Thursday, April 26, 2018

'Hero's journey' across the bridge of cultural divide

A View From The Bridge, the second in Tobacco Factory's spring season, like their first production Macbeth is a tale of tragic downfall - a weak man falling to temptation. Arthur Miller used a challenge close to his own experience when he was called on by the Committee of UnAmerican Activities to name suspected communists in 1957 (he refused, earning himself a conviction for contempt of court) and set his story in Brooklyn docks where a close-knit community of largely Italian immigrants shelters and protects the 'illegals' working with them - mainly their own relations. Director Mark Tweddle chose the play for its Bristol dockland connection, but there's a wider relevance too in these Windrush days. In this setting, the story focuses on Eddie (Mark Letheren), housing his wife's illegal cousins (Aaron Anthony as Marco and Joseph Tweedale as Rudolpho) and increasingly jealous of the relationship of Rudolpho with his neice Catherine (Laura Waldren). All three of these young people are superbly played - the brothers both creating highlight solo moments - and Katy Stephens as Eddie's wife is massively impressive: every word she says seems newly thought and uttered, each reaction viscerally heartfelt. Simon Armstron's lawyer has powerful quiet presence in his Tiresias role, perceiving and foretelling, and if there's any aspect less than excellent to me it's the evenness of Eddie's descent: not the tragedy of a hero misunderstanding his challenge, Eddie was frankly creepy from the start.  But the two-and-a-half hours never dragged for a moment: this is a production with energy and impact, a brilliant show, sensationally performed, with every aspect of design effective - the standing ovation at the end on Tuesday night was well deserved. Definitely recommended.  

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pleasure, passion, purpose - and sunshine

Let's start with the good news. Our national treasure of a health service is 100 this year, and Dr Phil is touring with a new one-man stand-up show to say Happy Birthday NHS! His first stop was Frome last week, to a packed and approving audience at the Merlin Theatre. As an anecdotal comedian Dr Phil is scatological and politically scathing, and as a medical adviser he's intelligent and humane. It's a good combo. He gives a potted history of the centegenarian institution, from its birthing by Nye Bevan to falling into the clutches of Jeremy Hunt. ('I have a mate who went to school with him and he says he wasn't very bright'.) But Dr Phil remains confident of the future - as long as we avoid privatisation and don't go down the other US route of 'incentified' prescribing, which results in a culture of unnecessary drugs, vaccinations, and operations.  The secret of health, he confides, is pleasure, passion, and purpose. Thirty minutes of walking - or any activity - every day is better than any drug. And other such adages which are even more encouraging when a fit-looking doctor insists on them.

Black Swan Arts has a new exhibition: Cicatrix, a wonderful word which sounds like a Greek siren but actually means the scar of a healed wound. Three Wiltshire artists have been commissioned to study and visually report on Salisbury Plain, for the last 120 years a battlefield with no enemy. One early casualty of this destruction rehearsal was Imber, the evacuated village. It's also been target practice for battles in Northern Ireland and test ground for unnamed substances fatal to the juniper trees. Tiny things there, however, are thriving: rare wild flowers and butterflies are rampant. Dawn Gorman led an excellent poetry workshop around the show for Words at the Black Swan on Monday.
There's also a new exhibition at the HUBnub Centre: Fragmental, paintings by Georgina Towler, combining to create vivid presence in a diffuse and expansive space that can be difficult to dominate.

Another author event at Hunting Raven Books - unusual only in that Tyler Keevil's connection with Frome is tenuous though charming: A Canadian now living in Wales, he won the very first Frome Festival Short Story Contest back in 2004 when his talent spotted by Alison Clink who inaugurated this event and it was this success - he claims, and we believe - which emboldened him to find his voice in writing. Tyler now makes his living through fiction and is on tour with his current novel No Good Brother, with his brother Jonathan who contributed a music element to the readings. An unusual launch event - but that's Frome isn't it...
Music information is sparse again this week - I intended to see that irresistibly-named Goat-Ropers Rodeo Band at 23 Bath Street on Saturday but the skies over Frome decided to put on a strobe light show all evening, accompanied by biblical proportions of torrential rain, so I stayed in and watched Dave worked, I mean. Pete Gage in fine form last Saturday created a dance party in Sam's Kitchen, (there was a Prince dance party afterwards too) and Velvet and Stone brought their haunting melodies and songs again to Roots Sessions at the Grain Bar.

And we had four days of summer! which is not strictly relevant to an arts blog, but when temperatures more than double overnight ~ we reached 29° (that's 84° to you, Mo) ~ it becomes essential to channel one's inner Nietzsche and stride out into the birdsong and blossom... especially when the medieval fields and ancient lanes around Frome may not be there to stride in future days...

We owe it to the fields that our houses will not be the inferiors of the virgin land they have replaced. We owe it to the worms and the trees that the building we cover them with will stand as promises of the highest and most intelligent kinds of happiness.
           - Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness.

Friday, April 13, 2018

work evasions and play enthusings

It's been quite a week for schedule suspension and magical moments...
I'm going to come back to this image of the new fountain in Frome promptly hijacked by the Frome-illuminati for human sacrifice, because the excitement disrupting my working week began last Friday when a busload from Frome, driven by daring Dave, headed to Bristol's Thunderbolt to hear fabulous Captain Cactus band and his amazing and gorgeous Screaming Harlots. Good support too - awesome steel guitar from Luke Philbrick and a great atmosphere at the venue.
Next night was David Goodman's party at the 23 Bath Street, which has become such a terrific venue since Lark and Toby have taken in over. Lovely to see so very many friends and the Raggedy Men punk set was a memorable highlight... I think their version of No More Heroes - with what seemed like a hundred of the partygoers joining in - is likely to be the defining moment of this year for me...

