Friday, August 28, 2020

A double dose of drama as summer bows out

Ironic, isn't it, that after the long gorgeous summer, now there's permission for socially-distanced performances outside, the rainy season begins. This week's survivors of relocation within the Merlin building were Folksy Theatre, an outdoor group who could probably lift your spirits in an air-raid shelter under bombardment, so their version of The Taming of the Shrew was deservedly much appreciated. Apart from the trees, this publicity shot gives a pretty good summary of their physical interpretation of Shakespeare's play, with Petruchio employing well-received lust as well as psychological warfare on his recalcitrant bride Katherine. There's very little editing of the bard's script, which puts something of a strain on the other members of the cast to create parents, wooers, servants, and visitors, so big credit to all three that they manage to steer a coherent path through the confusion. Even within the formal confines and the mask-juggling required to sip prosecco, this was brilliant entertainment - and huge credit to director Claudia Pepler and her stoic team for keeping our little theatre's head above water when bigger ones are foundering. 
Still with the theatrical theme but without the feel-good factor:  The Merchant of Venice isn't one of the the bard's jolly dramas, and this 2015 Royal Shakespeare company production,  one of their season of streamed free shows, made no concessions to the brutal storyline. Prejudice and racism intrude in every scene like the massive silver ball rolling back and forth across the stage throughout the action.  Director Polly Findlay adds an extra layer of deceit by relocating Bassanio’s passion for his bride Portia to his old friend Antonio instead, and the jeering of the antisemitic Christians is upgraded to thuggery by their routine spitting in Shylock's face on sight. 
It's hard to cheer when the tables are turned against him with such venom in the court room. Makram J Khoury is impressive as Shylock, pushed beyond the limit of sanity by the defection of his daughter and determined to have his long years of abuse revenged in court. One of the other highlights is Launcelot Gobbo, clown-servant with the wit of a modern standup comic,  here haranguing an audience member.  Available till September.
And now back to Frome, where Hunting Raven Books autumn sale last Saturday had so many great offers that manager Tina Gaisford-Waller moved the entire event to Silk Mill, and within three hours an overwhelming response from the bibliophiles of Frome had stripped the trestle tables  Top pic is by Tina at the start, showing the 10 max customers but not the long queue outside! Below is my view later that morning as doorman, with 42 Acres in the courtyard also doing a brisk trade, theirs being lipsmackingly-good organic produce.

Also on Saturday, a defiant snook at the wild winds in the afternoon came from Fair Play for Frome, a new group set up by Paul Kirtley to play folky-pop songs live with whichever instrumentalists are able to come along. This time it was mega-talented David Goodman, and soundman Steve in his other incarnation as cajon player... The number braving the King Lear style weather conditions amazingly reached double figures... we're hoping for a more temperate time in the pub garden at Rode next weekend.

Ending this post with an image of the changing view when walking those fields so recently waist-high with waving crops, and a link to the Siren Poet project led by the supernova talent of Liv Torc, who'd be the jewel in Frome's poetry crown if she, I, & Frome were royalist, and who has also this week posted a new poem after her recent hospitalisation: There's Something About Mary is available for public viewing - click the title for link - and I suspect that like her environmental poem The Human Emergency it will move many and travel far.  

Friday, August 21, 2020

Poems, books, blooms - top-&-tailed with Shakespeare

Culture in Quarantine! With the encroaching sense of quasi-normality I'd forgotten about the streamed theatre promised throughout the summer.  It's now nearly September, so these magnificent productions by RSC and the Globe will all disappear like the sprites in a Shakespeare play very soon, so check them out here. My pick this week was The Tempest from 2013, directed by Jeremy Herrin. It's the bard's last work, so the bawdy intrigues and innuendo that Queen Lizzy had enjoyed are replaced by the fantasy theme preferred by his new patron James I, and the breaking of the magic wand at the end, signalling Shakespeare's own creative finality, has been seen as the writer's formal resignation. Performances are all good, of course, and so are the renaissance costumes, and there's a big emphasis on magic and illusions.

The two non-humans indigenous to the island, Ariel and Caliban, are always a challenge: sometimes they're played as opposite aspects of the same mysterious energy but in this production Caliban scampers around like a little red rooster while Ariel wearing a long white coat and quiet dignity seems more minder than servant to the extravagant frenzies of his overlord. Programme notes suggest this is a story of 'forgiveness, generosity and enlightenment', but Roger Allam's hot-tempered brooding Prospero reinforces that it's more about revenge than redemption: even though the lords sail off with honours restored, the servants all suffer for their brief aspirations. But Shakespeare does compensate poor abandoned Caliban by giving him the most poignant speech in the play: 'Be not afeared, the isle is full of noises: sounds and sweet airs, that give delight ....when I waked, I cried to dream again.

