The Blossom On The Bough

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Two sonnets for May, and my muse

*

The fires are lit, my lover, and the hills

are flickering with little points of light

The sun is set, and deep within the rills

the seeds of stars are littering the night

The smoke is rising, lover, rising high

in winding spires of ribbons in the air

and in the rivers where the willows cry

and on the leys the ancient druids dare

to walk, the chalk is glowing.  I know you

will never leap the Beltane fires with me

or rise on one May morning in the dew

beside me, spellbound by my poetry

Or so it seems.  But oh, my lover, how

the blossom burns, so brightly on the bough

The maypole’s up, my lover, on the green

its willow ribbons flutter in the breeze

I would you be my king, and I your queen

for one night only, here beneath the trees

The hawthorn froths, my lover, in the hedge

the buds are bursting, birds are nesting high

yet still you fly, my hawk, above the edge

of some cold mountain way up in the sky

Come down, or are you wary that a flame

might fall within your feathers, or a spark

ignite your heart, or god forbid, you came

to want to stay beside me in the dark

It’s so, it seems.  But see, my lover, now

the blossom burning, brighter on the bough

*

© Gail Foster 1st May 2018

 

 

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The Wharf Theatre presents; ‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum’

Hahahahaha!

Seriously, though…The Wharf’s production of Sondheim’s first musical, directed by Liz Sharman, is hilarious.  Based on the farces of the Roman playwright, Plautus, it first hit Broadway in 1962.  Don’t expect high art or political correctness.  From the first number, ‘Comedy Tonight’ (‘Something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone: a comedy tonight’), it’s clear that this is nothing but a fast-moving, light-hearted, old-fashioned, slightly dodgy, slapstick, pun-filled, fun-fest.

The set is beautifully painted, in authentic colours, with quirky touches.  Three doors, as is traditional with this play.  Not much space for the action, but perfect for the running about, in and out of dusty Roman windows, requirements of the show

It’s the story of how Pseudolus (Jonathon West), a slave of Rome in 200BC, buys his freedom using his knowledge of human nature, the help of hapless fellow slave Hysterium (Chris Underwood), and all other devious means at his disposal.  He lives in the house of Senex (Chris Smith) and Domina (Lesley Scholes), and their son, Hero (Tyler Bartlett), in the same hood as Erronius (John Craig), a befuddled ancient, and Lycus (John Winterton), a lascivious brothel-keeper.  The young Hero has his eye on Philia (Hayley Baxter), a young and as yet unbesmirched courtesan, and agrees that Pseudolus will have his freedom if he can get the twee couple together.  Other characters are the imperious soldier Milos Gloriosus (Nick Swift), various smiley Proteans, and (Good God, is that Miss Whiplash (Jemma Gingell)?) a trio of silent, but enthusiastic, fan wielding prostitutes.

The action gets sillier as the play progresses, and the web of lies that Pseudolus has woven begins to fall apart.  Just a bit of mare’s sweat, and it will all work out.  Maybe if we pretend she’s dead it will be fine.  Maybe if we all dress up as other people that will do the trick.  Not.  Quick song?  Go on, then.

This is a high energy show, with a lot of quick changes and movements.  I can’t fault the choreography, or the superb comic timing, but Sondheim only gets a B for the songs.  ‘Comedy Tonight’ is pretty catchy, and ‘Lovely’ is memorable, although that is partly due to Hayley Baxter (sweet voice, well-played coyness) and Chris Underwood’s interpretations.  Victoria Warren, Musical Director, played the score.  Lot of sharps and flats, apparently.  Difficult keys.

Acting awards?  Lesley Scholes (of course) as the bossy (‘carry my bust with pride’) Roman matron, Hayley Baxter and Tyler Bartlett for doing impossibly cute with straight faces, Jemma Gingell for bravery, Jonathon West for holding it all together, and the entire cast for being on it like a car bonnet whilst appearing to be having the most fun ever.

But it’s the performances of Chris Underwood, John Craig, and Nick Swift, that have me absolutely kissing myself.  The part of the camp and nervous slave Hysterium is the most challenging in the play, and Chris is awesome in the role.  His renditions of the anxiety song ‘I’m Calm’, and ‘Lovely’, are a triumph, and his drag shenanigans are a wonder to behold (clearly a career in modelling beckons).

John Craig plays the part of the doddery, partially sighted Erronius to perfection (John Craig, John Craig, he was witty, he was vague), and Nick Swift, as the arrogant soldier, dominates the stage (in a good way) with his enormous presence, booming voice, and massive wrath.

I haven’t laughed so much or so loudly in public since, well we won’t talk about that.  It was the dress rehearsal, so there was only a small audience, but everyone was in stitches from the outset, and by the end a few of us were incandescent with mirth.  ‘One of the funniest things I have ever seen at The Wharf’ (and he’s seen and been in a few) said Lewis Cowen.  ‘The funniest show I’ve ever been a part of’ (and he’s seen and been in a few too) said Chris Underwood.  I laughed till my stomach hurt, and I’m still laughing now.

