Years of Hurt

Whilst the majority of domestic violence perpetrators are men I am fully aware that men are sometimes victims as well, therefore this poem is written in such a way that ‘he’ and ‘his’ can be substituted with ‘she’ and ‘her’, and ‘girls’ with ‘boys.’  

When it comes to domestic violence, no-one is a winner…

Oh God, did England win? That means that he
is coming home. I’ve done the washing up
and cooked him steak and crinkle chips for tea
and put his tinnies and his football cup
beside his chair and switched the telly on
All done. I wait. It could go either way
Of late it’s gone a little bit like this
He comes in in a ‘you’re alright mate’ way
insisting on a bear hug and a kiss
and then the beer kicks in – his tea is cold
his boss is mean to him, his car is shit
and I’m the Germans, oh and I am old
I told the girls at work he didn’t hit
me, lied about the bruise beneath my shirt
Don’t talk to me of Lions. Years of hurt.

© Gail Foster 7th July 2018

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TITCO does Queen

A review of The Invitation Theatre Company and Full Tone Orchestra’s Queen show in the Corn Exchange, Devizes

‘It’ll be alright on the night’ is a phrase often said following a dress rehearsal of dubious quality.  As I watched TITCO perform their Queen medley prior to their sell out show I wondered if this would prove true on this occasion.  Seems like a big ask, I thought as I watched the cast fumbling through the numbers and trudging round the stage with what seemed to be very little direction or enthusiasm.  It’s rock, I thought, for goodness sake give it some welly!  ‘Another one bites the dust’ it said on the back of someone’s tee-shirt.  Indeed.  It was so bad that I didn’t feel I could review it, so I decided to go back on the first night to see if it was any better. TITCO have produced some great shows in the past few years, and the Full Tone Orchestra are a class act.  Both have reputations to keep up and fans to please, and both take pride in their work.  A fail at this stage would not be good for either. What if, heavens forbid, TITCO didn’t pull it off…?

From the moment I walked into the Ceres Hall on Friday it was abundantly clear that TITCO had been on the glitter, and that all would be well.  Energy levels on the stage and in Antony Brown’s orchestra were through the roof, and the audience were buzzing with excitement.

The format of Chris Worthy and Jemma Brown’s production was simple.  A programme of iconic songs alternated with less well known tunes and short audio clips of interviews with Queen members, the entire cast dressed in black Queen tee-shirts in front of a plain black backdrop, a thirty piece orchestra and four guitarists to do justice to the music, solos and duets from Sean Andrews, Will Sexton, Chris Worthy, Simon Hoy, Paul Morgan, Lottie Diddams, Jemma Brown, Naomi Ibbetson, Mari Webster and Lucy Burgess, rousing altogether-now ensemble numbers by the whole company, and more glow sticks than you could shake a glow stick at.

The usual suspects gave good song, as is to be expected given their wealth of experience, but Will Sexton’s Mercurial ‘I Want To Be Free’, Jemma Brown and Mari Webster’s mellow and melancholy ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’, and Chris Worthy’s delightfully raunchy interpretation of ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ were the performances that did it for me on this occasion.  And everyone loves ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and ‘We Will Rock You’, and (it was acceptable in the 70s, really it was) ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’…

The show wasn’t perfect, but on the Friday night the cast brought just the right amount of attitude and anarchy to the show to make any little slips irrelevant and unnoticeable, and their obvious enjoyment in delivering the songs and interacting with the audience was infectious.  The choreography was a bit dodgy, but there had been no opportunity to rehearse in the performance space prior to the dress rehearsal, so I might let them off that one.  And anyway, nobody cared…

Because on the night the Full Tone Orchestra upped the pace and TITCO upped their game, and between them they totally smashed it.

I’ve not seen an audience react quite that strongly to a musical show.  They sang, they waved their arms, they clapped their hands (‘Buddy you’re a boy, make a big noise’ etc), they stood up and whooped in appreciation.  Maybe it was something in the beer.  Maybe they were blinded by the glitter.  Maybe the dream combination of TITCO, Queen, and the Full Tone Orchestra tipped them over the edge.  I know that people love TITCO, but I didn’t realise anyone still loved Queen quite so much.  Maybe there is a little bit of Freddie or a Killer Queen inside us all.

By the end of the show the entire audience was up on its feet, singing and swaying and waving their glow sticks wildly to ‘We Are The Champions’, and demanding an encore.

Brilliant.

So what happened between the frankly dire dress rehearsal and the show, I wonder?

Someone really needs to check that glitter.

