Sunday, May 15, 2016

May Medley (2): historical dramas, art, life, and fish.

If you want an antidote to all those ponderous & inscrutable period plays, filmed or staged, look no further than Bath Spa University Theatre where the third year students have brought the 18th century comedy The Servant of Two Masters vividly up-to-any-date-you-think-of, and the audience couldn't stop laughing.  On a candy-striped set as sublimely silly as the plot and dressed in costumes either ludicrous or gaudy or both, a company of talented young actors showed huge professionalism in this high-energy romp in which three determined women successfully outwit three foolish & greedy men. Bravo to Beatrice, superbly played by Gabrielle Finnegan, and her lucky Florindo ~ and how lucky also that two of the shiniest stars of the show are coming to Frome for Nevertheless Fringe Theatre festival production: Time Slides.

From matches to hatches and dispatches, without the blissed-out bit in the middle: Vamos Theatre brought their new show The Best Thing to Frome's Merlin theatre. This production, writer-director Rachael Savage explains in the programme, is a tribute and apology to the women of the late 1960s who gave up their children for adoption under pressure to do ‘the best thing’.  Her two-year research is synthesised into the tale of one such girl recalled after her death when her father and daughter finally meet, bringing reconciliation to both. I found these programme notes essential, as a two-generation difference is difficult for young actors to convey without speech or change of facial expression, and the projected black-&-white visuals seemed mismatched to era ~ I say this with some assurance as my first baby was born in 1968.  Vamos is famous and highly-regarded for its wordless masked performances and the four actors are immensely skilful at body-language but it still takes a lot of mindwork to join the dots.
It's a serious topic but the show isn't all sombre: there are laugh-aloud comedic scenes like the shadow-silhouette coitus to that 1966 World Cup commentary "They think it's all over ~  it is now!”, the typing lesson, and even the labour ward. But as a coulrophobic I find it difficult to relate to masked characters however clever their gestures, and the soundtrack ~ after an initial burst of Lulu’s 1964 hit Shout ~ relentlessly avoids evoking any era. Sound is important in a wordless story and I did wonder if with different music the school party at the back might have stopped texting & chatting as the drama onstage slowly unfolded. But it was great to see the theatre so full, and the four actors behind 17 different masks were loudly applauded.

Animating Images is the exciting new exhibition at Black Swan Arts, curated by David Daniels. David's own work is on display alongside several other renowned animation artists and there are films, examples of storyboards & character sheets, and explanations of terms & processes, with a talk on May 19th.

Away-day corner: I'm less involved with courses now, my writing interests having taken me other ways, but this week have actually led two sessions: one for the Edventure 'Earning a Living in the Creative Arts'  course at 42 Acres ~ great to work with a group of young people choosing to design their own futures rather than fit into the square holes of routine 'job-specifications'. At the end of the session I asked for a 60-second summary in different style from everyone ~ here's my 'recipe': Ingredients: several acres of sunlit ground  ~  an old house cunningly converted ~ a dozen shiny people, curious, humorous and articulate.  Method: Place the house on the grass.  Sprinkle in the shiny people. Listen to them. They are all wonderful.
And on Saturday I went to Cheltenham for a reunion session with a group that first met several years ago in the Isle of Wight on a Skyros Holistic Holiday weekend, and has, impressively, continued to meet regularly ever since in various venues. They're great company and excellent writers, and such is their enthusiasm that we wrote, read, and discussed, for over four hours at the Abbey Hotel. Cheltenham railway station is about a mile from the centre via a footpath route strewn with wildflowers and May blossom ~ a delightful end to an immensely enjoyable session.
Back in Frome, Archangel's Sunday musician was Tom Corneill, playing in the courtyard as the sun shone and various small people danced.  This week's footnote post is a sad one though.
A leakage of slurry upstream has poisoned this stretch of the Frome, killing over 500 fish and countless invertebrates: an anxious prognosis for the health of the river stock this season and for the kingfishers and otters too. Good news is that the Environment Agency stepped in swiftly and the water quality is being restored so hopefully the river will recover.

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