My Muse Looks Like Morrissey

For Steve Doolan

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The mysteries of muses lie within the hands of fate

Your muse may be your lover, or your muse may be your mate

The stranger on the corner, or the friend you used to know

The somebody you’ve never met who makes your juices flow

The one who sang the joyful song that set your heart alight

The one who wrote the rhyme that left you crying in the night

The ways of love and poetry defy all sense and reason

But every rhyme will have its day, and every love its season

The comedies of muses tickle mischief from the pen

Therefore the fates have given me a wonder amongst men

A muse who looks like Morrissey.  It’s true, I kid you not

I only chucked a line or two and this is what I got

Apparently it’s good for when one’s pulling on the lash

Or busking on the corner when one’s rather short of cash

I’m confused, and yet besotted, I am this, and I am that

Anyone but Morrissey.  I just can’t stand the twat

The irony’s amusing, though, I’m moved to write a rhyme

The difference between the two is really quite sublime

One will make you slit your wrists or have a little cry

The other stir your ass upon the dance floor till you die

One drones on and on and makes a proper old palava

The other shows, not tells, a bit more like your Raymond Carver

One is needy, wan, and wafty, like a pampas in the yard

The other, slightly weedy, yes, but dare I say it…hard

Oh, the mysteries of muses are a monster to define

I’ve ended up with one that looks like Morrissey as mine

For a moment, or a season, none may know or yet can say

But I shall take his inspiration, for a year or a day

And his rampant positivity and witty observations

On the ins and outs of Haworth, Keighley, and the other nations

For the bugger has me heart aflame and all me neurons fired

Sigh.  He looks like Morrissey.

He’s hired.

 *

© Gail Foster November 12th 2016

If the reader is unfamiliar with the work of Morrissey

or is simply up for a good laugh

just check out the music video ‘November Spawned A Monster’…

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Little Voice at the Wharf Theatre, Devizes; a review

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It’s many years since I watched the film of Little Voice.  I had dim memories of Jane Horrocks giving Shirley Bassey some serious welly in a bedroom ‘up North’ somewhere, and an expectation that Jemma Brown’s production would be well worth a watch.  I expected to be impressed by Lottie Diddams’ voice, and a well-chosen cast, and to come away feeling that my money had been well spent.

But…what’s this?  This isn’t just about a voice (but oh that voice!).  This is hilarious and emotionally devastating; about love, and loss, about mental health, alcoholism, and coping strategies, about ageing and falls from grace and exploitation.  This is something else, that’s what this is.

Jim Cartwright’s witty and poignant play, ‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’, unfolds in the early 90s, in the home of Mari, a single woman who is past her prime and determined to catch herself a man.  Mari lives with her daughter, LV, who spends all day in her bedroom listening to her dead father’s records and perfectly impersonating her favourite divas for amusement and psychological escape.

Allison Moore, as the drunk and desperate Mari, all ‘liquor and lacquer’ and ‘personal Mother’s nerves’, conveys the mood swings and behaviours of her alcoholic character to perfection; the false brightness, the wailing self-pity, the blaming, the ‘dancing’ round the living-room with the ironing board.  Her lines are ripe with innuendo (just what is a ‘twat bone’, exactly?), her comic timing and physical comedy are right on the button, and the monologue she delivers on realising the extent of Ray’s deception is tragic and heartrending.

Her fall guy is the bovine but supportive Sadie, acted with humour and tenderness by Claire Warren, who provides the perfect balance to her drama.  It’s not much fun to be sick and sit with it running down your shirt, and it’s no mean feat to play a ‘patient fat get’ with sensitivity, without tipping into unbelievable farce.  Sadie, along with Billy and LV, uses her silences well, leaving her body language to speak volumes.

Paul Morgan, as the manipulative and seedy Ray, slides slickly through his scenes (and Mari’s knickers) with persuasive oily grace, turning on the charm to lure LV to the stage with honeyed tales of bluebirds, intending only to exploit her talent and line his pockets whatever the cost.  His rejection of Mari is brutal, and his subsequent downfall both well-acted and well deserved

Ian Diddams, in his first role at the Wharf, plays the cheerful telephone man, and the bluff Mr Boo, the owner of the local club, with characteristic ebullience.  There is more to Mr Boo than meets the eye; he sees through Ray and Mari’s treatment of LV, and articulates perhaps the most significant line of the whole play; ‘Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth. But when, eh? When?’

At the very heart of the story is the tentative and sweetly portrayed story of the friendship between Billy and LV.  These two young actors play it to perfection, with blushes, with awkward pauses and self-conscious hesitancy.  Will Sexton’s performance as Billy, the thoughtful geeky lad who is obsessed with lights, and who genuinely cares for LV, is simply wonderful.  It’s the timing, the subtle movements, and the silences, again, that make the dynamic between the two characters so believable.

