Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Madness and mutations and massive millipedes

Byron Vincent used to MC at Bristol Old Vic's monthly poetry performance events, and he was the most surreal, raw, funny, stand-up poet I ever saw. He made you laugh till your eyes stung at the existentialist absurdity of life and weep at the pain of it. Three years ago he stepped away from the spotlight for personal reasons which he reveals in his one-hour one-man (apart from onstage technician) show ironically titled Talk About Something You Like. All profits go CALM, the suicide prevention charity, and Alma Tavern's brochure gives a snappy outline: In 2011 Byron spent his summer resting in the magnolia bosom of an NHS psychiatric unit. In this show he extends the frayed mitten of insanity in the hope that you might shake hands.  As you'd expect, then: it's painful, shocking, and horribly self-exposing. It's also brave, brilliant, and horribly funny. Byron's brochure image is gruesome, but onstage despite his pyjamas he looks neat and personable, adding even more poignancy to this stream of insightful cameos of institutional life and the vortex of mental illness. This scratch performance ("that means it might be shit" defined Byron helpfully) with script-in-hand is actually a development of a piece from last February's BOV Ferment Fortnight, and it's great to see Byron going deeper and engaging more directly with the audience, even if this does get him 'panicking like a creationist at a fossil dig.' There are rich possibilities for black humour in Byron's hospital experience ~ including the display of advice to patients from which the show's name is drawn ("No no no! That's the equivalent of psychiatric entrapment!") ~ but it's the intimacy of personal detail, right back to his childhood hobby of 'collecting fears', that gives this show such scalding impact. It's on its way to Edinburgh, I hope they appreciate him. All of the hims.

Frome Festival is now only inches away, officially opening on Friday... though by the cosmic calculations Annabelle & I are using for our Time Walk on Saturday, those 2 days would be tinier than a quark, which is a particle in a neutron, which is a particle in an atom. Time Walk, the story of the earth in a thousand paces will narrate our history from the start of the solar system as a walk round Rodden Fields at the scale of one pace to five million years.  It will take an hour, with chimpanzees coming down from the trees in the last millimetres. Virtually speaking, of course.  We've paced our route in windswept winter and buttercupped spring, waded through overgrown cow parsley and paddled by flooded river, and now in glorious summer sunshine. We've found an incredible amount of scientific data, some that seems absurdly sci-fi like the trilobites with eyes on stalks and nine-metre millipedes, and developed two cosmic guides who're a bit like Vladimir and Estragon except they don't need Godot, or even Google, and they're very enthusiastic about the awesomeness of life on earth. This morning we had a dress rehearsal, with some helpful friends coming along to give audience feedback. The walk proper on Saturday is sold out.
So if you haven't booked anything yet, here's the festival link. Rosie Finnegan and I will be talking about our personal top tips on Frome FM on Friday morning ~ our pub theatre production on Tuesday & Wednesday will obviously get a puff, (that's War Zones at the Cornerhouse) but there's also drama at the Old Bath Arms on Tuesday with Tighe O'Connor's comedy contest. I'm pleased to see my short play Muffin Man was picked for production, with two more Frome Scriptwriters in the shortlist line-up as well. And there's poetry, and music, and art... oh, get a brochure!

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