Saturday, June 21, 2014

Whales, cows, and polar bears

Whales can hear and respond to each other thousands of miles apart, singing so loudly the sound would shatter you. I didn't know that, and I didn't know there's only one whale in the world calling higher than all the others, at 52-hertz. Dumbstruck, the new show from young Bristol company Fine Chisel, takes this starting point for a story about a marine mammal biologist whose life is equally isolated. Robin McLoughlin is totally charismatic from the opening moments to the dramatic end as Ted the lonely whale-specialist who talks to the lonely-whale, addressing it affectionately as "52".  The life-story fragments he reveals vary from moving (George Williams brilliant as the troubled reverend who explains death to four-year old Ted) to raucous as pirate radio takes over the airwaves, and takes too his hopes of a companion on his marine studies. The live music is superb, especially when atmospherically enhancing the story ~ we stray overlong from the engrossing central story after the interval with a sixties on-air pastiche ~ and the energy of this talented team never flags. The production won an award at Edinburgh and audience cheers at Bristol's Brewery and comes to Frome's Merlin next week ~ if you enjoy innovative theatre and dynamic live music, don't miss it.

Brilliant Bristol comedy duo Living Spit have been touring their new production around the pubs of Somerset: Rosie and I caught it at The Rose & Crown in Huish Episcopi, a friendly pub with no bar so you stand by the pumps to pick your tipple. The show is called One Man and his Cow, which sounds bucolic and childishly whimsical but actually has more in common with one of the Grimm's dark narratives, except it's so funny the audience's howls of mirth drowned out the England match in the adjoining room. Stu McLoughlin and Howard Coggins are impressive musicians too, so a medley of instruments accompanied their rapid-fire rhyming story of Trevor the farmer and his beloved cow Judy whose special talents are speech and hidden malevolence.  Trev is dying ~ that's the cheerful opener ~ and to choose which of his three children gets the farm he hits on a test that King Lear could have told him was doomed to dramatic failure. Howard is the obtuse farmer and Stu plays each of his children, sometimes simultaneously, plus the duplicitous cow. Rhyming become increasingly outrageous and there are more synonyms for bovine than I ever imagined as this increasingly hysterical history progresses to a satisfying end that Jeanette Winterson would appreciate. (She took vengeance on the rabbit that ate her parsley, if you didn't see the news item) The lads are moving eastwards now the Take Art rural tour is over, but will be back in Bristol at Tobacco Factory in the theatre bar in July - well worth going along.

Music and merriment too at Wallace Real's Ministry of Madness, the new community production from Stepping Out which opened at the Rondo in Bath and moves on to Bristol’s Brewery next week.  This company always delivers high-energy and hugely entertaining stories that include, along with the fun & frolics, thought-provoking comments on the perception and treatment of mental health service users. "We don't change the world here," scoffs the Mental Analysis Diagnostics supervisor, "we colour-code it." But this isn't polemic: there's an exciting adventure too, albeit somewhat baffling, as Lucy embarks with her quintuplet personality into an underground movement of meta-theatrical therapy, meeting among others the Ladyboys of Bedlam and the mechanicals from Midsummer Night's Dream until, true to Oscar Wilde's decree, the good end happily and the bad unhappily ~ with a final full-cast song and dance.  This is a real feel-good show, with some terrific individual performances, great musicality, and a sense of integrity and commitment from the whole company throughout. But I have to admit my high point was Danann McAleer dancing like a bovver-boy fighting in an alley while wearing white high heels... 

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