Sunday, April 09, 2017

Classic drama plus a surge of sunshine (& music)

Over to Bath, where Theatre Royal is hosting a touring production of Shaw's Pygmalion in a collaboration between Headlong ~ tagline 'creates exhilarating contemporary theatre' ~ with NST and West Yorkshire Playhouse. The story of the phonetics professor who turned a flower-girl into a duchess may be better known in its romantic reincarnation as My Fair Lady but Shaw's intention was avowedly didactic: He believed our consonant-based language required reform, famously declaring 'It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him.' This production, directed by Sam Pritchard, brilliantly skewers the phonetic heart of Shaw's play from the first moment. Before we see the actors we hear them preparing their voices, and the opening scene is entirely focussed on the impact of speech and our expectations of others from their voices alone. Playfulness by exaggeration pervades throughout: the professor's mother is 'At Home', as Victorian society required, in a transparent container like a hot-house cubicle or specimen box, where her guests politely raise teacups in unison and even her dress blends with the wallpaper. And Alfred Doolittle, who'd probably be doing standup these days in clubs if not on Live at the Apollo, grabs a mic to make a direct-to-audience appeal to support his plea for a fiver for Eliza, him being one of the Undeserving Poor and not requiring a tenner. Ian Burfield is great in this role.
Media resonances & references both underpin and overlay this contemporising of Professor Higgins' experiment, with filmic interludes segueing the scenes, a spot of selfie-Youtube, a tardis-like box for Eliza's journey and distinct essence of Big Bang's autistic Sheldon in Higgins himself ~ indeed the overall concept of blending Victoriana with modern mores evokes the impact of BBC's Sherlock. The cast led by Alex Beckett as Higgins as are all strong, but this is a production that will be remembered more for its interpretation than any single performance ~ and it will be remembered. This kind of touring show, rather than filming big names on big stages, is how theatre will stay alive.

Moving forward a decade to 1923, Arnold Ridley (aka Private Godfrey in Dad's Army) spent a scary night in Mangotsfield railway station waiting room and was inspired to write Ghost Train. The only play to with a fairground ride named after it, this comedy-thriller also launched a dramatic genre, the group of stranded strangers in jeopardy, and Frome Drama Club brought this classic story to the Merlin last week ~ drama so cleverly constructed it's
impossible to give any outline of the plot without spoilers, other than to say that tension builds at every turn for the six passengers forced to spend the night in a dingy waiting-room apparently haunted by a deadly supernatural presence. Set and costumes are superb, evoking the era as effectively as the dire slang in the script ~ in fact some of those 'old boys' and 'old girls' could have been tweaked out and performance pace tightened. This is a great ensemble piece and very entertaining, combining entertaining social comedy with disturbingly eerie effects, brilliantly contrived by sound and clever filmic effects. A well-chosen piece for team production with some fine individual performances.

Frome live music scene now, as always with a focus on the fabulous proliferance of free sessions our town is famed for: Wednesday's Grain Bar Roots Sessions featured the Three Pilgrims whose powerful set featured original pieces as well as traditional airs. On Saturday Galleons had a gig at the Granary, along with popular local singer-songwriter Phil Cooper. There were bands at the Cornerhouse and Artisan too, and a great jazz session at Griffin, but these venues need to get better lighting or Your Correspondent will have to get a costlier camera. So here's a snap from the Nunney Acoustic Cafe on Sunday with featured guests Ethemia, a lovely duo who perform their own songs and are radio favourites of Gaby Roslin who gave them the great quote: Ha ha Graham Norton you don't have Ethemia. I liked what Berny Poulton, one half of this duo, said about song-writing: "It's a funny thing ~ you don't find the song, it finds you, a bit like a cat."

And after a week of stunning sunshine, using the fragile excuse of a lovely, merely mildly melancholy, Philip Larkin poem, this week's post ends with images of some fabulous walks with friends:
The Trees
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread, 
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
Philip Larkin

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