Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Studying to compare this prison to the world...

I’m not familiar with King John, but despite his script being edited down to 70 minutes I'm sure the bard would have no complaints about Hammerpuzzle's version at The Egg as part of Theatre Royal Bath’s Shakespeare Unplugged month. It's a kind of Shakespeare sampler, with tasters of crazy ranting, thrilling soliloquies, star-crossed young love, murderous ambition and poisonous come-uppance, even cross-gartering. And there's lively comedy and live music,and above all absolute clarity of storytelling. Director Bryn Holding retains the timeless quality of this historic tale while highlighting contemporary elements like Philip the Bastard's railing against “Commodity, the bias of the world”. The cast are fantastic in multiple roles, doing full justice to an emotional range from maternal frenzy to the still, chill, last moment of the little prince who is the innocent victim of these conflicts. Set and costumes heighten this sense of continuing relevance. Hammerpuzzle offer workshops as well as creating accessible theatre and this is certainly a show that could appeal to a young audience.

While Shakespeare's phrases still chime today, Kate Tempest can create voices his audience would recognise, in theme if not in phraseology. Kate herself is a superb solo performer, and Brand New Ancients is a hard act for her new 3-hander Hopelessly Devoted to follow.  Paines Plough, who also produced Kate's first play Wasted, came to Frome's Merlin on their southwest tour with this story of a young woman in prison for murder, in love with her released cellmate, grieving for her lost daughter, and finding solace and ~ we have to hope ~ redemption by processing the pain of her life through music. The language is terse, often lyrical, always emotionally charged. Both Chess, the talented singer/songwriter, and Serena, the paroled cellmate, have children: together they embody the differently intense distress of being a jailed mother. Chess aches for the contact Serena now dreads, lamenting "I got two kids to feed, I don’t even know what they like to eat." The catalyst for change is record producer Silver, a recovering addict intent on nurturing Chess's talent whether she likes it or not. Kate Tempest's compassion and insight into how it feels to be confined in a woman's prison is impressive, Amanda Wilkin, Gbemisola Ikumelo and Martina Laird give compelling performances, and the set effectively evokes a sense of confinement also doubling as the facebook world outside. "What's social media?" Chess demands, and newly-savvy Serena explains "It's like social services."  This production too is aimed at young audiences, with drama workshops available.

And finally... a quick rave about the dance night at Cheese&Grain on Friday ~ two fantastic Northern Soul bands, The All-nighters followed by local legends Fat Stanley, had everyone bopping at this Frack Free Somerset fund-raiser. And while we're still in Frome, don't forget the next Poetry Cafe is on Monday 17th. The theme is Journeys, and David Johnson and Daisy Behagg will be our guests.

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