Sunday, March 25, 2018

Attempts at life and art in diverse dramas

A visit to the Ustinov studio theatre in Bath is always a pleasure: their productions are intriguingly different, often translated, adapted, or obscure. The current work by Harley Granville Barker, once rated higher than his contemporary Bernard Shaw, is Agnes Colander. The only surviving copy has been 'unearthed' by Colin Chambers and 'revised' by Richard Nelson to 'pry loose an actable script out of a faulty typescript of an early draft of a very early play'. It's a curio, in short.
The story is set in the early 1900s, about the same time the 'Bloomsbury set' of bohemian artists were becoming renowned, but the mood seems more pre-20th Century. Agnes wants to be an artist but she also wants relationships, and the play explores her journey to find out whether she can manage these in a 'man-like' way or whether, as her lively neighbour warns her, she will simply follow the Hogarthian harlot's progress in the attempt.  Lizzie Siddal springs to mind - Naomi Frederick looks a bit like her as painted by Rossetti, and there is a pre-Raphaelite feel to the saga despite time having shifted on for half a century: this is still a world of servants as well as women conflicted by their social status.  'We idiots have been nurtured to believe that we exist only to give you men pleasure' Agnes laments, 'We should be taught more of life and less of good manners'. Apparently Barker himself abandoned the play as 'rather poor' and certainly Shaw's Mrs Warren's Profession deals with the theme more robustly and engagingly.  What I liked best about this self-consciously 'feminist' play was the visuals, which are gorgeous: lavish sets (Rob Jones) create the artist's London studio and the French coastal retreat, enhanced by fabulous lighting design (Paul Pyant) and the use of both by director Trevor Nunn.  Matthew Flynn as Agnes' Danish lover is excellent, but the difficulty of creating an empathetic central character from the script wasn't fully overcome, in my view. And I took against her artistic mission: 'I want my work to be English, enjoyed only in England - it’s about time we English stopped borrowing from other countries.' Straight route to Brexit there, I thought glumly.

In other news this week:
Gala celebrations at of the conclusion of Project Play, a lively idea to promote community theatre in the southwest by simultaneous development of the same popular drama in three designated theatres, viz: the Octagon in Yeovil, Tivoli in Wimborne, and Frome's Merlin. The play picked by producer Matthew Rock was a stage version of the Vicar of Dibley, which played to sell-out audiences in all three theatres, raising £4649 for comic relief as well as entertaining hundreds. All three groups were well represented at the Halfway House buffet dinner, a lively event with a karaoke to keep performing skills from rusting. Geoff Hunt and Mike Witt had accolades for their joint and the amazing cast of Dibley lookalikes met their counterparts as everyone had a great time. Here's our lot gathering for their formal photo.

Richard John-Riley with his one-off assortment of band members did a Soundcheck session for Visual Radio Arts last week
- no group snap of this as no space to group, what with instruments,  technical equipment, musicians, singers, speakers, and a dancer, all crammed into the studio, imaginatively redesigned by Phil and Mags to hold us all. Here's a section:  Francis on guitar, Dave drums, with Laurie, Annemarie, Gina and the man himself, all doing Whatever It Is. Laurie and I were the speakers. I had to emote teen angst, which I vividly remember even after all these years. Great fun, and an excellent session - listen to it online here.

Sadly I missed The Fall of Kings at Burdall's yard, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard II by Apricity, a young theatre company with a mission to create work exploring social issues in experimental ways - hope that went well Gabby!
And now that birdsong, sun, and official clock-time have confirmed we're done with winter, Frome is all about the yellows ~ primroses, daffodils, forsythia, a blitz of golden celandine all along the Dippy ~ and I look forward to doing a lot more walking.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Snow, sounds, & a sumptuous show in Salisbury

Another posting of mostly snapshots.... the music scene in Frome right now seems even more incredibly rich than usual.Here, without much comment, are some of the terrific sessions in town, starting with the Frome Busk, a day of young talent on show all around the town. They were all excellent, but to give a taste of the day here's the Front Runners serenading buyers around the market stalls, youngest performer Scarlett Brudnell, Archie Ttwheam who I reckon we'll all see more of, and Fresher & Angel, who won a spot at a Sunrise festival for their set.