Nunney Acoustic Cafe on Sunday afternoon always has a great range of performers: this time featured band Sloe Jam and others including a wonderful gypsy duo, the superb Splat the Rat from Swindon and some talented younger musicians like Maia Fry and ever-impressive Archie Ttwheam. (Sorry Archie, I see you are Otto Wilde now but as that comes up on google as a steak grill manufacturer, I'm sticking to the name I first knew...)

Tuesday was the Frome Writers Collective social evening, this time with an engrossing talk from Lisa Kenrick who runs Mr Rook's Speak Easy story-telling sessions in Frome. Lisa demonstrated how to grip an audience with a vivid and visceral version of the tale Frome's medieval rake Edward Leversage, and then gave advice on constructing and telling such tales, and also how to find inspiration and where to go for further guidance.

And then with no Roots session this week I really really should have dedicated the rest of my time to the project.... about which you patient blog readers have heard so much & seen so little. Instead I was lured by the witchery & wizardry of Rare Species to follow them around Frome on a tour of secret signs of the Fecund Coming...
Starting at the spring below the church steps and prowling the area nearby, Virginia Faggus and Gerald Terd held forth on much historical detail we might not know - how the young blades used the well to spread fecundity, how merchants sailed back and forth along the leat, and the fact that the Three Swans name came from the Leda legend in a little-known love-triangle version... at the church door Virginia expounded an alternative-and-weirdly-true-sounding tale of Vicar Bennett's activities in Frome, invited here by the Fromenati to create a hotbed of hedonism. It was at this point Virginia began to show somewhat alarming symptoms of some kind of demonic invasion. Gerald ploughed on, taking us up Poldark's Passage ('Aiden would suckle on my unctuous paps' Virginia reminisced, a bit of a non sequitor as Gerald was talking about unsolved murders at the time.)
We headed across Bath Street as the running commentaries continued, with Gerald now on the look-out for tell-tale evidence of the secret society of the Fromenati. He found a tunnel opening they may have used to burrow to their base in Babblington (the smaller ones, anyway) and a SIX-SIX-6 sign and it wasn't till we reached Catherine Hill that things went totally bonkers.  'The epicentre' shouted Geraldine and strode on ahead waving a car away so effectively the driver actually reversed all the way down the hill as she advanced chanting 'Juicy and Divine'.  Meanwhile something had gone wrong with Gerald's divining rod. By the time he had staggered and we had straggled to the bottom of the hill, Geraldine had turned into a one-eyed demon. She lassoed Gerald and made me hold him (I tried to resist honest but she had manic power) and made us all...
I can recount no more of the shameful night I joined the illuminati-Fromenati and poor Gerald ended up on Boyle's Cross, only say: Eat your heart out Hot Fuzz, you may have exorcised Wells but the wild energy loosed by Bennett’s burrowings below the pagan spring will empower the Fromenati forever! It was indeed the Fecund Coming.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Rites of spring... and some older wrongs

April 1st meant only one thing in Frome: forget fool tricks and mystic elevations, the market is back! Frome Independent had to cancel its original spring return due to the slush-fest that heralded March, but on Sunday the sun shone, the crowds came to enjoy the stalls and the snacks and the musicality that makes Frome so special, in streets in the morning and in bars during the afternoon and evening.

Next day we were promised thunderstorms but luckily, since the river was already spilling, they didn't arrive. I usually go to Mells for the daffodil festival, but this time went on an Edward Thomas walk based around Tellesford village and weir, with exceedingly good refreshments at the mill. This old flocking mill has been superbly renovated by  Rachel Feilden and Anthony Battersby, and now generates enough electricity for 80 houses, yet the location still looks exactly as described by Edward Thomas from his journey In Pursuit of Spring. John Payne read some of the relevant prose sections of this book, with related poems interspersed by me & Martin Bax. This Easter Monday is 101 years to the day since Edward Thomas was killed in the Battle of Arras, so it was especially poignant to read his 4-line poem: In Memoriam:  
The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood 
this Eastertide call into mind the men,
now far from home, who with their sweethearts should
have gathered them, and will never do again.

Hunting Raven Books on Tuesday had a big audience for David Lassman's Frome launch of The Awful Killing of Sarah Watts (written with Mick Davis) - a richly researched and thrilling account of the days when Frome was seething with pickpockets, cheese-rustlers, and ruffian gangs with names Dickens would envy (was Magwitch, in Great Expectations written 1861, inspired by the Maggs gang terrorising Frome in the 1850s?.... just a thought!)  'Crime capital of the kingdom' may be a tad hyperbolic, but certainly Frome was in a desperate state after the cloth trade collapsed, with around 97% unemployed workers and no professional support for the duo of citizen constables, as Somerset inexplicably ignored the County Police Act of 1839 for seventeen years. This fascinating tale will rank with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher as a vivid and informative show-reel from the past - interestingly, Mr Smith, the London inspector sent to solve the crime, was a friend of Mr Whicher, preceding his colleague's legendary visit by nine years.

Apart from these outings, if you've turned to my blog for a roll-call of the never-ending stream of Frome's events you'll be disappointed: I'm still on short-time for another month. I couldn't resist Al O'Kane and Rivers of England at 23 Bath Street, but other than that I've been self-exiled from the temptations of the town, so have missed most of the excellent music acts around last week.

Instead here's a picture of what spring appears to be doing, from one of my thinking-plods. Nietzche said all great thoughts are conceived by walking, and I bet he kept to his deadlines... mind you Douglas Adams claimed to love deadlines because of the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. I may have to learn to love that sound too.