Sunday, March 01, 2015

Another Frome medley

Storytellers can seem like Morris dancers of the spoken word scene, so I was unsure what to expect from Tongues of Flame at Rook Lane but after seeing Miracle Theatre's take on Dr Livingstone's struggle to find the source of the Nile and knowing nothing of maverick explorer Richard Francis Burton who was equally avidly engaged on this quest, I went along to listen & learn from Giles Abbott at Mr Rook's Speakeasy on Thursday. Definitely a good decision.
Giles is a charismatic storyteller, and his extraordinary 90-minute performance created the man and his era in a range of ways: satiric, sensuous, and tragic, as we edged nearer and nearer to a man who shocked the establishment and remained always an outsider but was acknowledged the finest swordsman in Europe,  a man who "took to languages like other men take to drink", whose disguise as a Hakim was so effective he was allowed into the harem, whose observations of Somali female circumcision were censored by his horrified publisher, whose lifetime's notebooks of irreplaceable research into 19th century cultures and communities in India & Araby & Africa were burned on his death by his more conventional wife...  and he never found the source of the Nile.  But what a man! And what a performance. Marvellous.

Still on the subject of one-man shows, Pip Utton brought another driven personality to Frome on Saturday with his speech-from-beyond-the-grave by Maggie Thatcher. As our local paper said, "Frome's Merlin Theatre audiences have grown used to the theatre's associate artist Pip Utton's multiple personalities. Writer and performer Pip regularly metamorphoses into characters from history and the arts, ranging from Hitler to Churchill, from Chaplin to Dickens and more." Playing Maggie, Pip establishes himself as an ambivalent actor rather than his usual impersonation: his male Maggie, in Spitting Image style wig and pearls, is unrepentant but her alter-ego was a child of one of the mining communities she destroyed. "The Britain you wanted is the Britain we've got" is his starting summary to the lady who believed as Creon did in Antigone, 'there has to be someone to take the helm.' A thought that will divide, as the Iron Lady did in life and death.
Among other local news, Captain Cactus & the Screaming Harlots rocked the Grain Bar Roots Session, the cafe then reassembling itself by Saturday's craft market with an exhibition of paintings by Caroline Walsh-Waring, and I discovered a new literary group meeting  on the last Friday of each month 1.30-3.00 at Frome library. It's open to all so go along if you fancy a bit of reading & discussion ~ we were looking at some of Seamus Heaney's poems, one of which revealed he saw himself as a "wood-kerne", a lovely word which means an ancient Irish soldier, a hunted bandit, firing darts at the English through the forest.

And finally this week, thanks to Chapter & Verse host John Walton at Frome FM for inviting me to talk about performance poetry in general and the marvellous Rob Gee's upcoming visit to the Merlin Theatre (March 27th if you haven't booked yet!) in particular..  Rob came on the show in a phone interview to tell us more about his comedic take on the UK psychiatric system from his experience in the wards as a (reformed)(!) nurse. FRUITCAKE is still booking, so if you want to see why it slayed audiences in the States as a serial award-winner with a galaxy of 5-star reviews, come along. Did I say March 27th at the Merlin? thought so. 7.45, just £5 or a bit more if you book a supper too.

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