© Gail Foster 1st July 2018

The Song of the Wren

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The wren is singing, high up in the tree

Come, lay your crown beside me on the ground

Come lie with me, my love, come lie with me

For every bloom on earth there is a bee

For every queen a green king to be crowned

The wren is singing high up in the tree

I wore a gown of bright embroidery

I wear my hair with heather flowers wound

Come lie with me, my love, come lie with me

I’m wanton, wild, alive with energy

I want you brought to me in oak leaves bound

The wren is singing high up in the tree

Oh aye, what then, why then I set you free

Oh my, and we get dirty and profound

Come lie with me, my love, come lie with me

You are my king.  I shut my eyes and see

Your silhouette, with sunlight all around

I hear the wren sing, high up in the tree

Come lie with me, my love, come lie with me

*

© Gail Foster 21st June 2018

Dirty Dusting at Devizes Arts Festival

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Dirty Dusting, a tale of three elderly cleaners threatened with redundancy who start up a sex chat line, hit the stage at the Corn Exchange on Wednesday night.  The play premiered in South Shields in 2003, and is currently performed by Crissy Rock, of Benidorm fame, Leah Bell, Dolores Porretta, and Andrew Green.

The audience were vociferously amused from the outset, and by the end were overtaken with mirth.  After all, sex is funny, and we British do like our innuendo.  Think seaside postcards and Carry On.  Think Les Dawson and Mrs. Brown’s Boys.  Toss in a bit of slapstick and stick slapping and more references to coming than in the Festival publicity, and there have you have it.  Dirty Dusting.  A riotous smut fest.

Leah Bell as Glad (‘all over’) aka Madonna is the star of the show, and it is the late flowering of her sexuality and physical comedy that provides the most laughs.  Crissy Rock is the worldly wise and weary Elsie (Kylie), Dolores Porretta plays Olive (Marilyn), whose sexless marriage was once punctuated by an affair with a Scoutmaster called Arthur, and Andrew Green is the arrogant boss with a furtive secret.

It’s a whole new world (hole, even) for the Telephone Belles from the minute the phone rings.  There are misunderstandings about water sports, references to hand puppets, and revelations relating to crotchless panties.  It’s a steep learning curve.  Good times for Glad, as she and the previously disappointing (‘You could time an egg by him’) Billy reap the rewards of her re-energised libido, but bad times for the boss (domestic suction devices; don’t do this at home, kids) as his unusual fetish is exposed.  The story ends with the ladies emerging victorious and the whole cast appearing in comedy S&M gear.

I’ve never heard an audience laugh so much and so often in the Corn Exchange.   People absolutely loved it.  They spilled out of the Ceres Hall with happy smiles, saying things like ‘Brilliant, really clever’, ‘A laugh’, and ‘Best thing I’ve seen for a long time’.  To see that people enjoyed our Festival event so much was wonderful.

I laughed twice.  Something just didn’t sit right for me.  In the interval I talked to Lesley Mills, who voiced her concerns about the clichéd negative portrayal of older women and their sexuality in the show.  We both found a couple of the jokes a bit gross, particularly the one about things dangling out of the aforesaid crotchless thingies.  Which surprises me because neither of us are prudes, and I have a reputation for mildly vulgar poetry.  We also struggled to place the play in a particular time.  The characters seemed to come from the 70s, but even though the phones were old fashioned there were references to Google, credit card payments, and the odious Trump.

‘You realise it was written by men’ said a gentleman from the Festival committee, quietly.

Get over yourself, some might say.  It’s just a bit of fun.  There’s nothing serious about it.  Lighten up a bit, for goodness sake!  Fair enough, but this is 2018, and we are currently revising our view on what is and isn’t acceptable regarding what and how things are said about whom.  If this play had been written in, or firmly set in, the 70s, I would have understood it as being of its time and enjoyed it more.  But it wasn’t.  And it wasn’t ironic either.  Which left me feeling slightly uncomfortable and confused.

Sorry to be a party pooper, people.

But I never did like Mrs Brown’s Boys.

© Gail Foster 17th June 2018

Trio HLK and Dame Evelyn Glennie at the Devizes Arts Festival; a review

Trio HLK and Dame Evelyn Glennie at the Corn Exchange on Sunday 3rd June 2018

Dame Evelyn Glennie is talking to me about listening.

Devizes Arts Festival have brought some quality acts to Devizes over the years, but to me this really takes the biscuit.  Before I came out I listened to her leading a thousand drummers in a collaboration with Underworld at the Olympic Opening Ceremony in 2012.  This is the image I have in my head of Evelyn, as some wild goddess with drumsticks raised, summoning awesomeness.

There’s nothing grand about her.  She’s quiet, and dignified, and intense.  She unloads her own marimba, a glorious enormous church organ of a xylophone, and the band and sound guys help her unload her drums and shiny ‘What’s that?’ ‘A bell tree.’  I am in awe of her instruments almost as much as I am in awe of her.

