Monday, 26 April 2010

Theatre review: 'Still' by Steve Lambert at The Bike Shed Theatre by the Particular Theatre Company 13th April - 1st May 2010

We make it one of our missions on The Blah Blah Blah Show to  support local theatre, especially where it is promoting new writing and/or innovative productions. The Express and Echo has featured several missives in its letter pages the last few days from theatre goers complaining that 'popular' theatre (by which they mean West End musicals, and established but 'safe' classics) is increasingly unavailable in the city, leading them to travel to Torbay, Plymouth or further afield. I put it to them that anyone who is a genuine lover of drama should make an effort to support the more interesting, innovative and intimate productions that are put on in the city, in the Bike Shed and elsewhere. They won't enjoy every aspect of what they find played out to them on stage - I don't either - but there is nothing like a professional show in a small space to provoke as well as entertain and their patronage may be supporting the future writer of a classic or an emerging major actor to develop their talent.

'Still' really is an intimate production, the stage shrunk to a corner of the pop-up auditorium, but designed by Phil Wyatt as a kind of Forest of Arden, the place of midsummer dreams and nightmares. The two acts are separated by a decade but otherwise involve the same couple, if a pair of characters who've only just met when we meet them can be so described. They are also separated by the mystery at the heart of the play - what happened here before, what happened here after, what is happening here now.

The dynamic of the production is wholly dependent on the projected personality of Jo, played by Rose Romain, another product of the E15 Acting School, whose female graduates seem to embody zestful energy. Her humour was a constant provocation. It is her presence that carries what might otherwise be a difficult piece, full of uncertainties I didn't find successfully resolved. It's been a week since I was in the audience and I still find myself thinking out the play which is a good sign. I'm still unsure whether my failure to work it through to resolution is a bad sign, or the its reason for being.

Mark Shorto as David has the more difficult role of an altogether more diffident man - his portrayal of awkwardness might come across as awkward acting. With just two actors on stage for the duration, a degree of empathy is required for both characters and even before the truths of who he is, what he is doing, what he has done are revealed I just couldn't understand what the two were doing together; why he had taken her to his secret place was obvious enough, why she had chosen him and gone along with it less so.

In the end, I'm not sure if there was enough on the page or the stage to deliver a fully satisfying night at the theatre. I left wondering if I'd seen a one-act play over-extended, which isn't to say that serious themes weren't being considered in Steve Lambert's writing or David Lockwood's direction.
Is it better to tell a lie or to live one? Is life about moments of magic or the passages of the ordinary that link them? Is life given away or taken? Why does a story begin and when does it end? I'm not sure if this play has found its way through those questions yet, but at least it is asking them. More rewarding than a night of songs from the West End musicals? I think so.

Exeter Polish Film Festival, Two Stories Exhibition

Two Stories Exhibition 

The Two Stories Exhibition uses photographic art to explore the lost history linking Poland and Britain.

It uncovers details that have been suppressed for years, highlighting the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland during World War2.

It describes events that challenge our beliefs in what we were told took place; events that affect Poland to this day.

It is touring Devon galleries and exhibition spaces over the next twelve months. 

April 19th to May 17th 2010 - Devon Records Office
Mobile form of exhibition
Devon Records Office, Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Exeter EX2 7NL
Tel: 01392 384253
Monday to Friday: 10.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m
The following Saturdays in 2010 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.
16 January; 20 February; 6 & 20 March; 17 April; 15 May; 5 & 19 June; 3 & 17 July; 7 & 21 August; 4 & 18 September; 2 & 16 October; 6 & 20 November; 4 & 18 December
Map to site

May 15th to May 29th 2010 - Okehampton Museum
Gallery form of exhibition
Okehampton Museum, 3 West Street Okehampton ,Devon , EX20 1HQ
Tel:01837 52295
Monday 23rd March - until 12th December
Monday - Friday 10.15am to 4.30pm, last admission 4.00pm
Saturdays 10.15am to 3.30pm with last entry 3pm
Museum site

May 22nd to June 19th 2010 - Tavistock library
Mobile form of exhibition
Tavistock Library, The Quay, Plymouth Road, Tavistock, Devon PL19 8AB
Tel: 01822 612218
Monday 9:00 - 7:00
(Closed until 10:30 on the 2nd Monday of each month for staff training)
Tuesday 9:00 - 5:00
Wednesday 9:00 - 5.00
Thursday 9:00 - 5:00
Friday 9:00 - 7:00
Saturday 9:30 - 4:00

June 22nd to July 18th 2010 - Phoenix Centre
Gallery form of exhibition
Phoenix Centre, Gandy Street , Exeter, Devon EX4 3LS
Tel: 01392 667080
OPENING TIMES MON - SAT: 10am-5pm SUN: 11.30am-5pm. Entry is Free.

