Saturday, November 28, 2015

mostly celebrations

Stepping Out Theatre, which has supported several Nevertheless shows over the last few years (and produced Media Monsters, the double bill show Rosie & I wrote for the Alma Tavern in Bristol) boasts as patron the marvellous Mark Rylance who has been winning awards since he stepped on the boards 35 years ago, so with Farinelli and the King ~ Mark's current 5-star performance ~ at the Duke of York's, a trip to London was clearly the the perfect seasonal celebration event for the entire company.
And as Stepping Out is co-producing our next Nevertheless show, Toxic Cocktails (at the Cornerhouse, 16&17 December if your diary is at hand) I was delighted to join the very jolly coach party on Saturday. An 'incident' on the motorway meant we only arrived in time to see the second half so I can't review but the theatre, all lit with candles, is beautiful, the costumes are gorgeous, and the music, if you like counter-tenor singing, is extraordinary. The story of the King of Spain and his beloved castrato movingly reflects on melancholy, madness, and the power of creativity to alleviate both, but I tend to agree with the online review from Culture-Whisper: It's not for everyone. There's nothing boundary-breaking or bold, and this is the kind of show that reinforces idea of theatre as for the middle-aged, middle-classes who know their Handel from their Hasse. But it's a warm and charming showcase of spectacular acting and musical talent.  And the festive supper afterwards was fabulous.

Back in Frome on Sunday, the Cheese & Grain seethed with sensuous smells and sumptuous samples as Frome celebrated its fifth Lip-Smacking Chocolate Festival, organised by Jo Harrington.
Stalls from all around the west country offered nibbles & tasters of lip-smacking experiences from raw chocolate bars to whisky-filled hand-painted chocolate creams. The River House team were there with Tom's marvellous cakes & Ellen's latest taste-experience brainwave: chocolate mulled wine. An event literally sensational!

Another architypically-Frome experience is the festive Extravaganza at the end of November to celebrate the switch-on of our christmas lights.  There's always a theme ~ the year before last it was Jenson Button scorching up & down the main road ~ and this year was a Snow Ball. In actuality it was more of a wildly windy rainswept evening but that didn't deter the hundreds who poured into the town centre to enjoy the fabulous story-telling projections on town buildings and the music & dancing in the street till late. Official 'switch-on' was due at 7.30 and a mere 15 minutes later the MC on the George balcony yelled out "Frome! Are you all ready for the big anti-climax of the evening?"  and we all yelled happily "Yeah!"
And the tree lights came on, bless, and a kind of shimmering golden shower ~ snow, obviously, but gilded by lighting ~ cascaded on the throng below. What a time to be alive, one might say.

Moving out of town again to end this post, to Bath this time, again for a theatre trip: I absolutely loved Monsieur Popular, the frothy French farce that opened the Ustinov autumn season, so was hoping for similar entertaining frivolities from director Laurence Boswell’s follow-up The One That Got Away. This one by George Feydeau is a different fish, longer and more laboured.  During the first act I was strongly reminded of a ditty attributed to Dorothy L Sayers but sounding more like Dorothy Parker: As years go in and years go out / I totter towards the tomb / caring less & less about / who goes to bed with whom.  Several more characters were still due to appear, some from the gendarmerie, so I was rather hoping there might be a more interesting twist in store. Like murder. Or a play within a play, in which the players of these clichéd roles had more interesting personae.  By the second interval I had given up hope for anything more exciting than the final curtain. The acting is all fine, the sets are lavish, but the only salacious sparkle came from  the countess-turned-concierge ruined by love of a lion-tamer (Victoria Wick). Lots of debagging and door-banging but a story so thin you could fold it up and lose it in a trouser pocket.

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