Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Summer loving and summer days, in and around Frome

Costume drama from Theatre6, a London touring company whose current production is a nearly-3-hour epic from an energetic sextet of impressive young actors. Persuasion has been re-imagined for stage and for modern minds by Stephanie Dale and if the lovely Ceri-Lyn Cissone as heroine looks rather more Jane Eyre than Anne Eliot, there's a reason: the UST factor looms large in this version of Jane Austen's last novel and we are never far from wild soliloquised regrets for the lost love of handsome Wentworth.
Jason Ryall, superb in this role, also plays his own rival - the louche deceitful Mr Eliot - which may have confused audience members not familiar with the story, though as we were in Dorchester Arts Centre most of the full house probably were. Other parts were shared out - there must have been thirty costume changes for Siobhán Gerrard, gaining and losing both rank & age in her many roles. Persuasion, even as an intense love story, is primarily critique of the social conventions and manners of its author's era, and director Kate McGregor highlighted humorous opportunities here, sometimes to the point of panto, but with live music on piano, flute, clarinet and violin from all these talented young performers, this was certainly an impressive night of theatre.
As a small digression, if you feel uneasy about being encouraged to sympathise with poor Mrs Smith's anxiety to recover 'some property of her husband in the West Indies' - presumably one of the sugar plantations worked by slave labour - it's encouraging to know Jane was herself actually an Abolitionist.  Slaves of the British Empire were all officially freed in 1833, 17 years after the novel was written, but there's a grim connection that will never go: Lyme Regis was where the Duke of Monmouth landed from Normandy in 1685 to conduct his ill-fated rebellion, and hundreds of his supporters in the southwest were sent to these plantations to work as slaves,  many dying en route and at the docks on arrival.  Just another of those things that twirl in one's mind, like those whirling parasols making fantasy carriage wheels on cross-country canters and capers.

Fast forward a century for another slow-burning love story - a medley of them, in fact, as PG Wodehouse’s golfing romances are recreated in a club house somewhere in the Home Counties, some time after the end of the Great War (which was 'not all that great', according to the morose barman) in Love on the Links at Salisbury Playhouse. It would be impossible to recreate the iconic wit of these tales without the narrative voice of Wodehouse himself, and this adaptation wisely didn’t try: the anecdotes are presented as told by the Oldest Member, with absurd Charades-style enhancement from the small team of club members.
Jon Glover and Edward Taylor adapted the tales for stage, and the cast have tremendous fun with them. Designer James Button has created a handsome set that works as a flexible stage for multitudinous shenanigans, with pot-plants that double as tropical jungles, a couch that operates as a boat, and even dangling lamps that work as escape swings - and the seven actors vigorously created the absurd scenarios devised by director Ryan McBryde. Jenna Boyd is especially delightful as various damsels, and Tim Frances as Fitt the barman adds absurd surprises when least expected. The cast apparently had guidance on their golf swings, but the exuberance seems to have needed no coaching. On till 23 June -images Robert Workman.

 Finishing a big writing project always brings a strange feeling and, like other major deliveries in life, you always forget what it's like - until next time. It's a sense of relief mingled with unappeasable existentialist bereftness, which settles into a chronic frenzy of anxiety that you've done it all wrong anyway.
With Frome Unzipped, the transition was both eased and complicated by the fact there are scores of direct quotes from people who I'd promised to show before publication, in case errors had crept in between transcript and page. And of course they had, with a hefty sprinkling of typos. Thank you to everyone who responded, mostly speedily, encouragingly, and without deciding to rephrase.
And time now for long walks: here's the last of the bluebells making a faerie ring on Roddenbury Hillfort, and the path through Vallis Vale, another of Frome's magic places: this is the point where Frome's little river joins Mells stream, hauntingly atmospheric and beautiful. A good week too for re-connections with writer friends - a meet-up with the Friday morning group, and a reunion of the Fromesbury set to share plans...

Time too for a shot of art and music. Frome Community Education has an impressive exhibition at the Round Tower of paintings, pottery, prints, basketry, textiles and upholstery by students and tutors. Amanda Bee, whose exquisite mixed-media landscapes are both evocative and personal, and Andrew Eddleston, with a great selection of his earthenware pottery, hosted the opening on Friday. Here's a small sample of the students' work: chunky pots by Bob Spode and Keith Kemp.
A very jolly Jazz Jam at the Cornerhouse on Sunday evening, with an assortment of Frome's amazingly talented musicians including Simon Sax, Mike Peake, John Plaxton, Graham Dent, Jim White, Nicki Mascall, and more. And of course, now it's June it must be time for another Frome Independent Street Market, with the most glorious weather of the summer so far shining on the stall holders and browsers.

And while it's still on i-player, if you missed A Very English Scandal it really is worth three hours of your life to remedy that: Not just Hugh Grant revealing himself a sensational actor, but a script by Russell T Davies which is masterpiece of story-telling scattered with dazzling gems of dialogue that ricochets between powerfully understated to graphically startling... very English indeed, as the judge sums up with blatant bias that would seem like a parody, if it wasn't actually on record. One of those infrequent times when TV really does it well.

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