September in the Rain isn't just a recent memory or a sentimental song, it's also a play written by John Godber in 1983, allegedly about his family but also about every Yorkshire couple who sat in deckchairs on the beach at Blackpool complaining about the weather, each other, and everyone else - in fact the dramatic structure is a series of cliches strung nostalgically together... but the current production at Salisbury Playhouse skillfully finds the humour, and underlines the nostalgic charm. Jack and Liz are a couple who have never heard words like dysfunctional or counselling, so they rub along annoyingly and forgivingly and somehow manage to enjoy their annual holiday despite travel friction, awful lodgings, frequent rows, and constant rain.
showing irrational mood swings but always, somehow, endearing - and it's the sharp direction from Gareth Machin, plus skilled lighting effects ( that make this such an excellent production: swift-moving enough to be entertaining though with no dramatic surprises, it leaves a slight aftertaste of sandy ice-cream as you remind yourself how life was gentler then, and can never be so innocent again. This production has been already mentioned in this blog, as I met the excellent cast last month, and am glad to report that Ian recovered from his script-related narcolepsy, and Nicola's delightful giggle survived the ardors of rehearsal.
As theatres move cautiously, with streamed overlap, into old-style performances, some have decided that online productions may well provide a future, appealing as they do to a limitless geographic area. Going the Distance is a co-production from the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Oxford Playhouse, The Dukes & The Watermill Theatre - a new comedy by Henry Filloux-Bennett and Yasmeen Khan, directed by Felicity Montagu, with a stellar cast which includes Sara Crowe, Shobna Gulati, Sarah Hadland, and Matthew Kelly with Stephen Fry. The storyline is totally on-theme: a small theatre, struggling to survive, puts on a last-ditch production choosing, somewhat over-ambitiously, The Wizard of Oz. Naturally, egos and personal agendas intrude, and Oscar Wilde's Miss Prism's precept for fiction - that the good end happily - is only partially observed. Satire is from the start somewhat over-larded, but it does give perceptive insight into the difficulties facing live theatre at this time. Shakespeare, of course, overcame plague to continue successfully producing, but he didn't have netflix to compete with, so please watch with sympathy. Available until 17 October.
Now for probably the most impassioned and skilful show online right now: Bristol Old Vic is promoting Can I live?, conceived and performed by Fehinti Balogun to share his journey into the world of environmental activism - its inspiration, its effect on his family and friends, and how his life was radically changed by understanding the current prospects, and real history, of our planet. This is not only compelling and moving in the way our cultural history and the environmental prospects of our planet are always disturbing, it's also brilliantly presented using spoken word, hip-hop, animation, graphs & graphics, and concluding with options for positive involvement. Created by Complicit and available until 10 October for whatever you choose to donate, this one is really worth an hour of your life.
Bristol Old Vic also had another idea to connect with a wider audience through online options: All The Threads You Left Behind is the first of a series of Sudden Connections - short pieces by five south-west artists, free to view. This one is created by Anna Rathbone mourning the suicide of a friend. Previously a 1:1 performance installation, this digital version commissioned by Bristol Old Vic Ferment allows the viewer to choose the pace & style of the narration - my choice was to read as well as listen to the text, and to contribute to the 'threads' memories too.
Back on the live stage, John Cooper Clarke arrived at Frome's Cheese & Grain on Thursday with his current tour I Wanna Be Yours - the title of one of his most iconic poems (you can remind yourself of it here) and also of his new book. John's ability to entertain a crowd seems unflagging as he blends jokes & observations with book extracts and performances of his popular classics: he wrote Beasley Street, he claims, "18 years before that bitch Margaret Thatcher got in, and I worry I might have given her a few ideas!" It has an update now, which John also shared: Beasley Boulevard. And despite joking that marriage was useful only because 'without it we'd have to fight with complete strangers', he concluded with this poignant tribute: I've fallen in love with my wife.
And now for something completely different. What if in 1594 Will Shakespeare's players, made tetchy by the plague outside and the mounting bodycount in their new drama, had insisted on abandoning the Aristotelian rules of tragedy to create a merry ending for Hamlet. Thus, Hamlet Act 6 A Comedy, performed by Shakespeare Live at the Merlin Theatre, introduces Friar Lawrence from Romeo & Juliet, now reskilled after his disaster with the star-crossed lovers, to devise a resurrection for all the slain, plus new liaisons for everyone. Laurence Parnell as both bard and friar provides a series of unlikely revivals: none of the poisons or sword-wounds were terminal, Ophelia didn't drown she tripped, and even the skull of Yorrick gets a rewrite. Clearly the team had great fun with this extended adaptation of a short script by Dennis Harkness, directed by Alison Paine.
In case you've got this far and are wondering if everything this week involved seated observation, the answer is no, there was also some walking about: The new exhibition at Hauser & Wirth by Thomas J Price entitled Thoughts Unseen features bronze heads, some small and some enormous, and several incredibly large bodies. They are really impressive - enigmatic but accessible: the artist says his aim is to question historic narratives & power structures in society, using presentation and scale to explore our assumptions. His monumental figures inevitably trigger thoughts of the current debate around monuments in public places, too. It's superbly crafted, thought-provoking without being overly cryptic, and well worth a visit - a return visit too. This exhibition, and the until January 3. And the gardens there, of course, are lovely even in autumn and winter.
Raggedy Men had to cancel - though this did give me the chance to catchup on Have I Got News For You, and Richard Osman's House of Games Night, two TV-trivia gems postponed by Friday's reopening of The Crown, my local hostelry, now completely revamped for gloozing (glam boozing.) But the week did end with live music - lots of it, as popular Nunney Acoustic Cafe reopened with fizz (literally) after its 18 month lull. Eight acts took the stage, ranging from folk to funk, solo debut to celtic band - all superb: here's the featured guest band from Swindon Splat the Rat and Frome's new quartet combo Unit 4. Dancing between tables and Keren's opulent cakes were both popular accompaniments to the onstage entertainment.
Finally in a busy week: regular readers will know that, although my passion is theatre, occasionally a movie will lure me to Frome's smashing little Westway Cinema - all seats four quid, and ice-creams on a tray at the intermission like in the old days. No Time to Die, Daniel Craig's final outing as James Bond, was the occasion this week. As I'm not really competent to review this medium, here's the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw to explain why he gave the show 5 stars: "It is of course a festival of absurdity and complication, a headspinning world of giant plot mechanisms moving like a Ptolemaic universe of menace. It is startling, exotically self-aware, funny and confident, and most of all it is big." Here's a link to a short homage to the actor who kept the Bond franchise alive.