Sunday, June 20, 2021

The fusion edition: science & literature, and life

Copenhagen has had a troubled journey to the main stage of Theatre Royal Bath. Originally scheduled for November 2020,  delayed till January this year and then postponed by further lockdown, Michael Frayn's forensic analysis of the troubled relationship between two wartime physicists has finally arrived on the main stage with a different director - Emma Howlett taking over from Polly Findlay. Current restrictions on spacing and requirement for masks were scrupulously observed throughout - an important aspect for the continuation of live theatre. Perhaps because of this reminder of societal controls, the play, although set firmly in 1941, seemed to evoke relevance to life today in its suspicions, uncertainties, and irrational blaming.  There was no social media then of course, but the whispering anxieties, reappraisals and retellings all seemed to chime with the information chaos we live with now.
It's a known fact that the German physicist Werner Heisenberg met his old mentor, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, again in Copenhagen 1941, but the nature of the argument they had that night has continued into history unsolved. Michael Frayn has spun from this a trio of options, part historical surmise, part psychological guesswork. Nothing is clarified, yet there's an uncomfortable feeling that Bohr's protege may have deliberately blocked the Nazis' attempt to build an atomic bomb while his mentor, while taking the moral high ground, had supported the work that led to its deadly creation. Philip Arditti and Malcolm Sinclair are great as angry physicists yet irresistible friends, with Haydn Gwynne as Bohr's wife, whose role is to shadow her husband's perplexity. We first meet them all deceased and still baffled, and the insoluble introspections of these two scientists mighty minds prowl the massive space between them, emphasised by Alex Eales' bleak set with an enormous white circle above them shifting like a magnifying glass over their protestations.  Photos Nobby Clark

Another dramatic take on science on Wednesday, as FromeDrama at Merlin Theatre explored the interface between Quantum theory, string theory, relativity, and human emotions. Constellations, by Nick Payne, presents a volley of short interactions between a man (Ben Hardy-Philips) and a woman (Stephanie Mitchell) who don't know/know & love each other, have/haven't been unfaithful, and are dealing with terminal illness/recovery. Here's when Roland admits his love for Marianne, though in another reality this wouldn't have happened. Slickly directed by Andy Cork, with stunning sound (Laurence Parnell) and lighting (Matt Tipper), this production effectively dramatised intriguing questions about life choices, free will, and options for change.  This play, even more than Copenhagen, shows what a long way theatre drama has come since the contentious division between science and literature that shadowed the 1950s, summed up by C P Snow in The Two Cultures. It's a long time since stage drama was considered cosy, even though it was 1965 before Ken Tynan said the first-ever 'fuck' on TV.

It's been a week of fabulous long hot days - until the weekend, sadly - and the gorgeous sunshine allowed me several long walks locally: one to Orchardleigh on a quest for waterlilies on the lake, finding instead woodlands full of birdsong, wild life including baby squirrels, and fields full of sheep and wild flowers including my first orchid this year. 
Both of my writers' group meetings have thrived too: the Fromesbury Group celebrated our late-afternoon meeting in the park with Portuguese custard tarts and a selfie (thanks Debs)

Still on a writerly theme, Frome's famous independent book emporium Hunting Raven is up for another award, nominated as Best Bookshop in the Southwest (Dorset & Somerset to be precise) by Muddy Stilettos - you can click to add your vote. Tina Gaysford-Waller, the Raven's inspiring manager, was also featured in the Big Issue 'Spirit of Independence' issue this week, celebrating the national Independent Bookshop Week, although this had passed rather unnoticed here since every week is independent bookshop week...

It's also been a week of disappointment - expected but still sad, as the Cornerhouse had to cancel several sensational bands in Frome Festival next month. Fortunately most of the programme remains intact: Merlin Theatre will mainly use ECOS amphitheatre, which will have a cover over the stage. This extraordinary construction was, ironically, created to celebrate the UK joining the European Union: you can read its story on the Merlin website - or indeed in my book Frome Unzipped.  The Poetry Cafe will be held there on July 6th, with Liv Torc our fabulous guest - you can hear me extolling her on Frome FM here, starting at 16.14 minutes in.

A blast of music to end the week, as Ruzz Guitar's Blues Revue, twice-postponed, finally landed in the Cheese & Grain on Saturday night, playing blues classics with sensational style. Guest Pete Gage on keyboard & vocals took the first hour with Ritchie Blake on bass, joined by Ruzz for some numbers - video taster here. Social distancing ruled out dancing but there was a great atmosphere throughout the evening and I managed to grab a couple of photos - here's Pete & Ruzz playing their version of Ain't Nobody's Business (the video is a lockdown version, the live vibe was terrific.)
And although advance booking doesn't really suit convivial Cornerhouse, it has enabled Graham Dent to bring back jazz on Sunday evening - with Adrian Smith on double bass and bass guitar. Graham (keyboard) and Adrian have recorded a lockdown double album titled Inspiring Detour, and their live performance showcased some of their album tracks - Dat Dere by Bobby Timmons is one. Here's the duo sharing space with the new pub decor.

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