Sunday, March 28, 2021

War, slavery, and sunshine as winter officially ends

'Pink Mist' sounds like a lipstick shade or a girly cocktail but for the troops in Afghanistan, it meant the fine spray of blood in the air when a soldier is blown to bits. It's the title of Owen Sheers' extraordinary drama of three young men who, inspired only by paucity of alternatives, go to war and are all terminally damaged. This was first staged at Bristol Old Vic in 2015, returning 2017 and is now available online here until 22 April. 
The play is a kind of surrealist mix of poetry and dance, with high-energy performance and dream-like intensity from a small cast and the interpreter always visible beside the action like a lamenting Cassandra - it's all powerfully effective. The script was inspired by interviews from returned servicemen and their families, which makes it all the more harrowing that none of the soldiers was inspired to enlist for any reason other than frustration with their life options in Bristol, and none gave any consideration at any time to the larger issues of national conflict.  This casebook study of three urban boys who deserved a better life - Arthur, Hads and Taff - shows the ripple effect on families and questions the values of the society we live in. You can read more about the cast and production here:  recommended viewing, if only to appreciate the emotional impact & scope of staged theatre. 

Bristol Old Vic has been providing drama in a variety of ways throughout lockdown, with this week's diversity including an audio play on Radio 3: The Meaning of Zong, directed by Tom Morris and written by Giles Terera, recreates with emotional intensity the true story of the slave ship which in 1781 dumped hundreds of black men and women overboard and successfully claimed insurance for their lost 'cargo'.  Moving between the historical court case with real-life figures of abolitionist Granville Sharp & Olaudah Equiano (Samuel West & and Giles Terera) and imagined mystical scenes from 1781,  it's sometimes difficult to follow, but the facts of the case are dreadful enough to grip the listener throughout.
Southampton's Art House on Saturday featured a zoom-adapted performance of Kevin King of Egypt, a bizarre tale created by poetry performer & psychiatric nurse Rob Gee - who Frome audiences will remember from his popular visits to Merlin Theatre for Poetry Platter events. Kevin has bipolar disorder and we meet him in a mood of strange elation as he decides to break out of the psychiatric ward and head for Egypt. All he needs is his passport and a run of luck, and it seems at times that he may achieve both, as he somehow acquires a policeman's wallet, a malleable taxi-driver, and a small girl called Millie. Kevin is an immensely sympathetic character, despite his extraordinary behaviour: the points he makes about social controls are insightful, and there's a lot that's really funny in this deceptively simple, very skilful, monologue.
A contrast in zoom mood now:  At the Coalface is the title and theme of Frome poet Rebecca Brewin's collection of poems published by Blurb Books: her online launch on Thursday was hosted by Mike Grenville with an introduction from Helen Moore and harp interludes from Vicki Burke. This evocation of mining and miners' lives merges with a mining of the poet's own history, and Rebecca uses the power of lists to summarise, define, and deepen the experiences she evokes. An impressive launch for a complex collection. 

And my tale of The Invisible Granny was Thursday's featured Storyopathy event from Kilter Theatre in collaboration with Clare Reddaway's A Word in Your Ear fiction sessions. Sadly I missed the link to Olly Langdon's reading but my pestering messages got me through the waiting room in time to hear Dr Olly's suggestion of retrouvaille as a key theme which, although his therapist persona is spoofy, I felt gratifyingly insightful.  After the audience dispersed, the page stayed open long enough for a big old catchup chat with friends who'd booked to hear my story of Izzy Quirk who had never been on holiday and what happened when she did. 

Time for another look at a couple of Frome's Podcasters: what's brilliant about these audial sessions is that they aren't time-sensitive so if you miss one you can catch up any time later, or binge on them box-set style. Eleanor Talbot, seen here with Jessie and some of her jewellery designs, hosts Variations on a Theme which this week covers the topic of cover songs. Is the original always the best - or even the best-known? Case in point is the 1982 hit written by Tears for Fears' co-founder Roland Orzabal for the band, but Gary Jules' more powerful cover of Mad World was a massive Christmas hit in 2003.

Andy Wrintmore's podcast guest couldn't be more appropriate in the week we heard Easthill Field has been saved from development by the support team's efforts to research the wildlife and prove its value as ancient meadow, as the Giant Pod with Julian Hight focuses on Frome's punk-rocking self-taught tree specialist. This informative & entertaining session covers a wide range of topics including tree communication, 'forest bathing' in benign pheromones, and protection activism as well as his travels and those great tree books. Andy has now also given the podcast treatment to musician Nick Wilton, another fascinating Frome personality - who I'm proud to say, like Julian - and Andy himself - featured in my book Frome Unzipped - from prehistory to post-punk. So it's good to know 4000 year-old trees and neo-punk are both still thriving in Frome.

And finally... another 'Best Place to Live' list in the Sunday Times, another win for Frome as top place in the south west. Illustrating their accolade with a photo of the rapidly-depleting shops of Catherine Hill, the Sunday Times summary may not delight all residents by its enthusiasm for "tasteful Farrow & Ball tones" as a primary reasons for selection. At £84-119.00 for a 5 litre pot, F&B elegance represents everything that many long-standing residents resent about the 'gentrification' of Frome. Luckily there's a lot more to love about our town, including the passionate interest in its past & present history, reflected by online groups like Frome History & MysteryFrome Local, Frome Wildlife Watch, and more. Where else, I wonder, would my photos of a bit of ruined aqueduct, from an aborted idea at the end of the 18th Century, attract 6,824 views on facebook in 3 days? Here's the entries, now blocked: my book Frome Unzipped (p92-93) recounts the sad story of the failed project to create a canal link to Frome, despite the extraordinary inventiveness of James Fussell, and I'm learning more from comments now - including the inevitable financial scandal... (thanks Patrick Moss). 

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