Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Historical art and drama in a sunshiny Easter week

Armageddon RIP -the death of the final conflict- is a powerful concept appropriate for this era,  and this week especially, as Barry Cooper's exhibition at Silk Mill tracks the sombre years of media controlled explosions since the Twin Towers fell, using newspaper front pages overlaid with symbolic imagery (mostly a Gaia figure or a bird) - right up to last week's news of Julian Assange's sacrificial expulsion. Barry is mainly known for his stone carvings - the 'woman howling at the moon' in Longleat is his - but he also has hundreds of superb, quiet, line drawings in the cabinet drawers.

Over in Bristol, the exhibition in College Green Vestibule is all about the Witch, her importance, history, and accessories. Thea Caimbeul along with Rachael Fountain (forager, scyther, archer, taxidermist) have researched enough for a fascinating book, and these museum-style presented items, beside the shadow of the cathedral, are an impressive celebration of women's presence throughout the ages, as a power and a threat. (The 'wings for smudging' are collected from roadkill, if you're anxious!)

Once again, a fat & enthusiastic report on music this week. 'Bare to the Bones' which began as Paul Kirtley organising a few charity jam nights, has become a fixture in the Frome musical diary, with various pubs now hosting these events, and a roughly regular house band. There's always a party atmosphere as well as great music: Friday's event was another 'special' with added energy from the uke-maestro Decades and the marvellous Hoodoos and Paul's mash-up medleys of rock classics all the way down the Root 66 timeline. Here's (most of) the line-up at the end of the night:
The sun-soaked Bank Holiday weekend was perfect for a walk along the river from Lansdown into Bath for a Sunday afternoon session at the Bell Inn, a great bohemian pub - walls crammed with posters promoting music events and Extinction Rebellion, and stage filled, on this occasion, with Kevin Brown and the Shackdusters including guest guitar wizard Mark Goudswaard. Dancing ensued!
Jazz Jam at the Cornerhouse was suitably mellow for a warm evening, with the sultry sounds of Caroline Waterhouse and John Plaxton, as guest singer & clarinetist respectively, and Graham Dent's popular trio.
Music too at Mells Daffodil Day as the blazing sunshine continued and the 3 mile path along Vallis Vale beside the river, unusually un-muddy, was thronged with walkers from Frome in holiday mood. No daffodils left, but there's always a great fairground atmosphere with food stalls, funfair, and vintage engines on display, and a beer tent big enough to stage several bands throughout the day. Here's the terrific Raggedy Men, punk revivalists with unflagging style & amazing energy, rocking the all-age crowd.

Time to move to drama, and Bristol's Tobacco Factory Theatres has a new production: Our Country's Good was written in 1988 by Timberlake Wertenbaker and inspired by his discovery that in 1788, due to the visionary beliefs of an influential officer in charge of the penal colony in Botany Bay, a group of prisoners were cajoled into putting on a play. The behind-the-scene struggles of a group of antagonistic misfits in rehearsal is not a new device (Shakespeare used it for his mechanicals in Midsummer Night's Dream) but the fact that this is based on actual data recorded in diaries makes this play-about-a-play more intriguing. Dramatic structure is complex, moving between discussions about the purpose of drama to the drama itself which means character differentiation is crucial, and as twenty roles were undertaken by nine actors, the director and designer had a big responsibility. Life in such grim confines equalises everyone to some extent and it may help this sense of fusion to have most of the cast in grey sweat-pants but it does nothing to create the essential hierarchy dominating this micro world.  I thought initially the press images were rehearsal outfits but sadly, they're not. Good performances from the actors, with Heather Williams and Kim Heron outstanding among the women, and Dan Wheeler outstanding among the all-excellent male cast. Images: Mark Dawson Photography

Final footnote: Where the fault lies, the Frome Festival production from Nevertheless Pub Theatre, has begun fine-tuning in rehearsals: Here's Harry and Hal getting into the rather strange zone of Your Time Starts Now. Wednesday July 10th is the date for your diaries - upstairs at the Cornerhouse.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Rebellion, madness and masses of music

