Monday, July 16, 2018

Our revels now are ended... for a while

And now the carnival is over... the 2018 Frome Festival enjoyed sunny days and warm evenings throughout and ECOS amphitheatre packed for Illyria Theatre's visit on the final night. The Merchant of Venice is considered one of the bard's 'problem' plays for its unmitigated antisemiticism, and some productions now present Shylock's crazed revenge demand of 'a pound of flesh' from his principle tormenter with more sympathy, but this gloating Shylock was a boo-hiss villain, allowing Antonio to emerge an untarnished hero. Director Oliver Gray always aims to stay close to Shakespeare's intentions, and the elements of fate and chance are emphasised in this complex tale of fortune and misfortunes. The best part, as always, was the clever way the tiny cast created every character with rapid costume-change and a few other tricks - I was particularly impressed by the mercurial personality shifts of Beau Jeavons-White whether merchant or wench.
Moving backwards, as you can in a review, the focus was on words throughout Sunday:  During the morning Frome Writers Collective hosted an interesting panel discussion with crime writers David Lassman, Nikki Copleston and Sandy Osbourne responding to audience questions on their genre and writing generally.
The library was also the venue for the Frome Short Story Contest finale, with a prize-giving ceremony for the winners and keynote speech frome writer Rosie Jackson who stepped in to replace indisposed judge Margaret Graham and provide appraisals for the winners and remind us 'We need stories that will anchor us in real human values.' First prize winner Julie Evans read her story The Artist's Last Model, inspired by Manet's famous painting of A Bar at the Folies Bergère. Prizes were also presented for the winning stories written in shops and cafes on the opening day of the festival, when the 'Writers in Residence' had four hours to invent and complete a tale inspired by the line 'Everything must have a beginning'...  (The FWC page  has more details on results, with names and photos.)
This was also the day of the Frome Half Marathon, so applauding contestants hurtling past the Boyle Cross became a fun filling in the sandwich of these two events.  Runners were near the finish once they reached the town centre, and widely scattered after 13 miles of hills under a scorching sun.  Results aren't out yet but here's one of those only-in-Frome moments as a couple of gypsy traps shared the car-free road with the runners.
Saturday night the Cornerhouse became a crowded dance floor for Flash Harry, one of Frome's favourite bands and a terrific way to end a day spent wandering around Mells reciting the words of war poets: In the footsteps of Siegfried Sassoon was the event name and I was privileged to partipate along with Martin Bax and John Payne, who devised a script of 18 poems for our nine stops on a really lovely circular walk around the lanes and footpaths of this atmospheric little village, from the war memorial to the poet's grave.
Words of women poets were included too: my favourite of these, I think, was this one by Sara Teasdale: ‘There will come soft rains:’
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, 
And swallows calling with their shimmering sound 
And frogs in the pools singing at night, 
And wild-plum trees in tremulous white; 
Robins will wear their feathery fire 
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire; 
nd not one will know of the war, not one 
Will care at last when it is done. 
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
 If mankind perished utterly; 
And Spring herself, she she woke at dawn 
Would scarcely notice that we were gone.

(Thanks Mike Grenville for the image)

And now we've arrived back to Friday, where in Bristol there was a new show at Wardrobe Theatre,always a delight to visit: For Parlour Games they're teamed up with Sharp Teeth Theatre ;to create a historical romp with a serious undertone.  Set in 1848 when democratic revolutions were springing up all over Europe, on a stage that puts all its trust in audience imagination, Victoria and Albert have fled to their Isle of Wight hideout to avoid Chartist protest in the capital. The queen (6 ft 3 Peter Baker) is petulant, belligerent, demanding and imperious. Her perky moustachioed spouse Prince Albert (Lucy Horrington) prances around her with magic tricks and parlour games in attempt to calm her as they cavort the scary night away. The glue that holds this absurd situation together is provided by the piano-playing servant. Like all Wardrobe productions, it’s ridiculous, clever, and very very funny, but there’s real poignancy in the unexpected darker moments: Victoria remembering her lonely childhood, Albert knowing from boyhood he must marry his powerful cousin and forever be her lesser. Even sharper is the resonance with democracy’s continuing struggle against the wealthy and privileged. Watching this play on the day thousands of protesters had made their way to London - my  brother was one of them and I'd spent the day tracking his images - it was poignant to realise that protest prevails with the powerful no more now than when the Year of Revolution ended in failure, repression & disillusion.

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