Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ghosts & monsters as halloween hovers...

Another week, another theatrical tale of a mutilated victim, as Salisbury Playhouse commissioned comedy duo Living Spit to recreate Mary Shelley's tragic monster Frankenstein.  Howard Coggins and Stu McCloughlin are brilliant at creating a somehow-recognisable storyline from their chaotic double-act so it's reassuring when, stepping out through the plush red curtains in immaculate evening dress, they explain all they've added for this big-stage, bigger-budget, production is a four-piece backing band. The programme suggests other parts are played by ‘members of the cast’ but happily that's just Stu as usual, capering around in various costumes when not in his underpants (and sometimes out of them) being a monster. The extra musicality is great, and there are puppets too, including a hamster called Greg, but basically it's the mixture as before: Howard and Stu hogging the action and upstaging each other, banter and faux-rivalry, absurdity and vulgarity, a thin thread of authenticity, and a little bit of genuine pathos.
There’s always a moment in a Living Spit show when you realise this is actually like life and not really funny at all (this time it’s when Victor Frankenstein abuses his creation for his ugliness and shows us all how easily a mob can be enticed to jeer).  Apparently this story when first published in 1817 was described as ‘a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdities’. “We’re expecting similar reviews for this show” the programme notes conclude. On till November 5th, well worth seeing.
Tobacco Factory Theatres has combined with Sherman Theatre for a revival of Connor McPherson’s award-winning 1997 play The Weir in which reminiscences flow like lager (the Guiness is off) in a rural Irish pub where superstition is still part of life and there’s 'no dark like a winter night in the country'. This is a play about being haunted by losses and regrets, about tedium and drinking, a play about Auld Oirland, represented by the dingiest pub imaginable and motley crew of lonely drop-ins swapping mordbid tales in Oirish as they sup their way through a dismal evening. Think Father Ted without the bawdy mirth, think a pitch-dark version of Wendy’s stories to comfort the lost boys in the Never-Never Land. “We’ll all be ghosts soon enough” says one of the men. It’s the sense of place and atmosphere, according to the writer himself, that made this play special: he saw it as like eavesdropping for an evening - ‘a little snow-globe, a perfectly contained world of its own.' Tobacco Factory is usually brilliant at creating such a world of imagination in the round, but for this production there's a massive set of detailed structure which the characters roam around, rather than creating any sense of intimacy. Orla Fitzgerald is impressive as the woman whose arrival sets the competitive story-telling rolling, and the four men are strong on roguish charm though the barman in particular doesn't seem comfortable with the accent. There’s an exchange early on that sums up the play: ‘You’re making very heavy weather of this story,’ says Finbar, and Jack replies unphazed ‘You have to relish the details.’ Showing till 5th November.

Death is a brave topic for stand-up, but Drift Snowbarger, the new Storytelling Bard of Somerset, pulled it off in the suitably gothic upstairs room of the Three Swans on Friday. As well as laughing, quite a lot, I learned some interesting mordant facts, like false knees can't be made of magnetic material, and that I - and you - can be buried anywhere we want as long as we don't contaminate the water. There was genuine personal feeling at the heart of this monologue, too. George Bernard Shaw, who famously opined 'Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh,' would have approved.

Staying with dark laughter: Austentatious promised a uniquely improvised Jane Austen novel, on a theme provided by the audience, at the Merlin Theatre on Saturday. The title allegedly picked at random was The Curse of Candlestick Manor ~ appropriate for an evening when Frome townsfolk were already anticipating Halloween in ghoulish costumes (and even the bakeries are full of horror...)
Six cast members, plus violinist, all look gorgeously Regency-stylish for this parody of the melodramatic gothic genre, but the narrative felt a bit flaccid and lacking in authentic edge. These actors are clearly all talented entertainers, so it would have been great to see genuine audience involvement, suggestions audible, and with the addition of roles played 'in the manner of...'   Instead it was pleasant and often amusing but all rather mono-toned.

Finally this week:  the current exhibition at Frome's Black Swan gallery is the Arts Open Exhibition, a prestigious event with prizes of materials, framing and masses of cash in various categories for the judges' favourites - and, still up for grabs, £250 for the 'public choice', so pop along and vote!  You'll also see a fabulously varied array of amazing artworks, impressively curated.  On until 19th November.

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