Sunday, June 28, 2015

Fringe-ing Frome's festival

While half of Frome disappears to Pilton to either work or perform, the rest of us are warming up for our town festival starting next week. As anyone in, or interested in, Frome will know there's so much creative stuff happening all the time that festival fringe activities aren't exactly oases in a cultural desert but this week the buzz is even more bombinatory than usual.  Or bombinatious, not sure which is the right adjective from this great verb. Where to begin?
Muffin Man 1 & 2 had two nights at The Cornerhouse, and my marvellous actors & co-writers, Ross Scott and Fleur Hanby-Holmes spent a full day in rehearsal with the relevant pastries before our opening on Thursday.  The show comprises a replay of my 'Bard of Frome' title-winning short from last year, followed by our devised sequel to the cliffhanging ending of this unlikely rom-com, The Morning After. The opener is a stand-up routine and there's a song between the two plays, both 'bonus tracks'  created by the characters to add depth to their roles. Lots of audience laughter and brilliant feedback forms, especially after the awesome Saturday night performance summed up Great entertainment - well told story - good fun! and even more succinctly Funny as f##k. (You can see them all here)
Midsummer Dusk is developing sensationally well and tickets for the extra Saturday performance selling briskly at the Festival box office. Sunday's evening rehearsal gave us a shivery sense of how atmospheric the Dissenters Cemetery will be...  our superb cast is already virtually word perfect.

And it's bang goes the neighbourhood affordability-wise, as once again Frome is in the national press:  our Share Shop is commended in Positive News, and we're now a 'Great Town' officially, as a winner in this category at the Urbanism Awards ceremony this month.

Moving briefly out of the cultural hub for two visits to Bath: on Tuesday to talk my poems, as they now say, at the Rose & Crown where lovely Speakeasy organizer Jo Butts entertained us with thoughts from Mark Thomas's People's Manifesto (Goats are to be released on to the floor of the House of Commons - no more than four) and local regular John Christopher Wood aired his views on Cheese (it is an urban myth / that Palestinians make cheeses of Nazareth)  so my chirpy appeal for provision of therapeutic gigolos in Homes for the Elderly fitted in nicely.

Also in Bath, Stepping Out have been performing The Square Wheel of Time at the Rondo. The 'big show' productions from this Bristol community theatre company are always zestful romps with dancing, song and magic tricks as well as wild comedy, bizarre characters, and a thought-provoking bite that lingers. Mark Breckon's script and an exuberant cast combine to tick all these boxes once again. Directed by Cheryl Douglas with lavish costumes and clever stage techniques to create filmic fights and atmospheric flashbacks, this show took and tweaked the company's usual play-within-a-play convention: among many highlights I'd have to pick out 'Tamas' dirty-dancing to Time of My Life (Black-Eyed Peas version of course), the urbane and unscrupulous Dr Charles Lavelle, and Cecilia the stolen daughter dancing secretly with the gipsies, but this was an ensemble piece and everyone deserves praise.  The plot, involving eco-warriors returning to the 19th Century to change history, is sublimely incredible but the intention, to prevent the dominance of chemical intervention in mental health treatment, raises a serious issue. Behind every character, laughable & lovable or outright pathetic, we begin to see a third dimension: the real person damaged by trauma, loss, emotional abuse, or even unresolved family history. More than mere diverting entertainment, these plays from Stepping Out invite audiences to take a realistic & critical look at the current 'medical model' of treatments. As the Square-Wheelers have learnt, chemical pills are not the only, or the best, way to return to health.

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