With local elections coming up, everyone in Frome is probably aware that community issues are high on the town's agenda, so it will surprise no-one that Extinction Rebellion riders en route for London came through our town to rest overnight and swell their numbers for the cycle ride ahead. Here they are on Saturday morning, about to set off.
Excitement continued to ripple around town as Raves from the Grave celebrated Record Store Day with new releases, DJ sets, and in-store visit from Ethan Johns, legendary songwriter & performer. His short and much appreciated song set included Ruskin's Farthing, a tale of the 1878 libel case brought by Whistler against critic John Ruskin for referring to his night painting as 'flinging a pot of paint in the public's face.'  At a time when aesthetics were shifting away from Victorian representationalism, the court case aroused massive interest - as did the verdict, which went in favour of Ruskin but with no costs and only one farthing damages awarded. Basically, they thought Whistler's painting a mess but Ruskin was just being spiteful. It's a great song, I wish I could find it online to share with you. Ethan's new album is Revelator with Black Eyed Dogs - you can hear it in new-location Raves' great new listening booth!
Another Record Store Day feature, Frome's hard-core punks Sick Ones introduced their new singer with an intimate and rowdily popular session at Ramshack Barbers- here's Kristie Easterbrook with Charlie & Andy launching the new look.

The Cornerhouse gave us a diversely musical weekend, with Nasty Habits playing classic rock numbers on Saturday and next night a fabulous Frome Jazz Club event - Keith Harrison-Broninski with Al Swainger on double bass and Billy Weir drums with John Martin guest saxophonist, in a session of the 'infectious and irresistible grooves, with catchy riffs' of Cape Jazz.
Sunday afternoon brought the monthly Nunney Acoustic Cafe, always varied and this time with an interesting mix including traditional folk songs and original material, also with a satisfying waft of protest music - I particularly enjoyed Francis Hayden playing Blowing in the Wind (pictured) and Nathan Lewis-Williams' version of the Reg Meuross song England Green and England Grey Here's Francis, and Al Cosnett with Jo Munroe from Desmonds Dawn, with lively original songs in style they 'like to call flunk.'  Young singer-songwriters were also well represented - look out for Dan Williams and guest of the day Danny McMahon.

Concluding this panoply of performances, Kevin Brown brought his Shackdusters and his personal magnetism to this week's Grain Bar Roots Session. Not only brilliant on slide guitar, Kevin is a witty raconteur and brought us tales from Goa to Texas, via Lancashire, with a song about two Preston lads who died at the Battle of the Alamo, then back to earth with a pollution protest. A great night.

Book corner: A visit with Frome writer friends Alison Clink and Frances Liardet - whose own recent novel We Must Be Brave is making big enthusiastic waves from America to Australia - to Bath's lovely venue Burdalls Yard for Novel Nights last Friday. This great initiative of Grace Palmer follows an excellent model: there's a chosen theme for short interviews & readings with local writers first, followed after a break by a more extensive interview by Colette Hill of a guest writer - on this occasion Maggie Gee whose new book is a black comedy entitled Blood.  'Britain is in a very farcical state'  says Maggie, 'and the way I let off steam is in writing humour.' As a bonus for me, my co-writing-group friend Debby Holt (first picture) was one of the local writers also demonstrating fluent use of humour for characterisation as she shared a scene  from her upcoming novel The Perfect Couple.

Bedlam was the name chosen by Stina Falle for her exhibition at the Silk Mill last weekend of her lifetime's artworks - sketches, collages, portraits, and personal artefacts. Stina was selling all and any of the artefacts for charity (though sadly her cardboard-replica-Duchamp's-loo collection- box was nicked from the front door along with its donations) and this 'celebration of spring madness' is another fascinating example of the diversity of creativity in Frome.

