Sunday, March 05, 2017

Is it Art or junk... answers here

Whistler (according to Ruskin) flung a pot of paint in the public’s face, Duchamps offered it a urinal, so is slinging mud at a wall Art ~ as long as you’re wealthy enough to have a cleaner to wipe it off? You may find yourself musing on such deep questions after the new play at Bath's Ustinov Studio by  Marius von Mayenburg, which opens their highly-anticipated German season. The title PLASTIC, combined with a programme image of a splatter of spaghetti, didn't inspire high hopes though I was intrigued to see two fight directors required, but actually this is a stylish production brilliantly acted, with brittle humour and sometimes unexpectedly moving.
It’s a story about a girl who cleans but without the predictable Cinderella ending ~ in fact there's not much to say without risking spoilers ~ it's a cross between contemporary parable and outright parody: there's a relationship in jeopardy, an ongoing critique of conceptual art, and as much bleak humour as you can have with yellow rubber gloves on. Some of the details are great ~ like the silent arrival of pan-faced gallery visitors, who linger onstage equally impassively as voyeurs of the following private scene, and the music & visual props are nicely chosen.  I particularly enjoyed the clip of Big Bang Theory as Vincent struggles with maths homework, effortlessly explained by cleaner Jessica. Ria Zmitrowicz is superb as the laconic girl who becomes the focus of everyone's need for a confidant, comforter, or muse. Steve John Shepherd brings presence and energy to the 2-dimensional part of the artist, Charlotte Randle and Jonathan Slinger are terrific as the warring couple and Brenock O'Connor is their unfortunate son.
Jean Chan's set supports the artsy theme and is superbly lit by Richard Howell - in fact the visuals provide one of the main pleasures of a play which focuses so much on fakery that even the conflict has a custard-pie feel. Don't go expecting a satisfactory resolution but go anyway for superb acting and memorable visuals. I left feeling structural experimentation is good but, unlike that Banksy maxim‘art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable’, this one may well leave 'the comfortable' feeling quite smug. On till 25 March.

The new production at Bristol Old Vic, in dramatic contrast, is a play that wears its golden heart on its sleeve: JUNKYARD, conceived and scripted by Jack Thorne, is a mostly-true story about Lockleaze Adventure Playground. It starts a bit like those conferences where a group of 'real service users' are asked to describe the initiative they’ve experienced, and in some ways this case-study undercurrent never completely goes, but Erin Doherty as narrator and heroine Fiz gives a totally gripping performance and is supported by an immensely talented team - Josef Davies as bovva-boy Ginger and Enyi Okoronkwo as gentle Talc are outstanding. The set designed by Chiara Stephenson is marvellously chaotic, allowing for dynamic physical action and impressive lighting (Jack Knowles), with Stephen Warbeck's upbeat soundtrack integrated with the dialogue by a lively trio of on-stage musicians.  Calum Callaghan is endearing as hippyish Rick, the idealistic teacher inspired by the current (this is late 1970s) Adventure Playground movement into coaxing cooperation from a motley crew of self-defined 'kids no-one knows what to do with'.  Kevin McMonagle is great too as the Head who would really rather have a Maths block than a wreck from random fantasies; in fact there's not a single weak performance, and no bad characters either and it would have been interesting to see ~ without turning it into Lord of the Flies obviously ~ more diversity among the teens' responses, especially in the slower-moving second half. That quibble apart, as someone who worked in London in the 1980s with teenage boys with severe behavioural difficulties (predating that definition we were simply called a 'last-chance' resource) I found this true-life feel-good story credible and moving as well as entertaining. Critics are loving it - in Bristol till March 18th, then moving to Theatre Clwyd.

Back in Frome there's been the usual fantastic Smörgåsbord of live music, with an extra sparkle on Friday for James Bartholomew's exhibition launch of photos of Frome at Night at the Cornerhouse (here's Glitter on the Mattress belting out Love Shack like you've never heard...) Also on Friday I wandered into the most extraordinary banquet since Alice fell down the rabbit hole: deli specialist Benoit Clavet filled his open house on every storey with glorious platters on tables that made the phrase 'groaning with food' seem puny ~ amazing conviviality and hospitality and a happy alternative to the sold-out Reggae event at Cheese & Grain.
The reggae theme continues on Saturday with another sell-out show and Frome Street Bandits' parade bringing ska to the streets. And as March decides to come in like a lion, sadly the first Independent Market of 2017 is postponed until April. 

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