She laughs when I tell her about my awe and is happy to answer my questions.  Later in June she’ll be performing with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a double concerto for percussion and oboe in honour of Thea Musgrave, and is currently working on a musical score for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Troilus and Cressida.  Other projects include archiving all the musical instruments she has at home in order to establish a listening centre.

She’s all about the listening, is Evelyn.  She’s on a mission to get the world to listen.

This is her fourth gig with Trio HLK, and she’s excited about it.

Trio HLK are an innovative ensemble comprised of Richard Harrold, keyboards, Richard Kass, drums and percussion, and Ant Law, electric guitar.  They’re a pleasant bunch of blokes.  ‘So talented’ says Evelyn, ‘so creative, and shy’.   They tell me that they came together on New Year’s Day, 2015, as a result of an ‘arranged marriage band date’, and that they like to make rhythmic illusions and impossible rhythms.  One of them points out the tiny symbol of the blivet, the Devil’s tuning fork, on their album cover.  ‘Like that’ he says.

Andy the busker playing on the stairs as people filter in excitedly.  Anticipation is high.

The instruments are waiting.

When it comes to words for sound and defining musical genres I am lost.  In the interval and afterwards, people who know about such things talk about interesting textures and marvel at Kass’s polyrhythms.  ‘It’s prog rock, really’, ‘It’s avant-garde in all aspects’, ‘It’s avant-garde jazz’, ‘Is it, though?’  No one seems able to tell me exactly what kind of jazz is being played.  It’s a mystery.

I’m transported from the minute Trio HLK take the stage.  ‘It’s all about them, really’ says Evelyn.  She’s enjoying working with them, developing the music together, seeing what happens, enjoying the ‘unexpected, surprising, unwanted things’ that arise within the structure.

‘It’s far too early to categorise it as jazz’ she says.

Out of the silence comes sound.

Gentle, interlocking, broken and unbroken melodies, ‘refracted through our prism’ say Trio HLK.  How they concentrate on one another as they play.

And then Evelyn comes on.

With the exception of her stunning solo on the halo drum, it quickly becomes clear that Evelyn is ‘just’ one of the band.  It’s all about the collaboration, this.  It’s not just about Evelyn.

Therefore anyone expecting The Evelyn Glennie show is disappointed.

And anyone expecting a night of the kind of music never before heard in these parts is delighted.

I know nothing about jazz, and I’m a poet, so for me it went like this.

Bells in oceans, rocks knocking, windchimes on mountainous heights, stars singing, cool corridors of monasteries, pianos in cathedrals, ribbons of sound and light weaving together and coming apart, weaving together and coming apart again, gongs falling down wells, soft, silvery streams, and the incessant beat of the universal drum.

And all in the Corn Exchange.

It’s moving.  I cry a bit.  It’s strange.  The music has form, and is also formless.  It’s spectacular.  I’m mesmerised by Evelyn and her drumsticks and intensity.

At the back of the stage, in the stairwell, I dance to the drum.

‘I’ll be behind the curtain, taking pictures,’ I had said earlier, ‘in case you hear a sound’.

Later Evelyn said she saw me, out of the corner of her eye, as I took photographs from the floor underneath the marimba.  ‘I thought it was funny’ she said.

(I have taken photographs of Evelyn Glennie.  You may take me now, Lord.)

Evelyn and the guys come out at the end to sign the album ‘Standard Time’ and talk affably with the public.  Martin has brought his drum skin for Evelyn to sign, and she strums her fingers on his bodhrán, listening carefully to the sound that it makes.  She chats to Vicky, who apparently sang with her in a choir decades ago.  For an icon she’s very approachable.

She and the guys are just very serious about sound.

And the verdict of the Festival audience?

Some people loved it all.  Most people loved some of it.  A few people loved it not at all.  Bit progressive and unusual for some folk.  Too edgy.  ‘Interesting’, ‘Bit jangly’, ‘Not my cup of tea’, ‘Would like to have seen more of Evelyn’, ‘What I really loved was the communication between them’, ‘Great sound quality’, ‘Fascinating’, ‘Amazing’.

The serious jazz officianados and poetic types in the audience are blown away.

The Devizes Arts Festival is privileged to have been able to bring an act of this calibre to Devizes.

Dame Evelyn Glennie and Trio HLK.  Thank you so much for coming.

And for letting us listen.

© Gail Foster 5th June 2018

 

Ann Widdecombe at the Corn Exchange, Devizes; a review

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Ann Widdecombe at the Devizes Arts Festival

On Thursday night, the Devizes Arts Festival kicked off with ‘An Audience with Ann Widdecombe.’