Lottie Diddams as Little Voice…oh, that voice!  When she first sings the entire audience holds its breath.  That voice appears from nowhere, comes as Judy Garland, as Edith Piaf, as Marilyn; smooth and sweet, raucous and in your face, without a dropped note or a single rasp; appears from the shy silence to flower into sound, transforming Little Voice into the divas of her dreams.  That voice, suppressed for so long, explodes with rage when LV discovers that Mari has smashed her precious records, in a devastating scene of such emotional power that it is reputed to have reduced the cast to tears when they first rehearsed it.  Lottie’s notes are pure and true, and her voice control is frankly awe inspiring; she keeps us captivated from her first song to her last, and when she is standing on the ladder singing, as Billy’s happy lights whirl all around her, our hearts soar with hers.

My only (small) criticism of this play relates to the brevity of the fire scene, which I missed because I blinked.  I also have to add that every time I have seen a balcony scene at The Wharf I have felt distinctly nervous about people leaning on the scenery.  Oh, it’s OK, I thought to myself as Billy dangled on his pulley in front of LV’s window, at least he’s roped up…

Special mention also has to be made of the magnificent Curtain, a device of some complexity invented by Chris Greenwood, that rolled down at the front of the stage to make the backdrop for the club.  The Curtain had its moments during the show’s run, and may have achieved minor fame in its own right in the annals of The Wharf, and in more than one verse.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice was a triumph of a play, amusing and emotionally challenging, the impressive result of the hard work and talent of a fine cast given good direction and a superb script to work with.

It was also a fitting expression of the love that Jemma Brown has felt for Little Voice since she first saw it in the West End.  ‘When I saw it in 1993’ she said ‘I could barely breathe.’

It left us, the audience, breathless more than once, and one particular audience member crying all the way home…

Well played, methinks.  Very well played indeed.

*

© Gail Foster 2nd October 2016

photograph of Lottie Diddams reproduced with the kind permission of Jemma Brown  

 

Arthur Smith at The Corn Exchange

Here is my review for the Wiltshire Gazette And Herald http://www.gazetteandherald.co.uk published online today

Arthur Smith at The Corn Exchange on Saturday 6th June

Arthur likes Devizes. He takes time before his gig to wander round the streets with a fag to get a feel of the place. He’d like to tarry a while but has to rush off afterwards to catch a train. He has done his homework, much to the approval of his old physics teacher, Terry Hall, who has bought a ticket to see how the old boy turned out. He is world renowned and prolific, with regular appearances on television and Radio 4, yet there are no airs to this man and he is frankly not Grumpy at all.

Arthur has read the Gazette and is party to the sorry tale of the scamming fish salesmen in the villages. He places Devizes firmly between Melksham and Marlborough in the socioeconomic hierarchy of Wiltshire, remarking that, in comparison to Balham, our kebab shop reminds him of Downton Abbey. He refers to the quirks and foibles of other parts of Britain and likes a nice regional variation. He jokes about the Festival, aware that we have Bran the Blessed booked and that our Chairman is not to be messed with. He plays with the audience, getting us to bleat like sheep. The lovely “Carrie from Melksham” has a sheep cry to die for and she gets to read out the comments from the audience about what makes us grumpy: Cyclists without bells saying “Excuse me” on the towpath, litter on the Green, having to stay sober to take Arthur to the station and other inconveniences.

He sings, recites his own poetry and that of others, cracks off one liners and rambles through longer tales. He shows how Ladysmith Black Mambaza wrote a song about him and does Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah like Lee Marvin; reminisces fondly about his childhood, telling a tale of a shower of shorts and giggling girls; touches on controversy, proposing a society for the promulgation of assisted suicide for those deemed by the grumpy to be suitable candidates, yet never goes too far; upsets Yorkshiremen, but only slightly; he judges his audience wisely and pulls himself up for swearing; he makes us laugh, a lot.

Arthur Smith is a bit of a paradox. He reads John Dryden’s “Happy The Man” and finishes off with “Simon (Arthur) Smith and his Dancing Bear”. His act is laid-back and laissez faire, delivered deliberately as if he were middle-aged, disillusioned, tired and past his prime, yet through his material shines hope, joy and empathy for the human condition. Devizes loves him and it appears that, as he is observed cheerfully posing for photographs with Terry Hall and the event sponsors from The Kennet and Avon Brewery before departing for the train, he shares the love.

Gail Foster