Sunday, January 31, 2021

Some of the bright bits, as January shuffles out...

There seems no limit to the ingenuity of creatives and communicators when finding ways to wriggle under the wire of isolation. Terminus, created by Frome Drama Club, is a brilliant example: a drama auditioned, cast, & rehearsed on zoom, then recorded on zoom in the actors' own homes against a virtual background. The entire project from concept to realisation is superb: acting, production, every aspect of design, and the complex interwoven script co-written by director John Palmer. The setting is a fast train to Norwich. 

On board are seven of the cast - including the driver - with one waiting for the stop at Diss, one at the the end of the line, and another slowly reading the letter that will explains all.  It's clear from early on that these peoples' lives will all be revealed as intertwined by the time the journey terminates - and it becomes increasingly clear that this will not be Love-Actually style.  To keep the unravelling saga fast-moving, many of the screens show multiple images of the travellers, each immersed in their own dialogues. All the cast were convincing in their roles but one whose performance was particularly memorable is Tabitha Lamb as the little girl travelling in the cab to join her mother.

Poetry now, in another Zoomed 'Speakeasy' night, this time promoted by Theatre Orchard in Weston-super-Mare and hosted by Bob Walton, with an open mic session and Rebecca Tantony as guest. 
Bob was a popular visitor to Frome Poetry Cafe shortly after the publication of his first collection, Sax Burglar Blues, and he opened this Speakeasy with a powerful poem in response to a retaliation attack after the toppling of Colston's statue in Bristol. The gravestone of Scipio Africanus, a slave who died aged 18 in 1720, had become a Grade II listed monument: it was discovered hammered apart with a scrawled warning 'NOW LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO - PUT COLSTON'S STATUE  BACK' beside it. Bob didn't show this shocking image but he evoked it so strongly it seems relevant to share here.
The 15 open-mic poets also offered plenty to contemplate, plus a good splash of humour and, thanks to the internationality of zoom, transatlantic contributions too: Sunshine Lombre, calling in from 2pm Chicago, was simply fabulous.   And referencing American performers leads neatly to The Bijou Theatre in Tennessee which has a fascinating history dating from 1801 including vaudeville & cinema, and was narrowly saved for posterity as a theatre in 2005, so I was keen to see The Enid performed there on Saturday night. This was streamed on Youtube and actually turned out to be not a show but a British prog-rock band - a good one, though, with an enthusiastic international audience and exciting lighting effects. 

The Poetry Place
is a monthly Sunday afternoon show on West Wilts Radio which is introduced and co-ordinated by Dawn Gorman who, when life allowed, ran the excellent 'Words & Ears' regular sessions in Bradford on Avon. This month's radio show features Dawn & Rosie Jackson discussing their new pamphlet, a strong open mic - including Frome's Moira Andrew on losing her sight (rather more good-humouredly than Milton) - and a splendid set from Martin Malone who lives in NE Scotland but is trapped in Hartlepool by current regulations. The programme will remain available, apparently forever, on the station's Play-Again page. 

And another in my 'occasional' series of random FB music recommendations: Postmodern Jukebox offers 'a vintage filter on today's hits' as performed with 'the style and craftsmanship of another era.' They promise a new video every Friday - try this one: Don't stop believing - a mini-movie with a glamorous old-movie feel.


As this week ushers out a long January with a flurry of snow,  flooded river banks and paths, and unsympathetic developments inching closer to the fringes and the heart of our town despite the best efforts of our hard-working representatives, Frome enjoyed a visitation of smiling snowmen, all 2 metres apart.  
Finally, a catching-on initiative created by Rare Species Theatre Company - Dress Up Fridays. Strut your stuff & post a pic on the facebook page, free fun for all.  Anything quirky to lift our lock-down spirits has to be worth a try!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

A week of small screen, big poetry, & waterproof boots.

Starting from the end of the week, with the big event at the South Bank, where this year's prestigious - and lucrative - T.S.Eliot prize for poetry was awarded on Sunday to Bhanu Kapil for her collection How to Wash a Heart, as revealed after an hour-long presentation involving readings from all ten shortlisted poets. Ian McMillan, who introduced and steered this streamed version, promised to be live next year but I hope they continue to make this event available on line - it was beautifully organised, narrated, and presented, and the filmed readings were superb. All the poets' books were submitted before the start of the year, so it was impressive how many had a continuing relevance, and Bhanu was one of the most accessible, so it's good to see once again a confirmation that poetry is about life now, whoever we are. 

And now a poem about a local railway line: John Betjeman's jaunty evocation of Dilton Marsh Holt  as intriguingly performed by David Ellington for Wiltshire Creative and streamed, with optional captions to his signing, in their World Wide Wiltshire project. There are two other short pieces in this set, both reminiscent monologues, viewable here.

