Thursday, November 27, 2014

As November leaves drop like dandruff...

"Writing depends on the state of one's mind," said Eugene Ionesco, and his 1962 play Exit the King had as starting-point "a feeling of anguish. To learn to die seems to me the most importing thing we can do, since we're all of us dying..."  The Theatre Royal Bath production currently showing at Ustinov studio uses a new translation by Jeremy Sans 'winnowed' for a modern audience into an awesome script that impressively combines deep awareness of the anguish & absurdity of human aspirations with moments of comedy, colloquialism, and sheer poetry (the line above about leaves dropping like dandruff is his.)  It's a dazzling production of a bizarre play, a mix of psychological study and Tim Burton-esque fairytale.  In mildewed grey throne-room  ~ terrific set design ~ we watch in apparent real-time as the dying king rants, cajoles and refuses to 'go gently into that good night'.  He's surrounded by the only relics of his long reign: a guard, a servant, his doctor and his two queens: domineering dark-clad Marguerite and loving but shallow Marie.
Inspired costume design contributes to the total rabbit-hole reality experience: everyone is decked in self-parodying style like crazy tarot cards, both queens Disney-glamorous. All the cast are superb with Alun Armstrong as King Berenger and Siobhan Redmond as Queen Marguerite superlative. Lighting & sound also deserve praise, and Laurence Boswell's direction is brilliant.  This is an extraordinary production: go, prepare to be dazed and confused but mesmorised and moved too.  Images by Simon Annand ~ I'd have preferred one of fabulous Siobhan Redmond that didn't look so photoshopped actually, her face is rivetingly expressive.

~ back to the dropping November leaves, ending with an image from yesterday's walk around Tisbury, russet beeches against a misty skyline.  You're welcome. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Back in Frome, sweet landing...

Say what you like about grey clouds and drizzle ~ as I do ~ but Frome is spectacularly good at making the most of the stub of the year.  Even before the festive season is launched with our annual
Extravaganza, Silk Mill has a Flea Circus offering an amazing array of creations ranging from previously loved to uniquely inspired. Stalls of exquisitely crafted jewellery and lip-smacking comestibles cluster with vintage coats & curios and the brilliant graphic imagery of BoswellArt.
And as compensation for those evening strolls in Spanish plazas there's a murder-mystery at the Merlin. For a good old-fashioned who-dunnit it has to be Agatha Christie, the best-selling crime writer of all time.  Frome Drama Club chose Witness for the Prosecution for a 22-strong cast production and followed the vibe of the 1950s era to the buttonhole in this 3-Act investigation of a brutal murder and the trial of its principal suspect. FDC has a massive amount of talent among the company and the principle roles were particularly impressive, as Laurie Parnell & Alan Burgess struggle to save Aynsley Minty from the cunning of his cold-hearted wife, the ever-excellent Keely Beresford. Clever set designs enhance the performance, especially when Chambers morphs into Courtroom in the gloom of an Act 3 intermission. There's a double twist in the final scene which I didn't see coming although, having just read Jon Ronson's book The Psychopath Test, I probably should have...
Also scoring on the Bob Hare check-list for psychopathic behaviour would be Finn, highly trained in surveillance skills which he's using obsessively on his family. Philip Perry is mesmerising in solo, a new play by Samuel E Taylor for the Theatre West autumn season, and Bristol Old Vic Basement provides a non-comfortable proximity that works really well for this powerful monologue of pent-up emotions.  A gripping study in the dangers of invasive intimate knowledge, with two moments of reveal so startling I literally gasped aloud. Director Sita Calvert-Ennals and the performer are both also credited with co-devising, what a fantastic project that must have been for the writer.

Also interesting from a writerly perspective,  at Black Swan gallery Jim Whitty was talking about the process involved in his current exhibition Flux which explores the question 'when is a painting finished?' (Renoir, apparently, settled this as 'when my wife calls me for dinner.') Jim's two big canvases depict the old quarry in Vallis Vale, by night with fire and by day with detritus, and each one represents weeks of 'lost' paintings ~ previous versions, altered by persistence.  "I love complexity and texture" he says. Here's the daytime quarry, which is famous in geological circles as the 'De La Beche' unconformity, for its visibly different stone stratas.  Jim's fascinated too by 'particles moving in space ~ stars, swarms, snow.'