Still with words:   Poets Prattlers and Pandemonialists, who must be among the most hardworking wordsmiths in the country, offered no less than three zoom performances on Sunday. 

In the 7pm slot Emma Purshouse introduced us to a selection of characters from the Black Country, where this entertaining posse are all based,  while Steve Pottinger interspersed his local-character pieces with poems from lockdown. Poignant, witty, and even hopeful, these affectionate glimpses all have a warm humanity - I especially liked The Glass Collector, which you can read here - among other powerful poems by Steve. 

Also zooming: Hunting Raven Books's manager and Frome's shimmering star of literary conviviality Tina Gaisford-Waller chaired another meeting of Proof Pudding Club, the monthly event for avid readers to enjoy discussing book previews over dessert, though camera clips showed more glasses than spoons on this occasion. An entertaining couple of hours, with main recommendation of the night going to Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers, commended as a contrast to sombre times too often reflected in book lists: "The Booker long list this year is the most depressing I've ever seen," as Tina put it. Here's Tina with her pick of the month: Dear Reader - a book about the comfort and joy of books by Cathy Rentzenbrink.

Hauser and Wirth's famous gardens are notoriously impressive in late summer - there's an interview with the garden's designer Piet Oudolf here - so a trip to Bruton seemed a great idea when the sunshine returned on Monday. It turned out that's the one day the gardens are closed, but the floral displays in the allotments on the other side of the path also provide sensational 'drifts of rich late-colour summer in climactic display' - and the town itself is full of quirky lanes and skylines - including the famous dovecote.  

Ending this post with the careful return of live theatre. Billed as outdoors on ECOS but transferred within the Merlin on Friday night due to blustering gales: Shakespeare Rattle and Roll from multi-talented musician & performer Martin Dimery in the guise of a lecture on the bard's lyrical stylism but actually a fantastically entertaining romp through the key musicians of our times. From evolving Macbeth's witches' trochaic tetrameter into rap, to creating Mick Jagger as Puck,  this is a vastly entertaining - and very informative - survey of our major music icons - including Elvis, Dylan, Sex Pistols, Sting, and obviously the Beatles -  in a fantastic tribute to not only the bard but every music trend this century and the last. This is the third time I've seen this show,  it's that good.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Mostly outdoors: words, music, & other sounds

It's been a hot week, perfect for long walks in the countryside and safe outdoor gatherings. Last Saturday evening combined elements of both, with a large group of nature-loving Fromies staging a peaceful protest-party in Rodden meadow in response to an excessive and ill-timed assault on the trees of Willow Vale on behalf of the quarry railway. A barrier-side  meeting between representatives of both sides of the dispute resulted in a pledge to restore the treeline once the work is completd, which won't restore the habitat of this year's birds, bats, and myriad other wild life, but is at least a civil compromise, and the gathering became more of a musical soiree as the warm evening darkened.

Another musical gathering next day: this time in Victoria Park where Paul Kirtley's We Don't Scare Easy Tribe continued their support of the slow return to live music in Frome with an afternoon session on the bandstand.  Several guest performers were also accommodated before the end of this four-hour session, without any breach of spacing or sanitising, so hopefully there will be more of these excellent sessions - strong songs, excellent performers, and great sound.

An unusual art report this week, as Breezeblock Beats put on an exhibition at the Bennet Centre inspired by the early 20th Century electronic audio art movement Musique Concrete. Eleven individual 10-minute compositions ere played on a loop throughout Saturday afternoon, each one created in response to recordings of the ambient sounds of that building. I was particularly drawn to Carl Sutterby's evocative piece Ghosts, which reminded me of the Tristram Shandy banquet held in that very two years ago - though with shadows and sunlight replacing the opulent costumes and aromas... an interesting & unusual event. 

With my new novel The Price of Bread now beginning to raise interest in the US, it was great fun to chat with Suzy Howlett about the background and origins of this story for the FWC Writers on Radio broadcast aired Friday 21 August at 2pm (and online soon after.) Here we are in Suzy's lovely garden, snapped by Jane Battye.