June 22nd to July 18th 2010 - St Sidwell's Centre
Mobile form of exhibition
St Sidwell's Centre, Sidwell Street, Exeter, Devon EX4 6 NN
Tel: 01392 666222

Exeter Polish Film Festival

The Exeter Polish Film Festiwal, a satellite event of Kinoteka Polish Film Festiwal, the flagship project of the Polish Cultural Institute, is a rare opportunity to see some of the best Polish movies, illuminating documentaries and animations. Discover the ‘Magical Worlds of Polish Animation’ and find inspiration at the Polish Film Festiwal Exhibition, featuring film posters designed by artists of the Polish School of Poster Design. Jazz fans cannot miss ‘Haunting Jazz Scores’ night with the unforgettable movie & jazz duo of Polański and Komeda, while those wanting to learn more about Polish cinema, are welcome to join us at the Exeter Central Library Film Club.

29 April -Mother Joan of the Angels /
Matka Joanna od Aniołów
5 May -Jasminum
5 May -Land of Promise / Ziemia Obiecana
7 May -Sexmission / Seksmisja
12 May -Time to Die / Pora Umierać
12 May -The Reverse / Rewers
14 May -The Debt / Dług                                                     

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Cinema Review: 'The Ghost' directed by Roman Polanski

With its script based on a Robert Harris novel, I wasn't expecting any more than a join-the-dots political thriller plot, and that's what I got, although hoped for more nous in its construction and characterisation. But with Roman Polanski directing what may turn out to be his last movie, I was at least expecting a piece of quality film making, and that wasn't delivered either. True, Polanski hasn't consistently maintained the quality of his early films since his exile from America, but for every mundane production ('Oliver Twist', say) there has been a work as compelling as 'The Pianist'.

We know why Harris chose to create an alternative reality in which Tony Blair (or Adam Lang, if you must) gets his comeuppance - he was one of those who bankrolled the New Labour project in its early years until the disenchantment of the second Gulf War. But I'm unsure why Polanski decided to commit it to celluloid. Perhaps after taking up the challenge of recreating Victorian London and World War Two Warsaw, the appeal of a script ostensibly taking on big contemporary events (to say 'ideas' would be pushing it) able to be recreated on relatively small scale sets (most of the action is set in and around the former prime minister's Martha's Vineyard hideaway) was too much for him to resist, or perhaps he had his own Iraq War revenge fantasy to play out. Probably, it was a way of compensating for the collapse of his and Harris's 'Pompeii' project, once projected to have been the most expensive European film ever made, now likely to never cast light onto screen.

'The Ghost' might have worked, but is let down by both its central performances and direction. Pierce Brosnan plays Lang, but you can't shake off the suggestion this is really James Bondd oing a bad Tony Blair impression. He does his usual unshaken and rarely stirred brand of smooth but contaminates the cocktail with the acting equivalent of an unnecessary olive and mini umbrella. He's trying to channel a hollow but charming politician; what gets in the way is a charming but hollow actor. Ewan McGregor as the unnamed ghostwriter is little better. As Polanski's substitute for Nicolas Cage, he perhaps had little time to prepare. Or maybe he was told to do his worst take on Jude Law, which he throws the whole barrow boy act at. At least he gets to bed Cherie, played by Olivia Williams, who brings some complexity to her part as the power behind the ultimate throne. Kim Cattarall, meanwhile, plays a capable Miss Moneypenny and Tom Wilkinson brings the dark menace of the academic-military-industrial complex to a more sophisticated part than the average Bond.