Frome's  Liv Torc, supporter of all things poetic,  hosted another edition of the Rainbow Fish Speakeasy cabaret from Yeovil's Word/Play group, always offering much to enjoy and this time featuring the ever-surprising & totally brilliant Chris White.  
 Chris came to Frome a couple of years ago to record a 'Word Play' session for Visual Radio Arts and he was unforgettable, though this session had to be deleted after intervention by the agent of another of the poets - a very sad loss to our developing poetry archive. Once again Chris's set was full of unexpected clever wordplay, chicaning between absurdity, profanity, and political satire, and I hope somewhere there's a recording of this event that won't be deleted. Followers of Liv will remember that her USP is collecting lines & phrases from her audience for a 'compilation poem' shared at the end of the event, and this was cleverly managed through the comments section by Jon. 

It's really good to see, also, increasing numbers of performers and drama communities exploring online options: Frome Drama are gearing up for their made-for-lockdown Terminus and Bristol Old Vic are streaming two archived shows - next up a Sherlock Holmes comedy/murder mystery.

And a reminder, in skinny days for interactive stimulus, of Eleanor Talbot's ever-vibrant talk show Variations on a Theme and Liv Torc's HAIFLU revival, a moving collections of our shared experience of this year, now in its third week.  Andy Wrintmore's Giant Pod has a US Inauguration Special, with Will Angeloro and John Nelson, deconstructing our 'turning world' as well as the ceremony from every angle including Lady Gaga's ballgown.

There's plenty of music online, as well as on Sky Arts, of course. The live blues session with Ruzz Guitar and Pete Gage at Frome's Cheese & Grain has twice been postponed now, but here's a taster of what we're looking forward to, with Ain't Nobody's Business

Following last week's theme of protecting our town from predatory developers: another at risk - as well as Easthill Field & Broadway allotments - is Frome river, where the footpath is under threat of inappropriate development (is there any other sort of development, along a riverside in a low-lying area notorious throughout history for its floods?) 
We're lucky to live in a town with such pro-active awareness to protecting and to celebrate too: there's a magical selection of bark samples you can view &/or download as a poster from the website of  Phil Barnett.

This was a week of wild weather in Frome: flood rain, sparkling frost, then fairyland snow, all looking amazing but limiting walking options, so I'll end with an image from today of the southern fields, seen from the edge of town.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

A quiet week, so at least a change from the rest of the news.

The elimination of live entertainment, or even contacts, this last week, leaves a local arts blog with little to chat about other than what's on the box, which is personal-taste dependent & mostly not time-sensitive - I'm still reliving Sky Arts wonderful night of tributes to Bowie on the anniversary of his death last Sunday - but last week for me was mainly walking obediently near my home. Here's a view from one of the lanes to Tytherington, with rather sodden fields & a distant glimpse of Cley Hill. 

This is the land currently earmarked for a  housing estate which would increase Frome's population by over 7,000 residents, with no extra amenities, senior school, or medical facilities. You can see the transformation envisaged by the inappropriately named Selwood Garden Community here

Land ownership is one of those entirely invented concepts, like monetary value, which caused strife even before the 'Inclosures' acts claimed previously 'common' land. "They hang the man and flog the woman / Who steals the goose from off the common / Yet let the greater villain loose / That steals the common from the goose" goes the old rhyme. (And there's an excellent article on John Clare 'the poet of the environmental crisis' by George Monbiot, here.)  People do, of course, need somewhere to live, so even though there are 650,000 empty homes in England,  (latest Ministry of Housing estimate), there is a case for construction - but this project includes no social housing or even realistically 'affordable' housing. Hence the protest. The print is from a 1770 edition of Goldsmith's The Deserted Village, an elegiac lament for the destruction of rural life through displacement of villagers, the greed of landlords, and political change, so it seems appropriate.

Meanwhile Liv Torc is busy turning this new lockdown-without-end into another HAIFLU film - you can see it all here. Grief and sadness are spiked with shock at what was happening over the pond, so although quite dark it's a searingly accurate snapshot of the week. 

Ending this week's potpourri with some thoughtful advice from the American poet ee cummings, culled from that excellent & ever-interesting blog Brainpickings.

“A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. ...The moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.  To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.'

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Habits of art & writing, to warm a freezing week

It's almost the law, or a by-law at least, for a writer to be a fan of Alan Bennett but having never really appreciated the 'darling of middle England'  I hadn't planned to invest in Original Theatre Company's screening of The Habit of Art, but as the freezing fog continued and news shifted from dismal to dystopian, with live theatre  off the menu for the foreseeable future, the option became more appealing. 
So I'm happy to report it's immensely enjoyable, whether or not you know much about WH Auden or Benjamin Britten, whose relationship is the central strand of a play that's witty, moving, and very funny. The dramatic structure of a-play-within-a-play allows for a double helping of personalities, with sharp contrasts in tone & mood - and also ensures the audience can enjoy quite a few full-stage views rather than just close-ups.  Two of the 'cast' are played by temporary stand-ins - leaving scope for comic cameos worthy of Shakespeare's mechanicals  - everyone dislikes their role and has their own ideas about how to play it, while the writer is furious at the producers' cuts. Yet through all this, the habit of art is maintained, and the habit of the habit of loving too.
In a strong cast, Matthew Kelly and David Yelland were convincing and moving as the actors playing the poet and the musician, both lives dominated by the illegality until 1967 of homosexuality. The mood of the story ranges from emotionally charged encounters and arguments - between actors, the characters they play, and the playwright) - to comedic moments as stand-ins act as items of furniture with all the panache of Shakespeare's mechanicals.  Available here till 28 February, recommended.

Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird is the intriguing title of a collection of poems by Rosie Jackson and Dawn Gorman, who wrote in collaboration to create "a conversation in poetry between two women about things that matter in a deranged and damaged world."  Hedgehog Press has published this, and the two poets hosted the book's zoom launch on Thursday. Elegantly introduced and perfectly pitched by the hosts, this event gave a taste of the collection by reading ten poems and discussing the shared experience of collaboration. Originally combining to explore 'what it felt like to be an older woman', the poets had found that, as with a play, 'other characters had wandered in.'  The poems dig deep: darkness, bloodlines, death,- and love.  'We are capable of more love than we know' Dawn found.  Also fascinating was the story of their quest for a cover illustration, revealed by cover artist Gina Litherland, who joined the launch from her home in Chicago. Copies available from Rosie or Dawn.

No music to report this week - a sad omission so here's the Unravelling Wilburys' fabulous version of the Dylan song If Not For You - it's on dropbox so I hope the link works for you.  

And if you haven't already included this site on your search for uplifting posts on facebook, do follow Chris Packham's Self-Isolating Bird Club which daily provides images of wildlife - mostly avian - to bring a smile to your morning scrolling - owls, kingfishers, finches, tits,  robins... this one's actually mine, spotted in Rodden Meadow.

Also a facebook-accessible resource to hopefully raise a wry smile in these grim days, Steve Pottinger's political-satiric dialogues are now published online

And Liv Torc has put out another callout for Haiflu in response to this latest quasi-lockdown, so do share your thoughts & feelings, in 17 syllables, on her page here.  (If you forget the 5-7-5 format, it's like this: Catkin colonies / along the road to Nunney / chubby with new hope.)

Ending, courtesy of the Fortnightly Review - always an excellent miscellany of poetry and fictionwith a poem by Johanna Higgins called Ghost but could might well be called Now.

It's the breathing out that kills
The drawing in throughout
The love that spills.
The reddened love
Turns and tears
At flesh, at
Some adhesion,
Where the blood meets
Ghost and reason.


Sunday, January 03, 2021

And so to another year...

A January sky for this first post of the new year,  evoking for me a much-loved song from 50 years ago:  Lindisfarne's January Song with its melancholy repeating chorus 'you need me need you need him need everyone... '
As we look ahead with trepidation on so many issues, its good to note that Frome is maintaining its determination to hold on to as much of its ancient land and green lungs as possible. Developments are still encroaching but one at least has been held off for now - the Friends of Easthill Field continue to argue for the survival of this special sanctuary - and now have a logo designed by Steven Jenkins of Hogweed Pottery. (click the group name to find out more and join this public group on Facebook.)
Last year offered us all new experiences and one of the least distressing was 'streaming', previously associated mainly with colds, but now an online activity with an advantage over that other chameleon verb 'zooming' since furtive fidgeting & refill trips remain unseen. It's especially good for drama.  Mischief Theatre are renowned for their plays That Go Wrong - their catastrophic Peter Pan was fabulous - so Mischief Movie Night In! -"a hilarious improv delight" - sounded great.  
A screenful of audience decides the title, genre, & location of the night's tale, though not the plot which is controlled more by time than story-arc, so it all comes down to the compere to move the romp along, interrupting to steer and underline the funny bits in our tale of vampire love. It's an ambitious concept: all the talented young actors involved deserve credit, and it should at least encourage more appreciation of playwrights in future days, if theatre survives. 

And the theme of survival segues with this double-page article in Plays International, which - though of course impossible to decipher - is my autumn report on theatre in the South West, which was one of only 2 UK regions creating enough performance to submit. Performances were filmed, zoomed, streamed, open-air, with even a few indoors though with massively reduced audiences. The image at the top is the live+live-streamed Hedda at Bristol Old Vic, and underneath is Bottom's Dream as created by a scratch team of young professionals on the amphitheatres of Frome's Merlin.  

Poetry, with less overheads, survived better than drama, encouraged by ongoing initiatives like Liv Torc's HAIFLU and the King Lear email contests for oldies. Poets Prattlers & Pandemonialists began this year with an excellent zoom session with eleven Open Mic readers and a guest spot from Luke Wright, who can chicane from bitter ironic wit to eye-moistening poignancy and back in eight poems. For fans of Blackadder's Georgian series, Luke has rewritten the bawdy ballads of those days,  and this link will take you to more of Luke's poems.  

So, welcome little 2021, all box-fresh and hopeful...  the poem that usually ends this first blog-post of each new year is Brendan Kennelly's marvellous evocation of hope Begin - do click this link and listen to the poet read recite it - but for this year I'm ending with the words of Tennessee Williams, in an interview recorded in 1982, because it feels like they have never been more important than now: 

"The world is violent and mercurial - it will have it's way with you. We are saved only by love - love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent, being a writer,  being a painter, being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love."