Ann is famous for her 23-year career in Parliament, her appearance in Strictly Come Dancing, and her right wing Victorian views.

In her rider she has asked for a glass of water and a sandwich.

She arrives on time, sporting a rather fashionable mustard coloured jumper.  It is immediately apparent that she is not up for wasting syllables on irrelevant chat.  She’s come to do the job, and flog some books, and entertain.  ‘She’s dead professional’ says one of the new boys at the Town Hall, as we watch her cracking on with the soundcheck.

The doors open to the public, and Ann appears, dressed as a Victorian opera singer.  The effect of the light catching her ash blonde hair and sequins is startling.

She’s up for signing books before and after the show, and in the interval.  She’s written seven; five fiction, including a self-published detective novel, one autobiography, and a religious book about penance.   She’s polite with the public.  She makes herself accessible.  She’s happy to have photos taken, happy to be in selfies, happy to nip upstairs for a random appearance on Fantasy Radio.  She’s a good sport when something goes wrong (don’t ask).  ‘Always see the funny side’ she says.  Phew.  But she’s not touchy feely at all (and why should she be?).  She’s brisk, and formal.  And there’s something of the…what about her?

Ann is, on stage, quite funny.  ‘Do blondes have more fun?  All I can say is that I noticed men were talking to me much-more-slowly’ she quips.  She kicks off with talking about her recent celebrity appearances, or ‘non-political television’, as she calls it.  She doesn’t do social media.  Television is, in her view, still a good way of reaching the masses.

When Ann left Parliament in 2010, she drew a line.  She was an ‘Admiralty child’.

‘The subconscious lesson of that childhood,’ she says, explaining how she moved from school to school, constantly having to make new friends, ‘was that when something’s gone, it’s gone.’

‘The day I left Parliament,’ she says, ‘I realised that I no longer owed anyone any duty of time and dignity.’

Friends warned her off Strictly, worried that if she did it she would lose her gravitas.

‘What would I want it for?’ says Ann.

Ann does panto these days and has worked with Basil Brush.  She disagrees with hunting, doesn’t agree with abortion, and is in favour of the death penalty.  She’s said Yes to Graham Norton, and No to Jonathan Ross.  She seems a bit thick with Anton from Strictly.  ‘The less time you spend with your feet on the floor the better’ – Anton.  People laugh a lot.

After the interval, a cheeky glass of water and some more book signing, Ann returns for a Q&A.  Questions are, in the main, unchallenging.  Would you pay £16 to heckle Ann Widdecombe?  Probably not.  This is the meat and bones of Ann’s talk for me, and probably for the lady outside who said ‘She’s brilliant, erudite, and feisty, but I don’t feel she’s giving her best, and I’m really not that interested in Big Brother.’

Ann answers all the questions.  Sort of.  She’s up for it, that’s for sure.  Assertive is the word.

She blames the closure of libraries on the internet.  Margaret Thatcher was, while Ann had huge respect for her, ‘a bit remote’.  She talks about her memories of Thatcher and Major walking through the lobbies, how the Red Sea parted for Thatcher whilst Major would stop and have a friendly chat.  She has a Ten Commandments story.  She thinks the quality of MPs in Parliament has gone down due to selection procedures, and that governments suffer from oppositions taking opposition habits into government, and governments taking government habits onto the opposition benches.  She voted for Brexit.  She says she said the ‘something of the night about him’ thing to a couple of people and it just caught on.  She really doesn’t agree with abortion and thinks that there is divisive political skullduggery going on in relation to the issue.  She has always been comfortable with herself.  50 Shades of Grey is ‘quite the dirtiest book I haven’t quite read’.  She had 800 people on her Christmas list when she was in Parliament.  Ann talks about changing demands on the NHS in relation to new scientific medical discoveries, and how Bevan’s original vision is out of odds with the current demand for services.

‘What would we want the NHS to look like if we started it from scratch?’ she asks.

A bit more book signing and ‘bon homie’, and Ann is ready for the off.  People have enjoyed her, and if they didn’t they kept their opinions to themselves.  She’s done everything she signed up for.  She didn’t eat the sandwiches.

‘Good luck with your Festival!’ she says, as she walks out the door.

Something of the…what about her?

Something of the Right, obviously.  But also something I can’t quite put my finger on.

Ann is working it, and good luck to her.  The woman has balls, even if her views are objectionable.  She answers to no-one.  She’s a good speaker.  She’s intelligent.  There are things to admire about her, for sure.  But she is a bit odd.  A bit chilly.  There’s a wall around her.  Maybe you have to build such walls when you are a child being moved from pillar to post, or when you are trying to hold your own as a woman in Parliament, or when you have your knickers showing in the celebrity spotlight.

Who can say.

© Gail Foster 1st June 2018