Monday, August 15, 2016

Girdling the earth, from Bottom's Athens to Batman's Gotham City

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play about love in all its aspects: magical, delusional, reckless, reliable, posh & common, and the current production at Theatre Royal Bath puts sharp focus on Shakespeare's timeless theme of passion's follies as well as its ecstasies. The cast are all impressive and the lovers are superb. William Postlethwaite is specially awesome, his louche Lysander mesmeric from the moment he steps on stage as lover of feisty Hermia (Eve Ponsonby). Helena (Maya Wasowicz) thrillingly makes an olympic sport out of fighting for your man (Wilf Scolding) ~ in fact the funniest scene by far is not the comedians' set-piece but the lovers' cartoon-like conflict in the forest. Darrell D'Silva and Katy Stephens are mesmerising in their royal roles in both human and faerie worlds, and Simon Gregor creates a strange Caliban/Ariel-like figure for Puck.
Among the gang of would-be players, Phil Jupitus's Bottom has been gathering plaudits and Oscar Batterham's Thisbe-aka-Flute-the-bellows-mender is a particular delight.
Design in both visuals & direction seems all about stripping down beneath the presentable surface of life, with much flesh progressively revealed and fairies war-dancing around like the lost boys from Peter Pan.  Costumes for mortals are vaguely modern ~ Hermia in leggings, though Helena is more like a 1950s school librarian, and all the lovers abandon their drab attire in the forest (it reappears, disappointingly for so flamboyant a production, at the wedding) while Titania spends most of the time cavorting in purple underwear. The workmen are dressed pantomime-style, with the betwitched Bottom (Phil Jupitus) sporting feathers on a headband and a black blob on the tip of his nose so he looked neither transformed nor like a donkey though he did say 'Eeyore' a lot.
There are some marvellous sequences: transforming the verbal cruelty of the young people in the night forest by physical comedy is an inspiration, and individual performances are fantastically strong. But ~ and I'm on my own here I suspect, as audiences and critics are loving Laurence Boswell's direction  ~ I missed a sense of light & shade, and the symbolic mystery of the forest. Despite dark mottling on the set, the effects are mechanical rather than magical with Titania in a hoisted bed and Puck’s transport a kind of dumb waiter.  The success of high-impact-entertainment in every scene comes at a cost, and I felt the four segments of the play ~ lovers, fairies, commoners and court ~ ultimately failed to combine as integral aspects of human experience, so the show was a series of set-pieces without real significance. But go along and see for yourself ~ you'll enjoy superlative acting, a feast of visuals, and a lot of laughter guaranteed. It's on till 20th August.

Puck can 'put a girdle round the earth' in forty minutes: Phileas Fogg's boast that he could do the same in eighty days must have also sounded like the stuff of fantasy in 1872, when Jules Verne's famous saga is set. Open-air theatre is one of those classic summer delights and the Bishop's Palace Garden in Wells is a delightful venue ~ both good reasons to see the Boxtree Productions version of Around the World in 80 Days. Adaptation of a 250 page novel set globally is an ambitious project, not least as young viewers are unlikely to be familiar with concepts like consulates, valets, & gentleman's clubs, and more significantly because the action famously features trains & steamers & an elephant... the small but lively team of performers managed the elephant charmingly in a version simplified for family audiences and the evening was beautifully warm and sunny.

Sunday was Frome Comic Con Town Festival, with superheros & villains strutting the precincts and costumed fans of every age swarming the streets. Unlike the traditional convention, this inclusive event was spread through shops, cafes & pubs all around the town, with cosplay competitions and trader stalls in the Assembly rooms for collectors of comic collectables. Sheldon & the Big Bang Theory Boys would've had a frenzy fest of recognition, but as more of a Penny I couldn't identify most of the characters but enjoyed the atmosphere of excitement and odd sites like spiderman on a break in Costa and Dr Who's tardis parked in the Sun. Gotham Cosplayers were my favourite but it was all fun, except the inexplicable inclusion of reptiles in plastic boxes for a pound to pick up & hold, at the Steiner school ~ even if these creatures' normal containment is less confining and uncomfortable, it's not ok to encourage children to see them as objects to handle like toys. Sorry to add a sour note. Alligator lizards belong in stony mountain range, Steiner Academy what were you thinking.

Still in Frome: the amazing work of local artist Paul Boswell, aka Mutartis, has added excitement to various nooks around Frome, and I'm thrilled he's agreed to do the cover design for a project I'm involved with.
We  met in the Garden Cafe this week and talked of many things ~ poetry & Upfest rather than cabbages or kings. Crumbs from a Spinning World is the title that Paul's Rackhamesque imagination is now addressing, from a poem by Brian Patten with the refrain: ‘From my nest among moments/ where I keep a spinning world/ I stole one crumb of joy/ but lost it coming here.’ I have every confidence his design will the exquisite and very weird.

And that's my last post from Frome for a while, as I'm off to Half Moon Bay for a 'writing retreat' with my very good friends Mo & Anja, and intend to spend my days walking the eucalyptus avenues & pale beaches & high cliffs  ~ and writing, of course ~ and my evenings playing scrabble...

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