Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The sunshine & prosecco edition

It's 'summer season' time at Theatre Royal Bath with another determined-to-please production: While the Sun Shines by Terence Rattigan is another WW2 farce and, as with their previous show (Coward's Present Laughter),  I found myself compelled to upwardly revise my sniffy opinion of this genre. The storyline may be absurd but it's a delight to watch, with a fabulous set creating 1940s Albany both outside & in, gorgeous costumes, sharp direction and superb cast. There are shades ~ or rather gleams ~ of Oscar Wilde and PG Wodehouse, but this hilarious parody of social mores has hidden shadows too, evoking an era of insecurity as social status totters while bombs fall and black-out nights bring war-time wildness.
In his inherited luxurious chambers, the Earl of Harpenden finds his real 'war effort' is the struggle for the lovely Lady Elizabeth (Alexandra Dowling), against the blustering charm of American Lieut Mulvaney (Rupert Young) and the cunning of Clouseau-esque French Lieut Colbert (Nicholas Bishop), with the mix confused further by tart-with-a-heart Mabel Crum (Tamla Kari), and Elizabeth's gambling father (Michael Cochrane). All are excellent, and Rob Heaps as the Earl, potentially the most facile stereotype of all, brings huge charm and subtle strength to the role. Christopher Luscombe's direction ensures brilliant timing and I came out with eyes sore from laughing.
On till the end of the month, highly recommended. (images Tristram Kenton)

Back in Frome, Tic Tac Toe is addressing another era of social values in The Scandalous Love of Oscar Wilde, a monologue analysis of the writer's attitudes and the path to his downfall. Luke Stuart superbly inhabits this role in a piece still in development, directed by Geoff Hunt and written by Calum Grant, to be shown at Merlin Theatre on August 6th. The preview was at the Cornerhouse, which also on Saturday offered the marvellous All Nighters' Northern Soul with dancing on a nostalgically-talc-scattered floor until late.
More live music on Sunday from flaminco guitarist Joe Taylor at the Archangel in the afternoon, here with his other guitar in singer-songwriter role.
And I'm ending this celebration of drama and music on a personal note: thankyou to everyone who sent birthday messages, and to those special friends who made sure I had prosecco as well as sunshine to complete a perfect day...

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bohemian rhapsody in the Aegean

Regular followers will remember I've been regularly visiting Skyros and returning all aglow since this blog arrived blinking into cyberspace in 2006. Recently I decided to step back from leading courses, much as I've always loved my groups, to focus on new directions but the magic island called me back in the most exciting way ~ with camera in hand, to proxy-enjoy all the creative, spiritual, and physical activities of Atistsa bay. Here the friendliest group imaginable included me in their daily life from Qi Gong on the pale beach in early morning to singing at dusk, with dancing at night under the full moon. (Thanks Mark Gunston, film-maker & windsurfer extraordinaire, for the image)
Atsitsa is on the remote, neo-hippy, West coast where pine forests creep down to the pale pebbled bays and the sun sets vermillion on the wine-dark sea: for a more essentially Greek vibe you need to cross the island to the Skyros town where life on the cobbled streets seems hardly to have changed since Achilles' days, though down on the sandy shore nymph-wear is scanty and beachbar music is ambient chill-out. I came back with a full memory, both personal & technical, of dazzlingly beautiful moments ~ over 100 posted on my facbook page ~ feeling rich in connections and reconnections.

Amazingly, Frome was also enjoying 30+° heatwave when I got back, which must have been tough for the Frome Half Marathon. Mayor Toby Eliot and Deputy Al O'Kane participated and happily our 2016 Festival Poet Laureate, John Christopher Wood has decided to take his role seriously and to honour the occasion. Here's The Uses of Mayor Ware, which features not only audacious rhyme but a really neat final couplet. Enjoy!
The Mayor is doing a 10K run. He’s doing it for charity. 
It’s to try to raise some money, And to make it feel more funny 
He’s doing the whole thing In full mayoral bling, 
Which for charity hilarity has no parity. 
A chain of office weighs a ton; Running in it’s not much fun. 
So to schlep around a whole 10K Is a feat extremely schleppity. 
But he’s not doing it all alone - He’s running it with his deputy. 
 Councillors like these are good for Frome; It’s party politics that wrecks it. 
These feisty Independents are A much more positive Frexit. 
And it’s a turnaround beyond compare, Politically it’s rather stunning 
 First to be running for Mayor, And now to be Mayor for running.

