynamic art forms, after visiting Italy while Petrarch was busy pioneering the sonnet as the perfect love poem. Wyatt took the form (eight lines to lament love unattainable, six to find resolution) and added passion: His line It was no dream: I lay broad waking is apparently unique to love poetry at a time when sexual union could only happen in reverie. "He captured the messy quality of life as lived, setting the tone for English poets from Shakespeare to Larkin" says glam guide Dr James Fox, though I'm pretty sure it wasn't a direct line to the Bad Sex Awards from here on. John Keats was scolded by contemporaries for allowing Madelaine to enjoy her swain's 'solution sweet' in The Eve of St Agnes, and as Martin Amis points out in his book England, early novels didn't allow heroines to copulate or even think of it: the exception is Jane Austen's Lizzie Bennet, whose father tactfully takes her aside to check she has the right chemistry with Darcy:"I know your lively talents, Elizabeth. You could be neither happy nor respectable in a loveless marriage." The BBC2 programme is on iPlayer for a while,  if you want to see why Holbein's painting of The Ambassadors tells the quintessential story of the era man discovered the world through art.

Art was the question, if not the answer, on Saturday morning in Frome where a banner outside Rook Lane Arts promising Something wonderful is happening, and it did, for after a burst of hail there was a rainbow in the sky above the banner in town with the same '70s-style message, commissioned as a 'new motto' for Frome (artist Ruth Proctor was apparently unaware the town already has the motto A wonderful place) and flown around towed by a small plane.
This was part of a day of concept art organised by Foreground Instructions for an Ordinary Utopia to "make an ordinary town a little less ordinary"~  not an overly ambitious mission as Frome has once again been named in national media as ~ for 'creative energy' ~ one of UK's best places to live. Like the hippy happenings I remember from 50 years ago, except with 'names' in the art-world bussed-in (literally) from London, this wasn't much known about by those not involved, and facebook discussion has been lively.
There's always excitement around new initiatives, but for some this was tempered by the Marie-Antoinette-ish nature of the opening event: throwing pennies down the streets for the locals to pick up. Artist Peter Liversidge provided a hundred quid's worth of small change to realise this whimsical proposal inspired by a nursery rhyme, though he annoyed locals by misprouncing the name of the town he was making 'a little bit more special' in this manner.
But Frome is a small town with a big heart, as the show-biz cliche goes, and there's interest in anything 'arty', especially the exploratory and contentious. As local painter David Chandler said: "It brings people together, and if it does that, it's doing it's job.'

Meanwhile Black Swan Arts was jampacked as results of the Young Open Art Competition were revealed, with fifteen children & teenagers winning workshops with local artists. So perhaps the ideal is to embrace all and avoid a 'hierarchy of excellence': art observed is inevitably a commodity, but we don't need to put higher value on what is esoteric and fashionable over what is accessible and ordinary.

Over in Bath the 3-week Shakespeare Unplugged Festival ended with Resurrection, a retelling by local writer David Lane of themes in five different plays, performed by the Engage Shakespeare Company.
Coincidentally this experience too began with a coach journey, as the audience was collected from Bath Egg and ferried to Burdell's Yard for a promenade-style performance in awesomely atmospheric settings, each suited the theme and mood of the scene. The concept is intriguing: What if these famous characters had evaded the death delivered by Shakespeare and lived on ~ in King Lear's case for 29 years, psychotic & inarticulate, tended by a now-cynical Cordelia. Ophelia resents her totem status, Titus' daughter has wrenched her father's tongue out to voice her vengeance, and two children, both princes usurped, have processed trauma in very different ways. Programme notes say the aim is to 'haul Shakespeare's themes into the 21st Century': there's much madness and murderous rage though in places the haulage maybe slightly lost in translation to anyone unfamiliar with the plays. That's not of course what matters ~ the monologues are gripping, and the stories vivid and visceral, timeless rather than merely contemporised, shifting through different rhythms so this almost seemed more like a symphony than a play. This exciting and richly theatrical production ends as it begins with a call to find our own tongues: Shakespeare would have appreciated this full-circling wheel.

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