And also on the subject of writing, Frome's renowned eco-poet Helen Moore is offering a programme of 'Wild Ways to Writing' - online mentoring for 'a unique creative writing journey into deeper Nature connection.  Hopefully Helen will be one of the poets coming along to the return of Frome Poetry cafe on September 3rd, on the ECOS amphitheatre outside the Merlin - I've already had the wonderful news that Frome favourites Liv Torc and Deborah Harvey and John Christopher Wood intend to be there! It's b.y.o. tipples, nibbles, and cushioning for the stones, and  £2 entries will go directly to the theatre. Big thanks too to Suzy Howlett for this snazzy flyer!


Friday, August 07, 2020

Times a'changing: a random mix as doors reopen.

Anyone who's read my novel The Price of Bread set in Belfast at the start of the 1970s, or remembers 'the Troubles' escalating onto UK's mainland, may wonder how such ferocious anger and historic grievance finally abated.  John Hume, primarily, is the answer. Coming from the Bogside, Derry's large Catholic area (which had suffered much during his growing years as the port and the city were deliberately run down to force trade to more Protestant Belfast) he worked consistently for a solution to the age-old divisions in the Northern Irish community. He founded the Social Democrat Labour Party with a commitment to non-violence in 1970, negotiated privately with Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams throughout the next decade, and finally engineered the signing of  Good Friday agreement in 1998, earning him that year's Nobel Peace Prize. He died this week and is rightly mourned as Ireland's Martin Luther King. You can read more about his work here, and his own words here (thanks David Thompson for this).

Meanwhile in the real world, the return to gigging for Frome bands creeps cautiously on. This image is from a great session in the garden of The George at Nunney, led by talented performer, and master of effective non-planning, Paul Kirtley.  Great classic folk/rock songs, great playing & great sound, with conscientious space-awareness from the pub - a very enjoyable evening made even better for me as I walked the 2 miles from Frome through fields of corn as the sun set... sharing that image, too.  

Also in the music category: the excellent indoor self-recordings continue on local musicians' facebook pages - Open Micsolate has a wide variety of individual contributions - and Al OKane has a new single out:  Butterfly Mind is available on Spotify here

Poetry hasn't gone live yet but discussion is in progress, with the Merlin's ECOS amphitheatre a possible venue for our postponed Poetry Cafe open mic evenings.  And the Fromesbury Group writers, founded more than 20 years ago and still meeting monthly, celebrated the new permissions with a reunion in Victoria park on a sultry night last week. Our fourth member was granted leave of absence as she's in Majorca. My personal writing success story this week is in the category of bizarre, with acceptance of my submission to quirky 42 Stories Anthology in response to their call-out for stories written in 42 words with a 42-word biography and a 42 letter title. The collection is due publication when they get enough off-the-wall entries to fulfil their 42-centric requirements - online here, if you fancy entering! And The Price of Bread is now featured in my website, courtesy of designer David Goodman. 
As the world cautiously opens up,  Frome's Westway cinema does so too so in
 a spirit of mingled curiosity & support, I went along - appropriately cautiously - & shared the afternoon showing  of Back to the Future with an audience of four others, finding the venue superbly well-organised with all standard precautions and the air-con circulation turned off, and such a pleasure to time-travel back to those innocent days when the future didn't need a mask to mingle...
So for now, the Blog Goes On. Moving to a different provider would lose access to archived posts, but the new layout is frustratingly limited and learning how to compromise is taking a g e s . . .  
Meanwhile in the real world, Frome like the rest of the country has its own struggles in these extraordinary times, as evidenced by town councillor Andy Wrintmore in an excellent piece in the Frome Nub, and two areas of town are under threat of invasive development. Rambling the meadows, riverside, and woodlands around Frome in this continued sunshine has an edge of poignancyall are 
full of thriving wild life and sublimely beautiful, yet several are under threat. This is the water-meadow that Friends of the River Frome is working to protect, now recovered from a previous assault but with its future still uncertain, and there was an unexpected attack on scores of trees in the heart of town this week in the name of 'strengthening' the railway support. A support group - Willow Vale Trees - formed immediately to protest this ill-timed and excessive damage in a conservation area, but when wealth and profit always win over the health of the environment, and with projected dismantling of the need for planning permissions, it's a worrying time.  