Next week Annabelle and I are heading for Shropshire with our Time Walk, to 'walk through nearly five billion years tracking the story of our home planet, marvelling at the way everything on earth has evolved from stardust' in the lovely location of Carding Mill Valley.  I've been reading David Eagleman's fascinating insights into the intricacies of the human mind Incognito, finding even more to marvel at, and still more summer ahead!

I'll end with a look back at the magic island from two of my favourite places: the headland of Atsitsa bay, and Plateia Rupert Brooke at the top of Skyros town, perfect to watch the southern rocks turn slowly from grey to lilac as the sun sets...

Monday, July 11, 2016

Our revels now are ended....

Day Ten has come & gone in Frome Festival and all the festivallers are knackered. In previous years I've reported throughout the week ~ daily, even, one year ~ and now there's far too much to mention everything that was exciting or delightful or for varied reasons simply splendid,  so I'll just pick out a few personal highlights ~ there's a much more extensive album on my facebook page.
MUSIC was amazing throughout. The Frome Street Bandits provided a superb opening for the first big open-air event, parading through the sunny evening streets to perform in the market yard for the Food Feast, and Pete Gage Band gave a storming session at The Cornerhouse on the final day.  I absolutely loved Al O'Kane's Magical Folk Garden at Archangel, four nights of superb folk-rock performances in a mesmerically decorated environment, where I was stunned by the Bookshop Band, overwhelmed by the Cedar, entranced by the lively Pigeons, and enchanted by Emma ShoosmithAl O'Kane himself. There was music everywhere in town throughout the week, from really great little folk, country, & jazz bands in pub courtyards & gardens to memorable sell-out sessions at the Cheese & Grain like the marvellous Billy Bragg.
  VISUAL ARTS enhanced the festival vibe everywhere too, with over fifty artists in the Open Studios trail and other small events too ~ I especially liked Mutartis Boswell's weird pieces in the Cellar, Robert Lee's strange things in boxes, and Ciara Nolan's big black&white photographs of Humans of Frome at the Silk Mill- a good place to pause between events for tasty Peruvian tapas in the courtyard and wine...
DRAMA is always a major interest for me, though as with all festivals, clashes are inevitable. Nevertheless Fringe Theatre had to be my priority: our production Time Slides was on for two nights, the second of which sold out completely so we had to send walkups away as over forty people squeezed into the upstairs room at the Cornerhouse to enjoy our three excellent young actors, Gabrielle Finnegan, Tiffany Rhodes & Matt Harrison, with Patrick Dunn adding atmospheric live music. There's a great review in the Fine Times Recorder which explains what's going on better than I can, even though I wrote the play... and the feedback is all on our Nevertheless page ~"Very good acting and intriguing thought-provoking script" sums up the general view, I'm happy to report.
The other stand-out production for me was Legends of Frome, an 'immersive theatre' piece devised by the Edventure creative arts course and performed at Sun Street Chapel. Taking as starting point the older traditions of town life like weaving and baking, and using a range of interactive devices involving masks, mime, song and storytelling, this young team involved us as audience, in small groups, in a journey of sensual experiences so that gradually we all became participant performers in the living story of our town. An amazingly ambitious piece that worked extremely well.

WORDS are always a strong element in the festival, and Frome Writers Collective organised some excellent events for prose writers: the first weekend saw Writers in Residence in cafes and pubs throughout the town with a busy Small Publishers' Fair at the Silk Mill, and for the final Sunday there were workshops and a talk from literary agent Jane Judd at the library.  For poets & poetry lovers,  Liv Tork hosted a terrific Hip Yak Poetry Slam at the Archangel and my Festival Poetry Cafe at the Garden Cafe was also a great evening and a full house. Here's our superb guest Steve Pottinger (his scathing satiric poem Stabberjocky has since gone viral) with our new 'Festival Poet Laureate' John Christopher Wood, who will revisit us later in the year as a guest himself, hopefully with more strange odes.

Frome Festival more than any other I've known is a real community celebration, with so many free events for everyone to join in ~ pubs like the Archangel and the Artisan have hosted childrens' activities by day as well as evening music, and the Childrens' Festival in the market yard was amazing.  There's an 'open garden' trail too, although I didn't have time this year, and so much more ~ I shall keep thinking of people & acts this post hasn't mentioned as I fly off, now, to Greece for a week in Atsitsa Bay on Skyros island...
Have a lovely time, Frome, basking in the afterglow of another really good festival...