Then on Sunday the Chocolate Festival at Cheese&Grain celebrated everything lip-smacking from choccy tattoos for children to a Cocktail Bar ("ladylike but brutal"), with luscious-looking cakes, truffles and bars as well as chox camera-shaped and hurdy-gurdy-coloured. I reckon I nibbled nearly my body-weight in samples at this convivial event, and am now fully arrived back in Frome.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Flâneuring in Fuengirola

Spain in November was an impulse choice: a last burst of warmth before winter grips England, and a generously-offered apartment in this coastal town wedged between Malaga & Marbella. I expected the downside would be a touristic culture but we found Fuengirola totally delightful, and most people we met were locals who communicated exclusively in the language of their land.  And the weather obliged, always warm and mostly sumptuous blue-skies and dazzling sunshine.  Days began with cafe con leche, usually in the cafe by the children's park where green parrots squabble in the palms.
And then exploring, finding splendid squares with fountains and statues, ochre & golden buildings, tile-paved alleys lined with orange trees, or paddling sandy beaches beyond the long promenade... and fabulous drives up into the hills, destination almost irrelevant as every route revealed valleys rich in their moorish heritage of irrigated olive groves, and the amazing rocks of the 'natural parks' of the Montes de Malaga.
Ronda, renowned for its history and views, is intriguing but the most commercialised place I've ever visited with the possible exception of Californian gold-rush Truckee, but we loved the icing-white buildings and narrow streets of ancient Istan. Bohemian little Ojen was a great find too, and Caminito del Rey, walkway of the kings, across a narrow gorge high in the hills by El Chorro. We discovered some fascinating places by using an out-of-date SatNav as our map and navigating randomly, based loosely on the time-for-a-caña-and-tapas?-that-bar-looks-nice.... principle.
Another unexpected delight was Fuengirola BioPark, literally on our doorstep, which boasts so many species I scathingly anticipated plastic replicas or else uncomfortable confinement but actually all the (very real) animals seem content in their spacious authentic habitats: my favourites were the stunningly beautiful big cats, the exuberant chimps, the beautiful binturong (surprisingly lively for nocturnal creatures) and the antique-looking Nile crocs and Asian alligators... but every creature was worth lingering to observe as they flew, crawled, climbed, swam, rested or ~ like the baby talapoins ~ scrambled and swung around on an assault-course style playground.
I can't say much about the restaurants as neither David nor I are foodies so meals weren't a priority with so much to see & do, but we enjoyed the workers' lunch-time deal in El Ancla, a little bar near la Plaza de los Chinorros ~ a popular evening venue perfect for people-watching ~ and some sensational tapas at Bar la Placa called como me pica la chistorra which apparently translates as 'mince my sausage'...  Tapas usually arrived with the caña, which varied in size around roughly half-a-pint, and wine is poured unmeasured and with charming abandon. Best of all, you never need to eat indoors, with open-air cafes where you can get breakfast for 2.50€ and every bar has tables in the street.
Back home now, and it seems strange so short a journey divides grey England from this vibrant sunshine city with palm shadows patterning the pavements of  pedestrian-friendly, cleaned-daily, streets, public gardens and parks offering free exercise equipment and wifi, and every corner a photo opportunity... Frome is twinned with Eden of course, but right now I'm missing Fuengirola.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Pictures are poems without words ~ Horace

Another arty posting to end the week, with an enjoyable meet-the-artists soiree at Cheese and Grain hosted by Amy Yates & Rosie Hart ~ here's Rosie with her painting of The Cure's Robert Smith. Rosie's big portraits are essentially monochrome so with Amy's smaller & colourful landscapes this exhibition, which runs throughout the month, offers interesting contrasts.
And a bubbly opening night on Friday at Rook Lane, A Year with the Frome Sketchers is the delightful outcome of a one-day 'sketch crawl' to promote appreciation of urban architecture all around us. Fifty fabulously varied responses from David Chandler's art group combine to an intriguing and quirky collection of glimpses of Frome. On view till 15th November, recommended.