When I’d recovered from the wild exhilaration of it all, and had enthused sufficiently, I had a word with Liz Sharman (well done, that woman!) about political correctness.  Liz said that she dealt with the whole prostitute thing by making the male characters seem silly in their dealings with them, and that she didn’t cut anything from the script.  I’d expected the show to be much ruder, and camper, and more along the lines of the (Ooh Matron!) Carry On films.  Undoubtedly some might find the very fact of prostitutes offensive, but apart from a bust, a whip, a fart joke and a few tacky comments, I found the humour quite polite, and the general feel of the whole thing quite…innocent.  Not much to upset your average four-year old, or your Gran.  But then it’s an American show, and I am hardly Mary Whitehouse.

And after all, these things were acceptable in the 60s.  And 70s.  And 200BCs…

I enjoyed this show so much that I’m giving it ten out of ten.

Hahahahaha!

Seriously.

© Gail Foster 28th April 2018

Devizes Town Band; Heroes and Villains

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What do we expect from a Town Band?  Seasonal Oompahs, buckets of enthusiasm, Jerusalem, and the odd dropped note, perhaps?  Not a full on professional sounding wind orchestra, surely.  After all, town bands are an amateur thing, aren’t they?

I went to see Devizes Town Band’s ‘Heroes and Villains’ show at the Corn Exchange on Monday.  Their current Musical Director is Sharon Lindo, a professional violinist and multi-instrumentalist, who came out of the trombone section to take up the baton in 2012.  The night was compered by Ian Pugh, chirpy toastmaster and Fantasy Radio personality, and on this occasion there were forty-four musicians, amateur and professional, wind and percussion, in the band.  Proceeds from the event went to local charity Altzheimer’s Support.

The programme consisted of classic film themes, all introduced with a paragraph about plot, and illustrated with images on a big screen behind the band.  The night started with Superman, then we had The Godfather, Chicago, Les Mis, Gladiator, Bonnie and Clyde, The Magnificent Seven, Schindler’s List, and a bit of Aida.  In the interval we heard about Altzheimer’s Support from Laura Fenson, Community Fundraiser, and in the second half we had The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Mack the Knife, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, Over The Rainbow, Chicken Run, Skyfall, and Oliver.

What is it about these songs that stirs us so?  The triumphant and melancholic cadences, the nostalgia?  We’ve heard them so often they could be deemed to be corny, but the reason they have endured is because people love them, and most have memories associated with them.  Fun, sorrow, victory, mischief, romance, nights at the movies, Sundays by the television, days gone by… whatever it is that appeals, it brought people out in droves, and on a school night, and not all of them over fifty.

Solo performers were Alan Evans on French horn, playing the poignant ‘Bring Him Home’, Jenni Scott, flautist and vocalist, singing ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ to the tune of gunfire, Sharon Lindo’s sensitive rendition of the Schindler theme on violin, Bruce MacDonald on tenor sax playing ‘Over The Rainbow’ and, my favourite moment of the night (sniff, something in my eye, etc.) Richard Tannasee on trumpet, playing ‘Il Triello’, oh so beautifully, in front of screen images from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

Dropped notes?  Maybe a barely perceptible hiccup somewhere in the first half, but that really is nit-picking.  The band had been rehearsing since January, and it showed. The quality of sound was great, the energy levels were high, the conductor was a joy to watch, the kazoos were on point (!), and the tunes were well chosen.  With the exception of one elderly lady, who said that rock bands were more her cup of tea, everyone I spoke to loved it.  ‘Very good’, seemed to be the consensus.  ‘Very enjoyable’ said the man who had come all the way from Bedfordshire to see his daughter play the clarinet.

I must be getting old.  I liked it a lot.

And I got to play with Ian Pugh’s gavel afterwards.

Good times.

© Gail Foster 24th April 2018

PS What is it about Ennio Morricone?

You can catch the really rather wonderful Devizes Town Band at Poulshot Church in June, at the Beer Festival in July, and at Hillworth Park in September.  And if you’re interested in finding out more about the work of Altzheimer’s Support (let’s face it, we all might need them one day), you can contact their Devizes office in Sidmouth Street.

 

 

Devizes Musical Theatre; Jekyll and Hyde

*

On Tuesday night I went to the dress rehearsal of Devizes Musical Theatre’s production of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, at Dauntsey’s School.

‘Jekyll and Hyde’ is a contemporary pop rock musical, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’.  Stevenson’s book was published in 1886, during the decade when Freud began to practice, and Victorian dinner tables buzzed with talk of psychology, new scientific discoveries, sex, and religion, in the light of new understanding.  The musical was written by Leslie Bricusse, with score by Frank Wildhorn, and first hit the stage in 1990, before ending up on Broadway in 1997.