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Stocktaking... from Fenix bay to lockdown Frome

This blog began so many years ago I couldn't remember when, or even why. It turned out to be September 2006, with this rationale: 

It's been a busy summer, and I've been aware that most of what I'm doing never makes it to my website. Maybe it seems like short notice, or local appeal, or I'm not sure where best to post my pictures or commentaries.  So I thought a blog would be a great way of celebrating the wonderful variety of things I'm lucky enough to be doing. I decided I'd give myself a few guidelines, based on Jack Kerouak's 'list of essentials':
Something that will find its own form
Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
                Well, Kerouac had a few more, but that's a start.

First it was random, then publication became more regular and eventually the theme morphed from 'A Writer's World' to a general arts-and-culture overview of life in Frome and surrounds. By now, though my trips and holidays were celebrated briefly, the main emphasis had become Frome-centric - which led, excitingly, to me being commissioned to write an 'alternative history' of the town. Reading the existing histories, excellent though they are, made me determined to shift the emphasis from state and church to the men and women in the streets, and researching for Frome Unzipped, from prehistory to post-punk was a chance for me to hear fascinating tales from people I'd never have otherwise met. 
Looking back at the first years, the posts were cram full of me...  me walking the coastal cliffs of Crete and cycling across Cyprus for commissioned travel articles, me leading writing courses in other lands from Chile to Cambodia and in a diversity of venues including Shepton Mallet prison, me with Annabelle Macfadyen in a silly hat doing outdoor theatre for children, me performing in events from downtown San Fransisco to the top of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, me & the Liquid Jam poets recording a CD, and me & Hazel Stuart as Live & Lippy making a DVD - thanks to Will Angeloro & Howard Vause! 

So 'my blog' remains a curious hybrid, a feral creature untamed but tolerated, and I've been amazed and delighted to see from the stats that literally thousands of people have dipped in and many even follow it regularly. Posted now virtually weekly, it's never a comprehensive account as the privacy of my family and close friends is always respected, and there's no solicited selling either.  It's still a personal thing, a self-indulgence and a celebration ... and the comments on Facebook are an extra delight. (Thanks David Goodman for thr performance pix.)

Ten years on, the range became less self-centric, with frequent theatre reviews as I was writing regularly for Plays International with several of my plays produced in Bristol as well as working with Rosie 'Nevertheless' Finnegan to put on 'pub theatre' productions in Frome. And since lockdown, Frome is my living world: what's streamed or recorded may find a place but local views, literally, predominate.

Why has this post taken such a retrospective tone? Because it may be my last. The 'new improved' format of Blogger is angled for advertising and sales, and my irrelevant scrapbook is not so easy to create now.  For me, this was primarily writing practice - my 'morning pages' notes and thoughts, semi-edited. I've always recommended this practice to anyone who wants to write for publication - even self-publication: it prevents that tendency to self-indulgence from which most of us suffer.  And it's a way of self-identification as a writer - 'I write, therefore I am', to adapt that Descartian concept which, sadly for our planet, has downgraded any form of life not appearing to 'think' - trees, oceans, insects, all of nature's vitality somehow not 'existing' in any important way... but that's another story. Maybe I'll stick to posting political rants on Facebook now. Thank you for reading. I'll leave you with an entry from fourteen years ago: another musing on the function and purpose of blogs. Maybe this will be my last word, or maybe the last words of it will be the new start.

October -9, 2006
Hazel and I were discussing the function - or do I mean the mystic hypnotic power - of blogs while walking in Longleat yesterday (that's us in the Reclamation Yard after we finished filming Things That Are Weird). She's been blogging for a while, giving the rundown of her training for the big HepC trek in Nepal later this month. I'm interested that writers, on the whole, have been slow to subscribe to this new means communication - I suppose it seems a bit of a busman's holiday, to some, to scrawl on screen without commission or payment. But the current issue of the Journal of the Society of Authors includes a cautious endorsement from 'three authors who blog'. Purposes are varied. Shoo Raynor has used his to mourn the passing of his cat and extol the benefits of giving up milk. For Norman Geras it was the 'fun' aspect that hooked him. The beauty of a blog, he points out, is you can do what you want and you don't have to answer to an editor, or submit to copy-editing either. Tim Heald has another take entirely: the commercial motivation of posting reports that will encourage speaker's agencies to contact him.
I guess there are as many reasons for blogging as for writing anything - Primo Levi whittled that down to 9 but maybe the actual figure is closer to the number of literate humans on the planet - and they're all aspects of the same essential impulse: to yell at a confusing and often indifferent world "I'm here" and to whisper to ourselves "This is me."
               My name is Crysse and I am a blogger...