In the end, its Polanski's failure to engage with the camera that transforms what might have been an intelligent romp into such a dull affair. The windswept island lair of Lang/Blair is too small a stage somehow to summon up the forces of global darkness. London is played by Berlin, and has a very minor role. Until the last two minutes, there's not a shot worth remembering. Then come two in a row before the curtain comes down that might just have had the little maestro leaping out of bed in the middle of the night. But by then, you'll probably have vacated the auditorium.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Poetry: Les Murray, Damian Furniss, Phil Bowen and more at The St Ives Literature Festival May 1st - 8th 2010

Yes, dear reader that is your host looking unusually bearded and brown. In unashamed acts of self-publicity, I'll be using The Blah Blah Blah Show's blog to publicise events around the launch of my new book 'Chocolate Che' starting on Friday 7th May 2010 at 8.30pm in St Ives Arts Club in a double bill with Phil Bowen. What better way to escape the post-election blues (or yellows, or reds - we abide by Ofcom guidance here) than a weekend in the westernmost tip of Cornwall. The St Ives Literature festival is curated and hosted by Bob Devereux, spans the whole week and ends with an appearance by Les Murray on Saturday 8th. Details of both events below.

Damian Furniss and Phil Bowen - Friday 7th May - 8.30 pm - St Ives Arts Club - £6.00
DAMIAN FURNISS reads from his new book CHOCOLATE CHE (Shearsman). The poems in Chocolate Che were written in Cuba in the fiftieth year of the revolution; in India working with dying destitutes and recovering from tuberculosis; travelling up and down the spine of the Americas and into the heart of Europe on the trail of soldiers, artists and monks.Damian Furniss works images into narratives that are both darkly humorous and strangely moving. Using forms as varied as their subjects, with characteristic verbal intensity and a probing wit, he returns to the fixations of his youth in wry but reflective maturity. Along the way, he encounters the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa; visits the houses of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, only to find no one's at home; and collects the stubs of cigars that might once have been smoked by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, but probably weren't.

Praise for his chapbook, The Duchess of Kalighat, several poems from which are included in this, his first full collection:
'Furniss explores India in many varied and astonishing images . . . no poet of promise but a poet of arrival.'- Derrick Woolf, Poetry Quarterly Review.
'The fire in the poetry roars. In this book the subject is hot and so is the language.' - Tim Allen, Terrible Work.
'This has a vitality all of its own.' - Brian Hinton, Tears in the Fence.
'Has strong convictions and a clearly defined sense of purpose. These are moving, transforming poems.' - Emma Neale, Scratch.

By popular demand PHIL BOWEN reads ALL THAT STUFF.
Phil Bowen was born in Liverpool in 1949. His collections of poetry include:
The Professor’s Boots (Westwords) 1994, Variety”s Hammer (Stride) 1997, selected for the Forward Book of Poetry-1998, and Starfly published by Stride in 2004. He has also edited two anthologies Jewels and Binoculars (in which 50 poets celebrate Bob Dylan), and Things We Said Today (Poetry about the Beatles) one biography A Gallery To Play To (The story of the Mersey Poets) reprinted by Liverpool University Press 2008 and Nowhere’s Far (collected poetry published by Salt 2009)
All That Stuff is a twenty minute poem.
'The Wasteland of the Twentieth Century' - Dave Wooley (Dylan Thomas Centre).
'A real tour de force' – Roger McGough.
'Amazing ……Quite incredible' – Mel Scaffold (Apples and Snakes).
'A work of genius' – John Cooper Clarke.

Les Murray - Saturday 8th May - 8.00 pm - St Ives Society Of Artists Crypt Gallery - £10.00
Australia's leading poet and one of the greatest contemporary poets writing in English. His work has been published in ten languages. Les Murray has won many literary awards, including the Grace Leven Prize (1980 and 1990), the Petrarch Prize (1995), and the prestigious TS Eliot Award (1996). In 1999 he was awarded the Queens Gold Medal for Poetry on the recommendation of Ted Hughes.

He will be visiting St Ives as part of a UK tour and will be reading a selection of his work.

For more information and a bibliography visit his website:
  Les Murray

Theatre: Particular Theatre Company - April Newsletter

I've just seen Particular's production of 'Still' and will write a review as soon as time allows. Meanwhile, the programme at The Bike Shed gets ever more interesting and deserves tour attention. I was disappointed to be one of only half-a-dozen in the audience on Friday night. If Exeter can't do better than that. we don't deserve a venue that is combining new writing with classics not often produced in the provinces, and mixing in evenings of jazz, poetry and cabaret. With tickets at a tenner or less and a bar that serves drinks that can be taken into the auditorium, any local resident that claims a love of theatre should be able to visit once or twice a month, especially with the Northcott probably closing, the Phoenix increasingly focusing on music and the Barnfield tending towards more populist fare. You won't necessarily like every show you see, but if you persevere, you'll have some memorable nights that only such an intimate space can provide.


