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.

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