The intrinsic insanity of human nature brings me nicely to the current production of Equus from English Touring Theatre & Theatre Royal Stratford East at Bristol Old Vic till 20 April - it's been touring since mid-February but there's no flagging in this 'electric re-imagining' of Peter Shaffer's award-winning play. Written in 1973 and redolent of the the psychological interests of that era, the play is long and very wordy but complex beyond the apparent characterisations and with a strong unexpressed homo-erotic element. The central character is a teenage boy with an obsession to worship which has through childhood events become subverted into a passion for horses: ‘he’s trying to become a centaur’ laments his psychiatrist, enviously, seeing this burning desire for something both physical and spiritual as an element missing in his own life. This is an impressive production. The set is nowhere, literally, just a stage. A few props come on sometimes and the lighting is atmospheric, but you are basically left in your own imagination, listening fascinated to the complex internal and external conflicts evoked by voices and the interaction between Alan and his equine alter-ego and god, Nugget, unforgettably portrayed by Ira Mandela Siobhan. (Image: The Other Richard)

Friday, April 12, 2019

Spring stirrings & burgeonings

It's been a busy week. April began by doing the TS Eliot thing of stirring dull roots with spring rain while Frome enjoyed a plethora of music, with The Cornerhouse hosting four fabulous events: The Raggedy Men, purveyors of classic punk with attitude, riffs, & harmonica, were featured guests at a massive party last Saturday and were superbly supported by various local musicians including an impro group combining regular favourites plus guests. The gorgeous Screaming Harlots showed a new side to their talents, teaming up with birthday boy David Goodman and others as The Hoodoos, joined by Mike Goodman for an unforgettable version of Wicked Game.
A change of mood here next night for the lively Jazz Jam, with regulars and guests including violinist Jonny Griffiths.
And the excellence continued at Wednesday's Roots Session in the Grain Bar with Glastonbury trio Lazy Daze, song-writing musicians with echoes of Eagles, superbly supported by original folksinger Bob Gallie.

In dramatic news, rehearsals for the Nevertheless Frome Festival production Where the Fault Lies are going well.  Our talented actors are already off-book for one of these 'four short plays to intrigue and amuse' at The Cornerhouse on 10th July - still at our pocket-friendly price of £5. See how seriously they take their warm-ups!

Another of Hunting Raven Books' soiree events saw the Nunney Poetry group led by Moira Andrew launching their first collaborative collection: The poets featured in Hand in Hand read samples of their work and Moira contributed from her extensive oeuvre at this pleasant and relaxed event. Here's Rebecca Davis, reading All the Buildings, and Mike Grenville reading Citatrix, his superb response to the Black Swan exhibition of work related to army devastation on Salisbury Plain.

April doesn't just bring showers and that welcome clock change, the first Sunday is an Independent Market Day for Frome, as always the busiest day of the month.

 Ending this post, which seems to have evolved into mingled events and weather report, with an image of spring flowers in sunshine - these ones in Mells where the daffodils couldn't wait for their official Day on Easter Monday, and yellow is giving way to blue...

Friday, April 05, 2019

Family life in dramatic dysfunction

Remember when The Young Ones hit the TV Screens back in the 1980s?  Think that level of anarchic wild behaviour - unpredictable, violent, and farcically funny - turn it up a few notches, and you're getting near The Omission of the Family Coleman at Bath's Ustinov Studio theatre. Three generations - granny, mum, two sons and a long-suffering daughter - coexist in a cramped space, bouncing off each other in permanent fury yet somehow fused inextricably together. The glue is Granny, and when she's removed from the equation, nothing can ever be the same again. Outsiders enter their lives: another sister whose arrival is more unexpected than Godot's as she had long ago escaped into a more ordered world, and two men who in different ways will impact on this wayward bunch of interdependent misfits.
Claudio Tolcachir developed this 'theatrical phenomenon' in Argentina in 2005 but this new version by Stella Feehily is effectively transferred to a downtown area of Dublin: the ‘omission’ of the title is the capacity to exist in a community. Directed by Laurence Boswell at an effectively high-impact pace, this production is fantastically well acted by the entire cast with Rowan Polonski utterly mesmeric as Marko the ‘wild child’ savant who, like Fiers in Ibsen's Cherry Orchard, becomes victim to a world changed utterly as the final verse of Yeats' The Cloths of Heaven sang slowly at the end of the play: Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.  Tim Shortall's design of both set and costumes also contributed to an unforgettable piece of theatre - go if you can, it's on till 27 April. Images Simon Annand

