Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dramatic anarchy, protest art, wild music & Word Play...

Julius Caesar is arguably the most political play ever written and there could hardly be a better time than now for Bristol Old Vic's production of Shakespeare's tale of ambition and chaos in ancient Rome. We're still in Italy, true, but in a symbolic cityscape of dark skies and towering columns, slogan-scrawled & more like struts on a mighty motorway than marble pillars, where excited crowds invade the auditorium. Julian Glover's Caesar enters like a cross between a scary Godfather boss and the charismatic older leader of a popular contemporary party, and the timelessness of conflict is plangent in every aspect of director Simon Dormandy's thrilling interpretation.
As with BOV's excellent King Lear last year, the performance showcases the talents of graduating students from the Theatre School alongside the expertise of a small group of more experienced practitioners, and like last year this combination results in an unforgettable theatre experience. Among the young performers Freddie Bowerman is strong as reluctant conspirator Brutus and Ross O'Donnellan is superb as Mark Anthony, somehow making those famous impassioned words sound dangerous and new. Design is also a team effort in a collaboration that works well: sharp costume and great lighting enhance overall visuals and there are some great touches ~ the glittering chandelier a symbolic crown over Caesar's head, Mark Anthony's suit-carrier, and the house lights coming on for his rallying speech making all the audience complicit... On till July 1, highly recommended.
Still in Bristol, Tobacco Factory Theatres has a double bill of short plays developed from Bristol Ferment. Bea Roberts, a Devon writer whose previous play And Then Come The Nightjars I really loved, is now touring with Infinity Pool. Her previous play was about the ravages of foot & mouth which sounds tedious and grim but was totally engaging: this one is 'a modern retelling of Madame Bovary' which sounds saucy and satiric but is more of a retelling of Bridget Jones. There's a pleasing irony about a theatre show constructed entirely from projected digital imagery so that we have to imagine the story rather than watch it and though there are more jokes than insights Bea is a skilful and popular performer who is winning praise throughout this tour.
Following Bea's silent story of faltering online romance, a complete contrast as Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutas approach their audience smiling and ask us all to hold hands, an icebreaker so unexpected it actually works. Eurohouse seems at first a playfully friendly piece of physical theatre, but the mood darkens into trickery and bullying which escalates up to a shock reveal that their real agenda is to expose how life in Greece has been damaged by the terms imposed after their economy collapsed. Fellswoop Theatre hatched this provocative & powerful show with support from Bristol's Mayfest and it won an award for experimentation and innovation at Edinburgh last year.

Barney Norris is another young playwright from the Southwest ~ he grew up in Wiltshire ~ and his work is massively acclaimed so I was sorry to miss Echo's End, a tale of young lovers, and keen to see his other new production While We're Here at Salisbury Playhouse. This tale of middle-aged not-lovers has been well received: one critic found a Chekhovian comic sadness in the exchanges, which translates as a bit like one of those banal conversations you overhear on a bus. The actors are both excellent. Tessa Peake-Jones, David Jacobs girlfriend from Only Fools & Horses, is the dim-but-cheery woman well and Andrew French the only black man in Havant, a town whose very name resonates a wistful sense of something absent. He wishes he was somewhere else, she doesn't know what to wish for apart from nice decor. Unacknowledged loneliness is a familiar theme, as is imagining the dreary lives of those older than us when we are young.  Norris says in his press release 'So much of England is made up of towns like Havant where people get by, and dream of more, and pass their lives in the leap between their realities and their aspirations.'  There are some good lines (“If the whole world exists and you’re living in Havant, that’s quite a life choice really" ) but like the sheep on Cumbrian hills to which the woman rather strangely likens herself, they don't go very far. Image: Mark Douet

Nunney Accoustic Cafe celebrated their 10th anniversary with a huge weekend party but I missed most if it (a very lovely wedding, so a much happier reason than the virus of which I have much spoken) though I did catch a couple of great acts on Saturday evening: Wychonsky's punk band belting out Babylon's Burning and the fantastic Al O'Kane with his band.

Sunday jazz continues at the Cornerhouse: Here's Kevin Figes quartet playing Nordic tunes in a Scandanavian themed jam session. And both my favourite bands were playing on the Silk Mill stage at Friday's Wild Whiskey Rebellion ~ at one point simultaneously, which was particularly impressive as there are six Back Wood Redeemers and Captain Cactus with his gorgeous Screaming Harlots are a 9-piece! A great night with much dancing.

Also on Friday, Black Swan Arts launched their new exhibition In the Absence of Truth. Dorset artist Ricky Romain is a Human Rights activist who uses art to reflect on political issues and themes of immigration, war crimes, torture and other injustices. Powerful and timely, this is also the show that will relaunch Words at the Black Swan drop-in workshops to respond to each new exhibition in writing ~ restarting Monday 19 June, 3-4.30 in the gallery. Here's Ricky, and there'll be a discussion & talk on June 29.

Ending with words, and I'm beyond pleased that the sunshine this week lured my voice back in time for a chat with Frome Fm's On-Air Book Group and a recording on Saturday at Visual Radio Arts. Phil Moakes, artistic director & main inspiration for this new venture, had the admirable idea of including poetry as well as music in his schedule. For this inaugural Word Play session I was joined by Liv Torc, Moira Andrew, and John Christopher Wood, David Chandler interviewed us and we each did a little set, and you can see it all HERE!

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