Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Identity & history - drama, art, poetry, and ducks.

Richard III as re-envisaged by Beyond the Horizon has the kind of anarchic energy and raw violence I imagine productions would have achieved in Shakespeare's own era. The set looks like a kind of dystopian Occupy and familiar roles are chaotically unfamiliar, but the story is faithful to the savagery of the times: this rogue king is not uniquely monstrous but a creature of his age.  Adam Lloyd-James, producer and co-director, is charismatic in this role: duplicitous, ruthless, credibly the fittest to survive when 'war has descended into brawls and government into shambles.'
This young company based in the southwest has just completed a year of touring this dynamic production, the final two nights at Bath's nice little Rondo Theatre. I'm delighted I caught the penultimate night, and will look out for their tour of Oedipus and Antigone next year.

Tom Stoppard's play The Real Thing was first performed in 1982, over twenty years since his 'modern masterpiece' Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which may be why the playwright-hero of this piece reflects with irony that 'it's the fate of all us artists - people saying they prefer the early stuff.' Actually this one at Theatre Royal Bath is very entertaining. Henry's play about love and marriage opens the 'real' play, which promptly replicates the storyline of suspected infidelity. His daughter's summary of the play-within-a-play works for his 'real' life too: “It’s not about anything except did she have it off or didn’t she?” The 'real' play seethes with sensual possibilities but its fascination is cerebral: wit and wordplay constants as Henry (Laurence Fox) struggles with emotional uncertainties and the audience can never be sure if we are seeing the real play or the play within the play. Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Annie, whose moral system challenges Henry's belief in 'insularity of passion', is fabulously watchable and entirely convincing as woman even a passing stranger might follow anywhere, even to prison.  Stephen Unwin's direction and Jonathan Fensom's set design effectively supported the sense of era and the overlapping realities. And how much of this is autobiographical? Tom Stoppard has only admitted to identifying with Henry's preference for Procul Harum to Bach and pop to opera. On till 30 September - recommended. Image: Edmond Terakopian

So, a good week for theatre, and a fine week for other creative-artsy events too. Hinterland, the new exhibition from Gladys Paulus at Black Swan Arts, has already stimulated enormous emotional response. Gladys is a felt-maker, previously best known for her theatrical animal masks, but after her father's death two years ago she started to explore the hidden story of her heritage and uncovered a painful history dating from Japanese occupation of Indonesia. The story is available alongside the work: it is too traumatic to précis here but do visit before 14 October if you can. Gladys work is disturbing but no way depressing, a painstaking reparation for the shattered past, which she calls 'mourning and healing.' It's an invitation to consider your own identity, as a human in history, interactive with the past and proactive with the future.
Words at the Black Swan, the writing group dedicated to responding to Long Gallery exhibitions, met on Monday for a workshop led by Dawn Gorman, founder of Words & Ears in Bradford-on-Avon. Dawn's imaginative guidance inspired all ten participants to create some powerful writing, using the installation as both window and mirror.

Dawn's other poetry highlight this week was finale of her role as organiser & host of the Bradford-on-Avon Arts Festival 2017 Poetry Competition with the award ceremony at The Swan. Entries came from all over the world, over 600 of them, so it was remarkable as well as delightful that 7 of the 11 finalists could be present to hear senior judge Carrie Etter introduce their 'Flights of Fancy' and, after reading of some of her own poems on that theme, to announce the verdict: overall winner New Yorker Eric Berlin, second David Van-Cauter, bronze for Penny Hope, with Daniel Snieckus collecting the local prize: a bottle of bubbly and an illustration of his poem by Bradford's artistic deputy mayor Alex Kay. An excellent night, well organised, friendly, and sky-high with stunningly imaginative fanciful flights.

And now for something completely different - ducks.
Nine hundred yellow plastic ones, all bobbing down the river Frome, as they do every year since 1976, in the Frome Carnival Duck Race. This admirably compact event lasts about five minutes from start to finish, probably a tenth of the time it takes the bold canoeists to collect the 897 non-winning ducks.

I'm desolate that I won't be in Frome for the actual Carnival on Saturday or the musical party after... but at least, despite several clashes, I caught a couple of the brilliant musicians of Frome ~
viz : Al O'Kane, celebrating his birthday (here with Andy Hill), and Pete Gage at the Grain Bar with terrific support from Duncan Kingston and Paul Hartsholme on guitar.

Finally for this week's post: once in a while in a writer's life a chance arises to take on a project which is totally fascinating & obsessively engrossing.  I'm lucky enough to be deep in one of these now. One of my research strands took me literally into the underbelly of Frome, into the labyrinth of tunnels that date back to Saxon times and before. This is the view below the bridge, one of only three left in England still with its 18th century buildings in use as shops and cafes, but long before then there was a ford across the marsh here... Andrew Ziminski, my fascinating guide, reckons it's been a crossing place since prehistoric times.

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