Frome Drama Club has been looking at dysfunctional social mores too, with a double bill of Dennis Potter plays: Blue Remembered Hills and Brimstone and Treacle are playing at Merlin Theatre for three nights, and as always with this company there's huge commitment to excellence in set, costumes, and special effects as well as performance. Both of these one-act plays, as director John Palmer comments in his programme notes, have an uncanny resonance with our current political anguish. Set in 1943, the children in the first play would have been elderly in 2016, and possibly yearning for the England they remembered from idyllic nostalgia, where they roamed in the fields and woods of the Forest of Dean, the bombing raids and captured enemies merely part of their games like the dolls pram, scrumped apples and tree climbing. Yet nothing of this is remotely idyllic: even before the tragic ending, their voices are shrill with conflict copied from the adult world around them, they kill the wild life they find, bully the weakest, fight, cheat and lie. Charm was not required in the boys, but Simon Joyce's Raymond was endearing and Alan Burgess brought poignancy to lonely Donald, while Angela (Sue Ross) and Audrey (Suzy Howlett) effectively created the two little girls who with every utterance evoked that famous Ignatius Loyola premise that the child at seven will show the adult for life.

I wish I could show you the clever set change that transformed the barn and fields to a 1970s suburban living room where the bickering Bates couple (Polly Lamb and Julian Thomas) tend their brain damaged daughter Pattie- a brilliant performance by Georgina Littlewood - and succumb to the wiles of a charming stranger who happens to be the devil. Django Lewis-Clark (I'm using this portrait of him by Chris Bailey as I can't find any production pictures)  brought dapper elegance to this strange role, providing a real highlight with his wickedly parodic prayer to the Lord in the guise of every extremist cleric around the planet. Martin-the-devil has high hopes of Mr Bates who laments that the whole country is full of blacks and addicts and 'Everybody is up to something' - but ultimately won't be lured to accept pure evil and admits 'All I want is the England I used to know - the England I remember as a young man. I simply want the world to stop, and go back a bit.' Written in 1976, how sadly prescient. Let's hope UK like Pattie will suddenly arise with renewed clarity and belated understanding.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Art, books, & music (with a sea breeze ending)

Writers in this area will know that Frome's very active writers' collective has its own book brand for indie authors: Silver Crow supports publication-ready works in every genre, from children's to murder-mystery,  poetry to memoir, and with ten titles now the time seemed right to stage a celebration. FWC& in fact did this literally, at the Merlin Theatre, with a fascinating  evening of readings by the authors, ably introduced by writer and public speaker Joffre White.
Here's Ed Green, reading from 'It Leaves Me The Same', his moving account of the life and letters of his great-uncle, called from the family farm to die in the Somme.

Music now, and a great Roots session at the Grain Bar on Wednesday with an exceptionally talented double bill of musician/song-writers. 'The Billy Shinbone Show' brought us 'deviant skiffle manglings & disco-punk-rock-blues of Somerset multi-instrumentalist' - and Billy's support act was also brilliant, as Jamie R Hawkins shared original songs with Phil Cooper on Cahon.

'The Young Open' at Black Swan Arts is always one of the most vibrant exhibition of the year, and last weekend saw the opening of this collection, chosen by the committee and offering prizes in three categories: 8-11, 12-15, and 16-19. Nearly three hundred youngsters entered, with 409 art works submitted from which 166 will be on display int he galleries until the end of April.There's great energy in this diverse collection, though the curating makes some difficult to view fully - a disappointing number of glass-covered images are opposite windows and so suffer from reflections.
But it's well worth a look - and do add your favourite to the Peoples' Choice too. Here's the moody portrait of 'Orla' by Astrid Rogers which was the 12-15 winner. Appreciation to all the young people who entered, congratulations to the lucky 13 given the 'winners' and 'commended' tags, and thanks to the sponsors Ellenbray, Studio Prints, Postscript, Inspired, and Frome Community Lottery. Words at the Black Swan met on Monday to create poetic responses to imagery that especially intrigued them: I found Is That It? by Poppy Thomas interestingly provocative.

There was a music over the weekend too, with a busking day on Saturday throughout the town, and the usual weekend events but your correspondent defaulted here by swapping Frome for a family rendezvous on the coast.  Consider the evidence below, as I rest my case: