Saturday, December 12, 2015

Bah humbug, magic snow and capering crabs. Its that time again...

It's that time again, isn't it, and as I generally avoid the topical C-word with euphemisms like 'winter solstice' and 'festive season', the show currently at the Brewery in Bristol suits me fine: A Christmas Carol is as we all know the story of Scrooge, who although admittedly a capitalist with appalling business practice & a repugnant personality nevertheless had a point in his lack of sympathy with ritual celebrations.  Scrooge of course finally found sympathy for the ill & undernourished however which makes him a better man than George Osborne will ever be.
There’s no doubt about it, Living Spit have a special kind of magic. With farcically few props and only a chair for a set, this duo of ill-costumed & apparently graceless men completely control the stage whatever tale they decide to create or, as with A Christmas Carol, to inappropriately embellish. Admittedly the magic dust comes primarily from Stu Mcloughlin, who can raise an audience to its feet to sing a funeral hymn with the refrain He’s Satan’s Bum-boy Now, rouse them to hysteria with a Ghost of Christmas Past manifesting as an irritable Irish fairy called Sharon, and reduce them to tears as Bob Cratchett mourns at the grave of his lost child Tiny Tim. That’s what I call a wide range.  Howard Coggins is very good too and has a great voice especially in the song that replaces an interval, called the Interval Song, after which the story shifts to Bob Cratchett’s house where Howard is Bob's wife, the children are soft toys, and the christmas meal is a dead spider in a pile of hoover-dust. Hard to say which looked most unsuitable for purpose. As always there’s a mix of colloquial contemporary references and rehearsed ad libs in an performance that relies largely on audience affection, but the story is unexpectedly true to Dicken’s narrative from start to finish. And rather more expectedly, it’s very funny. (image Paul Blakemore)

For a more magical take on the season, head for the Rondo in Bath where Butterfly Psyche is telling the story of The Snow Child. Written and directed by Alison Farina, this endearing fantasy based on a Russian fairytale is vividly created by a strong cast - I especially enjoyed Piers Wehner as Father Frost and Charlotte Ellis as a vegetarian bear called Carl, while Beth Caudle is enchanting as the Snow Child. There's a great deal of emphasis on inclusive performance, both in special shows and by signing throughout the show which brings a kind of grace to all the interactions and becomes, like the falling snow, another of the magical elements in this lovely piece of theatre. On till December 20th.

The fairy tale of choice for Frome's Merlin was The Little Mermaid in a new version written by the theatre's artistic director Claudia Pepler, supported in this 'symbiotic' venture by a large creative team. Claudia was especially fascinated by the embittered Sea Witch who in this version has her own Miss-Haversham-style backstory ~ and her own redemptive resolution too. No authentic version of the Hans Anderson story can of course allow mer-Juliet to wed her land-Romeo (though they did perform a lift-filled dance that would've ensured their place in the Strictly final), but as Saturday was the last night it's not a spoiler to say there's a happy ending for the wilful little mermaid. Maisie Fogg was superb in this central role ~ in fact, the whole production was sumptuous, with an amazing set and lighting, great live music, glamorous costumes and fantastic fishes ~ the Moray Eel guarding the cave was amazing (Robin Ainslie-King created this illuminated monster, along with the dancing fish-heads.)  And Ryan Hughes & Aynsley Minty as clowning crabs provided a comedy double-act that very nearly eclipsed everything else. A well-deserved standing ovation from the full house ended this all-too-short run.

Elsewhere in Frome.... Poetry came to the Cheese & Grain in the guises of John Cooper Clarke, Clare Ferguson Walker and ~ my personal favourite ~ Luke Wright, looking more boy-bandish than ever. No gags about pictures in attics, please.  Luke is always amazing, and I especially enjoyed his epic abuse of Ian Duncan Smith in lipogram form using only the vowel I (because it's too easy to just call him a cunt) and a wonderful evocation of why he refused his invitation to the Palace last year to attend the 'Poetry Industry' awards: Have a Gong!
On a musical note, there are more than a few event clashes as the festive seasons starts properly rolling, but I did get to Al O'Kane's refugee fundraiser BOOM at Wheatsheaves where he was joined by Fat Stanley with disco from Banco de Gaia.  Is it only in Frome the dancing starts as soon as the music does, everywhere, both genders & several generations...? Mind you we did have Patrick Dunn's weird projections to encourage us (I noticed Nigel Farage pogoing alongside at one point)
I'll conclude with the reminder there's a fantastic lot of seasonal art in Frome right now, from the Winter Show at Black Swan Arts, beautifully curated with lights and shadow, to the Festival of Colour at Welshmill Hub where you can buy Amy Yates' views of the town as cards (and sample some of Stina's deadly-sin chocolate.)
Next week, of course, you can sample our Nevertheless Fringe Theatre winter production TOXIC COCKTAILS.... here's a rehearsal taster...

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