You know the story, right?  Scientist gets confused about good and evil, as you do, and a bit bothered about his dark desires, and makes a major blunder getting his hit together, as a consequence of which one part of himself behaves really badly and things go rapidly downhill.  Oh yes, and it’s an exploration of duality within the human psyche and of what can happen when the ‘natural’ instincts within man are allowed to go unchecked.  Take some dignitaries, a mad scientist, a dodgy potion, a sweet girl, a bad girl, a few hypocritical society types, and a brace of prostitutes, chuck ‘em all together and…what could possibly go wrong?  ‘Murder, Murder’, that’s what…

Devizes Musical Theatre have got a bit serious over the years, since their inception in 1965, and the Dauntsey’s stage is the best in the area.  This show is directed by Matt Dauncey, with a 16 piece orchestra conducted by Susan Braunton.  I know that I’m enjoying a show when the thought of an egg sandwich doesn’t cross my mind till afterwards, so we’ll see how we go.

The set is minimal, with dramatic lighting to emphasise the suspense and Gothic horror of it all, and, whilst ‘comments on style should never be made by those who have none’, the Victorian costumes (Jen Warren) are authentic and beautiful.  It is my observation that in some amateur productions you have a few glorious ones and everyone else has had to see what they could do with a table cloth and a tea towel, but there’s none of that here.

Jekyll (Hyde) is a massive part, and a huge test for any actor.  It’s all about the transformation (think American Werewolf in London, but less hairy), and keeping the parts ‘definite and opposite’, that quote coming from Gareth Lloyd, who plays Jekyll and Hyde but who is tonight in the audience, watching his understudy, Andrew Curtis, who will be playing the part in the matinee, on the stage.  One is amused by the fact that there are two Jekylls and two Hydes in the house, and I’m interested in how Gareth plays Hyde, and the differences between his and Andrew’s interpretation of the part.  Various quotes on his version include ‘playfully evil’, ‘anarchic’, and ‘physically animated’.  ‘Go on, give me your Hyde’ I say, and Gareth flops his hair over his eyes and looks at me with the only scary wild eye I can see.  Woah!

Andrew’s performance is tense, restrained, and quietly creepy, and his transformation is utterly believable.  I have five shiver moments during this show, and the one I get when he is ‘stroking’ Lucy during their dark and very well played duet, ‘A Dangerous Game’ is the least pleasant.  His Hyde gets more mad, twisted, contorted, tortured and frightening as the show goes on.  Whilst I prefer his acting over his vocals, there’s nothing that jars or disappoints, and I can’t take my eyes off him while he’s on the stage.

The other four shivers are as follows; the first ensemble number, ‘Façade’, when I realise that the orchestra and cast are rocking a Big Fat Sound, and that the show is going to be a) exciting and b) good; Lucy’s (Laura Deacon) first solo (so clear and powerful) ; the prostitutes’ dance (oh my eyes!) in ‘Bring On The Men’; and Emma (Naomi Ibbetson) and Lucy’s wonderful rendition of ‘In His Eyes’.

All of the parts are played well, but the truly shiny performances come from Laura Deacon and Andrew Curtis, and Naomi Ibbetson, whose voice can always be relied on.  There’s not a huge opportunity in this script for anyone else to shine much, to be fair, but Ian Diddams deserves a mention for his brutal brothel keeper, Spider, even if that beard does make him look a bit like Super Mario, and Sam Fillis for Stride.  And there’s no sign of that phenomena, present in more than a few amateur productions, that I call, rather bitchily, the lumpen chorus.  That’s people just hanging around looking like they’re thinking about egg sandwiches, and what day is it anyway, and oh, is it me now?  There’s none of that, there are all sorts of little cameos going on in the background, everyone’s on point, and no-one attracts the attention of my critical eye.

It’s a great show.  It’s scary, (maybe too scary for little kids), suspenseful, engaging, atmospheric, sexy and spectacular, and Devizes Musical Theatre should be pretty pleased with it.

And that was just the dress rehearsal…

Eight out of ten, and I didn’t think about an egg sandwich once.

Go along, if you can.

© Gail Foster 11th April 2018

(Creepy fact:  the Jack the Ripper murders started within weeks of Richard Mansfield’s performance and production of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in London, in 1888, and finished shortly after its short run came to a close…)

 

 

The Green Beneath The Snow

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A Villanelle, for the Spring Equinox

*

the hills are growing green beneath the snow

white horses, shake the winter from your manes

the spring has come, the wild wind told me so

cold ice be gone, and warm sweet water flow

come, crocuses, and flower on the plains

the hills are growing green beneath the snow

grey gulls fly high, and clouds of blossom blow

come, laughing crows, and dance within the rains

the spring has come, the wild wind told me so

soon summer, and so many seeds to sow

come, sun, spill down the furrows of the lanes

the hills are growing green beneath the snow

bright gorse ablaze, and alder tops aglow

come blood, and flood the burrows of the veins

the spring has come, the wild wind told me so

dark night be gone, long days of light to go

come love, with all your mysteries and pains

the hills are growing green beneath the snow

and spring has come, the wild wind told me so

*

© Gail Foster 17th March 2018