I'm off now for a blast of winter warmth in southern Spain, sorry to miss the 'inspirational spoken word and music' at the Sunday Sessions in Frome, but not sad to avoid the contentious celebration that November 11th has become this year.  War poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote in 1917: 'I believe that this War, on which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest.  I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.  I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.'  My white poppy is now by his headstone in Mells graveyard in respect for suffering troops and victims everywhere, and for all who act in wilful defiance of military authority.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Clocks go back & autumn hots up

The Falcon's Malteser, a lively touring show from New Old Friends arrived at the Merlin this week to entertain a delighted half-term audience. Based on the spoof novel by Anthony Horowitz, this glorious pastiche features ~ as well as a box of popular confectionary ~ every thrilling cliché of private eye fiction from disguised assassin to car chase, all delivered fast and furiously funny. Four actors take on all the roles: Tom Medcalf as Nick Diamond delivers the backstory as a 13 year-old while Feargus Woods Dunlop plays dashing-but-dim Tim Diamond with a private-eye hat and lines like why is it called a FUNeral when it's no fun, it should be a SADeral, and multi-talented Heather Westwell and Dan Winter create the seedy and sinister society that sucks the brothers in. Both charismatic performers, they sustain the dynamic of every preposterous scenario in a range of roles from dieting gangster to nightclub siren (her)and dyspeptic cop to getaway car(him).The set is perfect for farce ~ revolving doors for mayhem and enough props to create setting without any clutter. A glorious pastiche.

Farce too at Frome's Cornerhouse, venue of choice now for pub theatre, with Tic Tac Toe's Play in a Day, devised and improvised during Saturday for evening performance. Using random suggestions on facebook is brave ~ These are the lies I told you is a great title and 'class reunion' a promising theme, but 'killing by biscuit' sounds a tricky denouement. Enthusiasm and a great team (Calum Grant and Luke Stuart with Ross Scott & Fleur Hanby Holmes, my Muffin Man duo) pulled off 40 minutes of absurdity as sleuth Frank E Stein sets out to find out who murdered the world's worst magician. A tale of love, loss, frogs, and a poisoned custard cream.

More free theatre too from at the monthly Independent Market from The Little Victory Ball telling the story of the first world war from the womens' perspective. The quartet of performers blend facts, anecdotes, statistics, and song into a family show that mesmerises all ages, even on a chill morning in a noisy market yard. Immaculately researched and very moving.  Frome's monthly Sunday market is street theatre in itself: with a buskers, costumed strollers and musicians all interspersed between fields of stalls offering everything from boots and bricabrack to falafals and fine art.

Elsewhere in Frome, too, it's been a musical week. Popular Frukes played at the Festival party at Three Swans ~ (do all ukulele bands play Teenage Kicks or is that a local thing? they inspired me to borrow a uke to learn Smells Like Teen Spirit anyway) ~ and the Wednesday session at the Grain Bar featured Pat Orchard showing how he uses echo to enhance his superb guitar work. Simon Sax introduced a talent-filled Jazz Jam at the Cornerhouse on Sunday, including guest baritone saxophonist George Haslam and Norman Leater on trumpet.

Artsy round-up for this week wouldn't be complete without the visual highlights: painter Russ Ellingham's glamorous launch Art after Dark showed his new works in an exciting noir setting, and a new exhibition from Jim Whitty at Black Swan Gallery: Flux tracks the process of painting and questions when in a work can be called finished, since the narrow margin between incomplete and overpainted is elusive, which sparked an interesting session for the Words at The Black Swan poetry group on Sunday afternoon. Jim's paintings are largely based on his walks along Vallis Vale, the riverside path that links Frome to Mells, and his explorations have led to 'lost' paintings where the essence originally captured is increasingly overlaid with later observations. A bit like all of our memories, really.

Halloween is always a big night for ghouls and glamour so I'll end this post with the marvellous Frome Street Bandits heading in to the Cheese & Grain party, led by the Lady Mayoress and watched by the Mayor...