Monday, September 24, 2018

Arrivals, departures, and renovations

Zooming to Bristol right after a 17 hour journey home from a remote Greek island (via the dentist) probably wasn't the best way to bring appropriate focus to a theatrical production, but I didn't want to miss the sneak preview of newly- refurbished Bristol Old Vic before press night of Touching the Void, their current blockbuster which is collecting streams of stars from reviewers. I'll start with the tour. BOV's iconic frontage has been boarded up since work began so entry has been round the side, just off Welsh Back, through a temporary bar area. In future you will enjoy this lustrous reception area in a building so radically revamped as to be tagged REBORN in the screen presentation that met our awed group. Tom Morris, artistic director, and chief executive Emma Stedding talked us through the 252 years that had left BOV isolated from city life and in need of desperate measures to survive.
Or, as Tom put it 'Bristol Old Vic is the Stradivarius of theatres, but it had become a complete mess.' With an eye-watering £26m grant, architects Haworth Tomkins took on the brief of making the theatre contemporary & commercial while preserving and restoring all key historical features. Steve, the architect for this bit, explained the aim was to take away certainties and leave 'ponderable clues... we're taking existing fabric and making it more informal and accessible. That's what we all feel theatre should be about.'  So, with the theatre poised to renew its 'passionate love affair with the city' to quote Tom Morris again, on to the current show - which is also about taking drastic measures to survive. Touching the Void was a book & a film so anyone with an interest in real-life adventure probably knows the story: In 1985 Joe Simpson & Simon Yates decide to climb the west face of one of the most difficult peaks in the Peruvian Andes and both nearly lost their lives. Compounding the peril of their descent, Simpson fell and as he dangled over an abyss and his friend, realising he had no strength to pull him up, cut the rope between them to save himself. Yates survived, and extraordinarily so did Simpson, who wrote the best-selling book. This is another of those stories like A Monster Calls (probably the best show this year for me) which makes you initially wonder why it's being adapted for stage when it seems to require so much that only film effects or the internal imagination of reading can provide. Set, lighting, and music are all impressive, and so is the physical agility of Edward Hayter and Josh Williams as Simon and Joe - I liked Patrick McNamee too, as the dorky backpacker who helps them recount their tale to Simon's sister, whose angry bewilderment slowly succumbs to the lure of the rock.  David Greig who wrote this stage version - (I loved his play Midsummer so much I saw it twice) - makes the sister, played by Fiona Hampton, a leading character, which does sometimes divert attention from the extraordinary intensity of the men's experience though it's a useful device to explain things that, like her, we might not know about... the way in extremis the brain turns on the body, consuming muscle to feed itself, and personalities change, and inner voices become manifest. I thought there was too much sisterly intrusion and that it would all have packed more punch in one act, but I may be a lone voice here. Anyway, if you're stirred by thoughts of adventures beyond mortality, as was Shakespeare's Claudio, and also Peter Pan, this is the play to see. Director Tom Morris.

Now for something completely different. As a consequence of Frome Unzipped, I've been asked to help in a quest to find the house where Joni Mitchell wrote four of her songs. Muir MacKean uncovered this gem in Reckless Daughter, a biography of Joni by David Yaffe. Suggestions in an email please! If we find the place, a small celebration can be initiated, probably on a 7th of November which was her birthday - it would be great if the first could be this year, when she will be 75.

Art spot now: Cheese & Grain is currently hosting an exhibition of works submitted for the Green Art competition, judged by David Chandler, who chose Emma Tuck's series of which imagines the house-martin's migratory route to Africa, and this impression of wind turbines by Richard Whitehouse.
On a musical note again, an excellent Sunday session of Jazz at the Cornerhouse featured Martin Kolarides and the Graham Dent Trio. I intended also to go along to Magic Tractor's Granary session but my psyche was still in the radiance of Greece and couldn't face the ferocity of storm Ali, which Frome caught the rim of after it battered Ireland. I watched the trees whirling like dervishes and wondered why we personalise storms: apparently its because meteorologists believe it raises awareness of potential to damage. You'd think we'd notice winds of 100 mph tearing up streets and scattering road-repair barriers like a toddler in a tantrum, wouldn't you. Apparently the new storm is called Bronagh, and I hope she doesn't delay flights to Malaga from Bristol tonight... which is where I'm off, hopefully to grab one last week of sunshine and warmth, before winter enfolds us.  I'll be back, obviously, for Poetry Platter at the Merlin - don't forget to book in advance if you want the buffet, as well as the tasty show!

No comments: