Sunday, April 26, 2020

All the world's a screen... (with sunshine breaks)

And once again National Theatre Live has shown why lockdown may actually provide some of the highlights of 2020. Twelfth Night, that often tedious Shakespeare comedy about a girl and her brother looking identical enough to cause fights and fury, turns out to be not merely doable but timeless, funny, and moving. Imaginative casting helps: Sir Toby is an aging hippy, Sir Andrew a pretentious hipster and the Fool a faded flower child, with the other gender switch making Malvolio a lusty lesbian - Tamsen Greig in this role is unforgettable.  Soutra Gilmour's rotating stage brilliantly evokes every scenic shift, from manor to clubland, enhancing the essential theatricality of the story: scene changes in an ongoing drama of ascending and descending statuses, in a world where rank is all. Director Simon Goodwin, you can watch it online until April 30.

Spoken word now: and Clare Reddaway, Bath's talented writer & creative supporter of other writers, has taken her monthly live 'Story Friday' event online, combining with Kilter Theatre to ensure some great readings for their premier event on 26th on the theme Dark Clouds, Silver Linings. Seven ultra-short tales took the theme in wide-ranging ways, including two charming everyday stories of local folk:  Jonathan Evans The Pillars of the Earth read by Ollie Langdon, and My Dad the Superhero by Judith Adam, read by Eve. Clare will continue to select and post stories, so do follow A Word In Your Ear, and contribute if you feel inspired.

Last week online saw more music than may blossom in the hedgerows - you probably found plenty, but among those I've appreciated are  Flash Harry, and Al O'Kane who hosted a fundraiser on Friday for a Bristol NHS Charity. Frome's individual musicians are doing lock-in solo spots too, on their personal pages: guitarist-singer Steve Loudoun has made his public - here's a great Tom Waits track -
and Pete Gage has posted a moving guitar version of St James Infirmary Blues as well as some terrific keyboard-accompanied songs - these aren't public but I'm sure he won't mind me sharing the screenshot of I need your love so bad. -
Sofar Sounds gave us a free session from Jade Bird - donations optional - and overall there's been no shortage of music as a backdrop to this sensationally sunny week - including the intriguing Bookshop Band, who exclusively sing their own songs about book recommendations, an impressive specialism that originated in Mr B's in Bath and has brought them followers all over the UK and to America, including BBC radio.  Here they are with their regular Lockdown show - you can see them live on Fridays at 8.30.

Poetry, like mercy, drops everywhere like the gentle rain, - various online sites will pipe it to you daily -but  April 25th was a day of special dousing: this is the day of the Universe in Verse celebrates 'the splendour and mystery of the natural world', as featured in Brainpickings. Liv Torc is still collecting haiku for her Haiflu project - you could send her one of your own or post any longer poems on the Frome Poetry page if you're missing our meetings.

Ending with another image from a walk: out of over 20 miles of happy traipsing, this one is close to home - right in the centre of Frome: wild garlic, looks beautiful, smells sensuous, tastes great...

Monday, April 20, 2020

The what-week-is-it-now? one

A golden-oldie moment to start with: it's six years now since Bristol Old Vic staged their epic 2-part marathon version of Jane Eyre, directed by Sally Cookson who vividly reimagined the story of a girl who went from poor beginnings to richly traumatic endings, adding music, physicality, and humour all of which made definite improvement to the plot. This wonderful production has been abbreviated for the National Theatre Live online performance to under 3 hours of riveting drama, and was available all last week. Well-judged filming maintained the full-stage special effects, from the dramatic fire (see screenshot) to the delightful jogging-coach journeys, and the growing passion of Mr Rochester (Felix Hayes) for Jane (Madeleine Worrall). These free sessions are well worth checking out if you're missing live theatre.

Rainbow Fish Speak Easy is a regular live poetry event that dynamic and mega-talented Liv Torc hosts in various venues, supported by Take Art, and organising this as a Zoom event on Thursday was an undertaking of major complexity but clearly worth it. Fifty spoken word fans enjoyed two hours of word play - including Liv's invention Haiflu (which has now even reached Womans Hour!), concluding with a reflective piece performed with piano by Chris Redmond and a compilation-poem of audience responses.  'We are a community,' Liv says, 'and this has been a very special night.'

By now, most people will have their own selection from the incredible smörgåsbord of online opportunities opening up like wild garlic over the last few weeks.  Here's a small posy:
Time Out Frome has some excellent music options - Soundcheck has been posting regularly: - there's a storming Nirvana cover from Al OKane here, and Phil Cooper is offering regular live streams where you can join in & chat.  Bath Festivals are offering a range of arty options, including an Andy Warhol exhibition tour, while Bristol Old Vic is offering an Open Stage for your own ideas: "your opportunity to share the things that nourish, encourage and amuse you during isolation - a song that cheers you up, a film you’ve made in your kitchen, a photo of your favourite place, a picture you’ve painted, or a poem that reminds you of someone you love, we want you to share anything that feels important to you during these strange and mood-bending times."  And if you're over 70, you might be eligible to submit to the King Lear contest for poetry, art, drama and fiction.

Last week's stunning sunshine was perfect for  solitary exercise  to enjoy the blossom and bluebells abounding Frome and surrounding villages. My best walk was new route of about nine miles, including tangental explorations: over fields to Nunney, along a river path and farmland to Whatley, and footpaths & lanes via Egford back to Frome. If you don't know the terrain you won't be particularly impressed, but for someone with no sense of direction (viz, me) it was thrilling as well as visually and sensually gorgeous.

Finally: My-Blog-in-lockdown's new spot 'Little-known personality' this week is Robert Noonan, who provides the April caption in the Radical Literary Calendar 2020: "Every man who is not helping to bring about a better state of affairs for the future is helping to perpetuate the present misery, and is therefore the enemy of his own children." Of course he's not actually little known, since under the pen name Robert Tressell he was the author of The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, one of the most influential books ever written. Scarlett and Sophie Rickard, graphic novelists, are creating a graphic deconstruction of Trussell's novel, titled, Self-Made Hero, due publication this autumn. Noonan emigrated from Ireland to England as a young man, then moved to South Africa where he made a good living as a sign writer & decorator, but at that time his radical socialism wasn't strongly in evidence: he joined demonstrations against using skilled black labourers and, like other well-off whites then, had his own black servant. But by 1910 he was back in England, living with his sister and daughter Kathleen, hoping to emigrate to Canada. He died the next year disheartened by failing to find a publisher for his novel, never knowing that Kathleen's continued efforts would eventually find success. The first edition was truncated into a much 'safer' version but in 1955 the full text was published (584 pages of small print in my Penguin copy), becoming an inspiration across the world and literally life-changing for many: Ricky Tomlinson's succinct, honest, credit to 'the book that changed my life' - here - is impressive.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Birds, blossom, moonlight, & a rural picnic

Whatever else we feel about these isolate days, here in Frome we can't complain about the weather. Glorious days for solitary walks, pausing only in legitimate exercise for a quick celebratory photo. My snap-of-the week is this portly little blue tit in Rodden Meadow, who seems to be surveying with satisfaction the burgeoning of spring blossom and foliage all around him.
And in Victoria Park, the Judas tree - one of my favourites in Frome's fabulous tree collection - is now showing buds breaking through from the hard bark. This tree is amazing: the candy-pink bunches of soft blossom burst straight from the trunk and branches without waiting for the leaves, which catch up later. Also called the Love Tree. Among lesser known areas of beauty, there's a fabulous carpet of wild garlic developing alongside North Parade.

Tuesday night's impressive full moon inspired discussion about lunar nomenclature, since April's moon is called Pink in the Native American listing, which also has a Buck and a Beaver moon, so my preference is the Northern European cycle. This begins in January with Ice Moon and continues  Moon of Wands, Hare Moon, Rain Moon, Blossom Moon, Honey Moon, Thunder Moon, Barley Moon, Harvest Moon, Hunters Moon, Owl Moon, till December's Moon of the Long Night..  Our term 'honeymoon' may have come from the time between late sowing and early harvest being seen as an opportunity for rural workers to celebrate weddings.

This week's little-known personality is Victorine Meurent, who lived in Paris in the 1860s & 70s, making her living by playing guitar, singing in cafes, and sitting as a model for Manet, Degas, and Alfred Stevens among others.
She has been immortalised in paint with cherries, with a parrot, a croquet mallet, a bouquet, a puppy, and in full regalia as a matador, but her most famous appearance is at a picnic.
Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe slightly shocked the art world, though not as much as a public picnic without protective masks and gloves would shock us all today, and Manet's compositional intention remains a mystery, especially as he himself called the painting The Bath.  He continued to use Victorine as a model until the early 1870s, when she began taking art classes and they became estranged. Like Elizabeth Siddal who tired of looking gorgeous for Rossetti and took to the palette, Victorine used her latent creative skills to step out of the 'feminine sphere' ideal of her era.
And finally: if you aren't familiar with the billboard art of Robert Montgomery, you might like to take a look at his work here: salutary pieces for thoughtful times. And/or, you can now virtually-visit the works created by Frank Lloyd Wright here - the times might be US zone only so maybe just look at the pictures while playing the appropriate Simon & Garfunkel track.

Monday, April 06, 2020

silent sunshine & other strangenesses

And as sunshine and clear blue skies continue, here's another cultural miscellany to while away these strange days.
Art first, as the delayed Black Swan Young Open 2020 is now live as a virtual exhibition of exhibitors and winners. If there are virtual awards going for arts coordinators coping in times of crisis too, the Black Swan team should scoop them all: this link will show you the top prizes in all three categories (this painting is Indigo Spring by Indigo Cameron Clarke, one of the 8-11 winners) and also take you on complete tours of all the successful entrants' work, escorted by Black Swan Art's Amanda Sheridan.

On to lockdown drama:
Were you one of the 85,000 waiting to watch the inaugural free offer from National Theatre Live at 7pm on Thursday? The final viewing figure for One Man, Two Guvnors was apparently 165,595 - probably mainly lured by the chance to see James Cordon in the role that won him a Tony 'best leading actor' award in 2012.  Writer Richard Bean took the idea of a wily servant trying to serve two masters from the 18th century Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni, transposing it to Brighton in the heady days of skiffle and spivs and dolly birds with beehives. Some may find this kind of farce ideal in troubled times, but if you prefer your humour slightly surreal there's Seinfeld and Father Ted on offer free by Channel 4 on demand.   And Cornwall's wonderful Miracle Theatre - if you live in Frome you'll have seen their fabulous small-cast productions on ECOS during the summer festival - is offering a free-view production online from 7pm on the first Monday of each month throughout the coming month. Next Monday (6 April) is "Tin’ a large scale collaboration with English Touring Opera, commissioned by the Cornish Mining World Heritage.

Poetry: Frome's fabulous Liv Torc, performance poet and cornucopia of creative ideas, has made the The Times 'Notebook' column for originating the 'word of the week': haiflu. There's a selection of 50 to inspire you here.  If you forget the 5-7-5 syllable structure of this mini-form where rhyme is irrelevant, here's a helpful reminder from John Cooper Clark:
To write a po-em
with sev-en-teen syll-a-bles
is ver-y diff-ic-
Meanwhile the Poetry Foundation will email you a poem of their choice every day. This is the start of Wednesday's - you may well know it but it's good to revisit Still I Rise by Maya Angelou.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies, 
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Music: Happily, there are already enough free music videos available to last several lockdowns, but if you've been a fan of Sofar you might enjoy some of the international sessions available now for free. No new shows obviously but literally a world of choice: here's some mellow sounds from Dublin last autumn.

This week's Little Known Character is Henry Paget, 5th Marquis of Anglesey who died in 1905 aged 29, having scandalised society and bankrupted his estate by spending thousands of pounds on jewels, furs, cars, boats, dogs, horses, toys and theatricals on a scale that staggered even the profligate Edwardians.  His passion was to dress up as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and perform his sinuous 'butterfly dance' in German music halls; he wandered through London with a poodle dressed in pink ribbons, modified his car so the exhaust smelled of rose perfume, and reportedly 'bought diamonds as an ordinary man buys cigarettes.' Described by one acquaintance as 'an Aubrey Beardsley character come to life', the marquis did marry but the bride left after the honeymoon, although she was with him when he died. His family then set about disposing of every shred of evidence of his excesses, from roof crenellations to the pingpong balls he played with, in the infamous 'Great Anglesey Sale' which lasted 40 days and contained 17,000 lots. Even his 150 seat theatre went.  Do feel free to send suggestions of little known characters: next week will feature anonymous nudes from famous paintings.

Ending this sunny, quiet, week with a view of Frome from the western fields beyond the river. Stay happy, folks. Remember what Bob Dylan said: Everything passes and everything changes, just do what you think you should do...