Monday, July 08, 2019

Apocalyptic drama in Bristol, Festival fever in Frome

Big stage news of the week - Kneehigh's Dead Dog in a Suitcase is back at Bristol Old Vic - until 13 July, when the tour continues on to Galway International Arts Festival - and it's as fearsome and funny as it was five years ago and, grimly, even more recognisable as a darkly-mirrored but realistic world. I see was too overwhelmed back in 2014 to blog a coherent account, and feel much the same now: this production is a jaunty remake of The Beggar's Opera, a show-case of performance skills, and a fiercely furious satire, all mixed apocalyptically into a kind of real-life Punch & Judy show. The performers - there are fourteen, including musicians and puppeteers - are all incredible, especially Rina Fatania whose evil vivacity will haunt your dreams, while Dominic Marsh as murderous philanderer Macheath must be the sexiest hitman in the galaxy (after Stephen Mangan in Pinter's Birthday Party - unless you count a psychotic terrorist as a hitman, in which case Aiden Turner in The Lieutenant of Inishmore remains unsurpassable) - but back to Dead Dog... Writer Carl Grose and director Mike Shepherd worked with composer Charles Hazlewood whose 'mongrel score' ranges from evocations of 18th Century opera to ska, disco, grime and 'songs culled from the edge of existence'. And like John Gay's 1728 bawdy backstreet parody of grand lives which provided the characters and the plotline, there's a serious punch beneath the fantasy and frivolity - as significantly forewarned in the opening scene of the show: "Look closer, you might realise this world is no different from your own.” Except perhaps that this one has unforgettable special effects at the finale - no spoilers, but the standing ovation was well deserved.

And now to spectularly sunny Frome:
Matt Owens, founder member of Noah & the Whale, has since moved on to a successful solo career (and don't ask where he'll be in five years time) - entertained an enthralled crowd at the Wednesday Grain Bar Roots Session with Kerouacian tales and original songs.

After that, Frome moved up a gear to festival mode: there's an impressive exhibition of the work of JW Singer's foundry & its aesthetic impact around the world at Rook Lane Chapel, and - with 23 more visual arts venues poised to open - there were two excellent events on Friday: painter Mark Jessett at the HUBnub centre (he says he does try to use laid-back, calm, colours but it just doesn't happen, you can see the vibrance right across the gallery!) and Ann Harrison-Broninski sharing her sketches of the life of Frome in the gallery room at The George with sunset views across town, accompanied by folksy sounds from Crossing the Rockies. Both delightful events.

The focus shifts to literature on Saturday morning, as Frome Writers Collective took over the Silk Mill for their Small Publishers Fair, a superbly organised, very busy, event. Barry Cunningham, MD of Chicken House and patron of FWC  opened the day with a few perfectly pitched words about the need for imagination in order to create change, and the famous festival cantina opened at noon to provide refreshment outside. For me this was an anniversary: one year ago Frome Unzipped - from prehistory to post-punk was launched here, so it was really nice to meet up again with my publisher,  John Chandler of Hobnob Press.

Also on Saturday, the sofa on Catherine Hill returned to feature the striking sound of Otto Wilde, dubbed Cab Calloway channelling the future soul of Jack White, and Artisan pub garden enjoyed sunshine and swing with Alexandra's Washboard Band.

For the evenings, Cornerhouse was the go-to music place: an exuberant set from quirky Back of the Bus, and Pete Gage Band excelling even its own usual brilliance on Saturday night.

So as you can tell there was much to enjoy but I can't tell you anything about the official festival opening at the International Food Feast with its tantalising stalls, or the traditional flamboyant entry led by the Street Bandits, the excellent bands and entertainments... with an afternoon dress rehearsal for our Nevertheless Pub Theatre show Where the Fault Lies too, something had to go...  (There'll be a same-night second performance at the Cornerhouse now, too, at 9.30 as the 8.00 tickets sold out so quickly)   So I'll end on a comedy note, with Peter Fleming- have you seen? at the Granary with an ageing BBC children's presenter, nostalgic for the old days of glove puppets and making things with sticky-back plastic... endearing and very funny, this should go well in Edinburgh.
Final non-artsy footnote, purely because my recent gloomy forboding of curtailment in reports met with several concerned responses from kind blog-followers: normal service now expected to resume, as I've had an alternative diagnosis with much more positive prognosis.  Smiley face - and thanks all.

No comments: