Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer storms & classic drama

The Tempest is tale of turmoil caused by power struggles among the old, redeemed through love by the young. How wonderfully calming then, to sit in Frome's splendid amphitheatre, a circle of twelve massive stones created to celebrate the European Union, and watch a quartet of talented young actors perform this story in the evening sunshine of the day an imposed, unnecessary, vote threw our country into disarray. (This blog is about arts in & around Frome, not politics, but as one of the bard's least attractive characters said, if you prick me do I not bleed?)
So I can't thank you enough, Quantum Theatre, for this totally delightful production. High-energy performances combining physical comedy with impassioned storytelling ensured clear narrative and movingly convincing relationships. Harry Boyd was compelling as Prospero and Pippa Lewis & Charlie Russell were enchanting lovers, with Lewis Newman a poignant Caliban - all also quick-changing into nobles, sailors, servants, and (one of my favourites) a quirky street-band trio of Ariels.  Their website has tour dates ~ catch it if you can.

King Lear by contrast is a drama of storms and divisions with no such happy ending. True, the conspirators all die, but so too does nearly everyone else in a relentless trail of machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders. Bristol Old Vic in collaboration with their Theatre School is offering what director Tom Morris describes as a 'unique exploration' of this massive tragedy: students and professionals working alongside each other in every area from set-making to choreography as well as on stage.
The outcome is truly impressive.
Three big names support the large cast of student actors: Timothy West is the king, shifting convincingly from scary volatile to piteous as his outmanoeuvered rage turns to terrible regret. Stephanie Coles is the surprising but very successful choice as his cryptic fool, and David Hargreaves is a strong Gloucester. The rest of the cast ~ Lear's children and their lovers, his friends and enemies, soldiers, servants and followers ~  all deserve distinctions especially Poppy Pedder as Cordelia, Jessica Temple and Michelle Fox (Goneril and Regan), Joey Akubeze as sly servant Oswald and Tom Byrne as wretched Edgar feigning madness to deal with crazy times, with the overall award for stand-out performance going to Danann McAleer as loyal Kent returning from banishment to serve his master in disguise. There's a lot of disguise and duplicity in this disturbingly prescient story: bad people pretending to be good, sane pretending to be crazy, and wise pretending to be fools. And from the opening moments when a map of this kingdom is physically split,  uncomfortable relevance palpably resonates, especially when gentle Cordelia is rejected for refusing to enhance her status by false hyperbole. Top marks too for sound and visuals, with set, effects and costumes all supportive rather than intrusive, as appropriate for this intense and timeless tale. On until 10 July, and has already collected its first 5 star review so do go if you can. (Booking link above)

If it's all getting too stormy for you right now, there's respite on offer at Theatre Royal Bath where Noel Coward's Present Laughter sets the clock back to an era when a chauffeur called Frobisher awaiting in one's car can be called at a moment's notice to ferry a young lady home, and a milieu where she has just spent the night with one's husband.
This frothy tale of egotism, lust and guile all revolves around Garry Essendine, an actor with a penchant for witty repartee and women, who find him irresistible. Yes, a pattern is emerging: Noel Coward did play the part himself in the 1942 tour. The action follows the complexities of Essendine's life and personality, as he engages with women who either adore him or scold him or both (the exception being his housekeeper, a Mrs-Overall figure who seemed to have come from a different comedy.) It's a thin plot but it does enable much shenanigans and some genuinely funny moments, especially in the second act. Part of the reason this production works is Stephen Unwin's confident direction, a bigger part is eye-candy effect ~ sumptuous set, luscious lighting & lovely ladies in gorgeous frocks ~ and major credit should go to Samuel West in the lead role. His Garry Essendine is totally convincing as a charmer of fluctuating egotism, concealing insecurity under banter, afraid of losing what he values most although he still doesn't know what that is... If you like froth that leaves you pondering on what fools these mortals be, you should go see.

Frome enjoyed a festival foretaste from local singer/songwriters Al O'Kane and Emma Shoesmith at Archangel on Sunday afternoon ~ you can hear them both in the Magical Folk Garden on Wednesday (if you haven't got a ticket for Billy Bragg, hashtag festivalclash!) And even before Frome Open Studios art trail has opened there's a vibrant exhibition at the Round Tower in the North Hill House end-of-year students exhibition. And now the town is garlanded with bunting as Frome Festival is underway - ten days of even-more-than-usual music, extra drama, open-access artists' studios, and a cornucopia of talks, readings, workshops, tours, trips, and teatime treats in open gardens.
On a personal note I'm excitedly anticipating a great night at the Poetry Cafe on Monday, and another two great nights on Thursday and Friday as Time Slides has now reached the costume-and-music stage of rehearsal, doing what pub theatre does best ~ a make-you-laugh, leave-you-thinking, affordable show.
Don't worry if you didn't get hold of a programme ~ they have nearly as many inaccuracies as a Brexit leaflet (though without the ruthless planning) ~ either look online or just come along, any day between 1st & 10th of July you should find something somewhere that you'll love...

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