Sunday, May 31, 2015

Truth, lies, and fairy tales

The Freedom Theatre of Jenin is the 'cultural resistance' movement of a refugee camp in occupied Palestine, and they're currently touring the UK in just 10 venues & arousing outrage from the Daily Mail, both reasons for Frome to feel immensely proud to host their show.  The Siege tells, from research & interviews with the exiled fighters, the story of their 39 days in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002.  On the night before the show here's writer/director Nabil Al-Raee with actor Faisal Abu Alheja talking with Jim Laurenson at the welcome-to-Frome party hosted by Frome Friends of Palestine, whose "imagination and tenacity" brought them to Merlin Theatre, the only small town venue, and only one in the southwest.  Jim summed up our feelings of respect for the company: As actors we have an insecure life but compared to you, our insecurities are as nothing. They played on Saturday to a full house & prolonged standing ovation.
Inevitably intensely moving, The Seige is also brilliant theatre. Nabil Al-Raee has written a terrific play and the staging is terrific too. Projected exterior views, great set & sound design, and powerful acting all bring unforgettable impact to the violent storyline. "We are facing the Israeli propaganda machine that speaks every language. It turns the oppressed into the oppressor and the oppressor into the oppressed" says one of the fighters, and this was picked up by Ken Loach in the Q&A afterwards in identifying 'rage of injustice at the lies told and believed.'  The actors agreed. "The media do not tell the truth so we tell the truth. Through theatre we are fighting not just the occupation but the media." Including, to our national shame, the BBC.

Meanwhile in another part of the forest, Burn the Curtain has revived Angela Carter's dark fairy tale The Company of Wolves for a performance requiring around 80 extras otherwise known as the audience, and stretching the notion of 'promenade theatre' to a record limit with miles of Longleat estate to traverse. The cast and backup team enlivened our hilly trek with some great cameo moments using lights, sounds, masks, smoke and fire, and brilliant acting by the duke and his secret lover. Involvement was maintained by selective participation too, and I was amazed, after long walks in which it was hard to stay in role, at the emotional impact of the gripping finale.
I don't have any image of the theatrical highlights as we were told cameras would spoil the atmosphere, which was clearly true as demonstrated by the posse of Salisbury Festival photographers circling us constantly with lenses aloft. Little Red Ridinghood must have felt more like a starlet spotted at Cannes than a brave girl standing alone as wolves howled through the gloaming.  So here's a quick snap of the long leat that gives the park its name, where we rested briefly to hear more of the story unfold. And that quibble aside the team was great, the hot chocolate very welcome, and when it was over I wished I could do it all again and this time be one of the wolf girls running wild with the wonderful lupine duke.

Back in Frome the third Steampunk Extravaganza arrived at Cheese&Grain to present Victorian modes and memorabilia as a rich feast of eccentricity. Here's Steve Hillier, maker & purveyor of recycled jewellery, showing a treasure discovered literally in his attic. He's holding the list of reasons why the brother on the right challenged the brother on the left to a dual 26 times between 1853 and 1869. Reasons range from the trivial (Laughing at latest haircut ) to the frankly bizarre: Putting marmalade in slippers.  Frederick, the challenging sibling, lost every time and the ensuing grazing wounds are listed too, eventually with 'again' and exasperated exclamation marks. The story only ends with the mother confiscated their dualling pistols, as a good mother should.

Grain Bar Roots Session featured the fabulous sounds of Gravity Drive this week and a full house enjoyed great vocals from Ava and Elijah Wolf, all songs written & instrumentalised by Elijah. There's a sample of their music on the website, if you missed the gig.

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