In other music news, Crossing the Rockies did a great set at Three Swans and Phil King was epic at the Grain Bar Root Session - I keep playing Do Not Surrender...to your past, do not surrender to your king, do not surrender to your fears, do not surrender anything...
Three Acres and a Cow, which I've long wanted to see, came to the Rye Bakery with a provocative compilation of songs and narratives of the ongoing struggle of the people against their rulers, re-telling the legends we call 'history' with the authentic experiences through the ages. An excellent practice, and a sad outrage that it's not part of what we call our education system.

And then we had snow again... and some things got cancelled, but not all. The Black Swan Arts 'Young Open' exhibition presented 190 fantastic images from 350 entered by young artists aged from 8 to 19, in an incredible display of vibrant pieces showing extraordinary imagination and skill.  The Long Gallery had been especially prepared by one of Frome's favourite street artists Paris and the whole room looked fabulous.
Also at the weekend, a reunion with an amazing group of writers who met on a Skyros course at The Grange ten years ago, and continued to inspire each other with online support and intermittent meet-ups ever since. Sometimes I'm invited to join their session, held this time in Frome as snow flakes whirled softly pass the Cornerhouse window and slowly claimed the town.

A good production of  The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde's witty, contemptuous, critique of upper-class obsession with status and birth, can never fail to delight. Original Theatre at Salisbury played it perfectly, on a superb fin-de-si├Ęcle set with gorgeously lavish costume, a visual treat throughout. (Designer: Gabriella Slade.) Gwen Taylor as the imperious Lady Bracknell looked amazing, like a steam-train in taffeta, and her scoffing mirth during that famous 'handbag' exchange was a brilliant touch. The men were fine, especially Geoff Aymer as Canon Chasuble, but it was the women who really owned the show. Susan Penhaligan's Miss Prism's brimmed with suppressed lasciviousness and Louise Coulthard deliciously evoked Blackadder's Queenie in her bored, impetuous, Cecily. Director Alistair Whatley has created a well-paced production which not only looks sumptuous and maximises the absurdity and wit of the script but also reminds us of cruelty of English society in 1895 - only months before the lionised playwright became himself a victim. 

Friday, March 09, 2018

Rich drama at the Old Vic - go by toboggan if necessary!

Natural beauty versus profitable land development... a big topic in Frome right now as social media buzzes with opinions about the proposal for our southern fields, and also the issue at the heart of The Cherry Orchard at Bristol Old Vic in a production so fabulous I'm posting this blog early so you can book before it's totally sold out. Lovely to look at, excitingly directed, with a fantastic team of actors - this ticks every box.
  Kirsty Bushell is mesmeric as well as heartbreakingly beautiful as the impoverished-aristocrat owner of the orchard in question who refuses to contemplate the rescue-package offered by the entrepreneurial son of one of her own serfs. Intended by Chekhov as an analogy of decadent old Russia losing its grip on the future as the end of serfdom allowed a new bourgeoisie to take control, it's also a moving drama involving complex passionate relationships and this production, with its faux-theatre surrounding all the action, is simply inspired. I'm annoyingly purist about my favourite classics and arrived feeling wary I might find a set made of trampled cherries, or Grisha as a puppet-child watching the action, but everything about this concept is superb with the poignant subtleties and the humour (there's quite a lot that's laugh-out-loud funny too) both exquisitely conveyed. I could say more, and will when in my full review ~ this is just to alert anyone who enjoys classy live theatre: this is essential viewing and it's on till April 7.

In other news: we had snow, and the hills of Frome were alive with tobogganists and even skiers. The river was frozen too, which I've never seen before, but not quite hard enough for skating. Supermarkets ran out of milk and bread over the three frozen days, and Three Swans ran out of ale, so the role of hosting Edventure's Open Mic was taken over by Cornerhouse.
A wide variety of music and words, including me doing some of me crone poems, raised funds for YMCA Mendip and Edventure's projects, congratulations all involved & that's all for now, after email chaos courtesy of Site5 I am again majorly behind in my work schedule... I need to get out less.