Thursday, February 18, 2016

What a piece of work....

It's been quite a week for the written word.  Monday's Love Night at the Frome Poetry Cafe smouldered & sizzled as Stephen Payne was supported by 17 open mic poets and by an attentive audience who squatted on steps and stood in the doorway when we ran out of chairs. Stephen was sharing from his new collection Pattern Beyond Chance, small poems full of tender visual glimpses. Other readings ranged in mood from the sensual delicacy of Rosie Jackson to the wicked wit of John Christopher Wood, with a sublime evocation to universal connection from Lynne Christine Ridden. Josephine Corcoran was awarded the anthology donated by Hunting Raven for her wry honeymoon recollections, and Stina Falle chronicled the poets in deft sketches. (Pencil sketches, but with word jottings too...)

Over in Bristol, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory has begun their new season with the big one, and a better production of Hamlet I have not yet seen. In a starkly simple setting ~ SATTF productions are designed to be performed 'in the round' ~ with the absolute minimum of props, the familiar story comes to life in an extraordinarily dynamic way: no portentous showcasing or defamiliarising tricks with well-known speeches, this drama of family conflict becomes a totally comprehensible story. Great direction from Andrew Hilton and a strong performance by Alan Mahon in the title role are both crucial for this. The prince here is no self-dramatising emo but a young man recently bereaved and now confronted by a supernatural visitation he finds not only traumatic but also untrustworthy ~ perhaps a devil in disguise, a common interpretation of ghosts at that time. No wonder he delays and, as friends turn into spies, no wonder he becomes desperate as to who to trust. The outcome is a totally gripping production with huge energy, especially from the younger characters ~ Fortinbras (Laurence Varda) Rosencranz & Guildenstern (Joel Macey & Craig Fuller) and Ophelia (Isabella Marshall). Costumes are sumptuous and the climatic fight scene, directed by John Sandeman from the stylistic conventions of the era, is absolutely fantastic. On till 30th April.

The other major Bristol production is PINK MIST at Bristol Old Vic, first staged last year and revived for the BOV 250th anniversary celebrations. Owen Sheers wrote this tale of three soldiers coming home to Bristol from Afghanistan after interviewing returned servicemen and if you know anyone still trusting the value of war, this is one to take them to. Owen Sheers is a poet and this is not really a play, more a long poem with movement, or maybe a dance with words, set in the city of Banksy and dockland clubs but also that timeless world of young men ardent for some desperate glory. There are no plot surprises, the only 'reveal' is how, and the lyrical narration & lithe movements create poignant contrast to the graphic details.  And it  wasn't 'the old lie' of patriotism that inspired this trio: what's most striking is the soldiers' total disconnection with any sense of purpose in their conflict. As ringleader Arthur says at the start, they were 'hungry for change' and this was not about where they were going but what they were leaving; as Taff says, he loved the basic training ~ 'everything we were meant to hate - the PT, drill sergeant shouting in your face, being woken at three to go on guard, the route march, the beastings - I loved it, I did. The writer's programme notes pose the question: How might we satisfy these hungers at home, within our societies, rather than away from them engaged in violence? Perhaps we can't, but that's no reason not to try, telling their stories not via the anonymising narratives of politics and the media but through the nuance and human detail of theatre. On till March 5, also recommended.

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