April 2010 – Newsletter 5

Dear Particular Friend,
Another busy month has gone by and we are now preparing to open the Bike Shed doors for our production of Still. Cast and crew have been busy at work on what promises to be another sterling production.

The Bike Shed Theatre has continued to fill its stage with a variety of performances from live music, to poetry, dance and theatre. Our new venue is proving to be a welcome addition to Exeter’s cultural scene.

We hope to see you all at the show over the next few weeks!

David, Fin and Debs


The heat of a summer night. The cool of a meandering river. A childhood secret that holds the memory of young love. When a married father picks up a seductive hitch-hiker and takes her to his boyhood hiding place, the question is – has he been waiting for her all his life, or she for him? Still is a story of desire and betrayal, love and redemption.

Still, by Bristol playwright Steve Lambert, will be showing at The Bike Shed Theatre from the 13th of April to the 1st of May, Tuesday to Saturday. Tickets are currently on sale on the Bike Shed Theatre website;
Tickets cost  £10 with a special Tuesday price of £5.


Rose Romain

 Rose trained at E-15 Acting school, London(graduated 2005) Winning the Lillian Bayliss  Award for most promising second year drama school student.

Recent Theatre includes: ‘Turf’ (The Bush Theatre, London) ‘Stovepipe’ National Theatre and The Bush);’Saved and other stories’(The Theatre Royal Haymarket) ‘The Point’ (Queens Theatre, Hornchurch)‘The Duchess of Malfi’(The White Bear, London) A Midsummers night Dream (White Horse Theatre Germany) Film, TV and Comms include: Daggenham Girls( British Film Council) Diet Coke,(Ridley Scott Films)  

Rose grew up in the West Country and is delighted to be returning to the stage in Exeter where her journey as an actor began. She is continually informed by new learning and the creative interpretation that is born from unfamiliar challenges.

Mark Shorto

 Mark hails from Jersey and trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.  He lives in Exeter and has been a member of Crediton Actors Workshop for many years. His work in the South West includes Orchard Theatre, Theatre Royal Plymoth, Imule Theatre and Exstream Theatre.  An advocate of lifelong learning, he recently gained a degree in English with Drama from the University of Exeter.  He sometimes directs community and youth theatre, most recently The Burial at Thebes for the Farringdon Society of Arts in 2008.  In the same year he made a brief appearance in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Mark has recently appeared at the Bike Shed Theatre in the Jackdaw Theatre double bill, and previously worked with Particular in the rehearsed readings of The Derelicts and Matthew's Splinter.



The Bike Shed Theatre website is now up and running at Here you can find the programme for the coming months as well as buying your tickets online for all our upcoming events.

Morocco Visit Revisted

Since my last post I've spent some time in Morocco while Rachel McCarthy flew the April Blah Blah Blah Show solo. What she featured and who she played, you're more likely to know than me, but Harry Guest was her guest.

Many of those who visit Morocco confine themselves to one or two of Marrakech, Fes, Tangier, Essaouira and Agadir but the grandeur of the country's klandscape is most apparent if you can get up and over the High Atlas and experience the Sahara as it begins its journey from scrub into dunes - 52 days to Timbucktoo.

My trip was more concerned with culture than Culture but Morocco is a natural film set and Ouarzazate has become Ouallywood with two major studios on the outskirts of town and landscape that can double as anywhere from Arizona to Israel all around.

Here is a list of foreign movies filmed in Morocco.  On the road, we came across an American garage that was presumably a set for The Hills Have Eyes. Ait Benhaddou is a ksar or fortified village that is both a world heritage site and the star of films such as Gladiator and The Sheltering Sky, the definitive movie for those who wish to see the Kingdom of Morocco as it begins in Tangier and fades into the southern desert, also shot at the Oulad Adbehalim Ksar among other locations. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and starring John Malkovitch and Timothy Spall, this is especially recommended to admirers of Debra Winger.

The Sheltering Sky is one of the several novels of Paul Bowles set in Morocco and taken collectively they express that fusion of alienation and fascination that is typical of the occidental in the orient, deconstructed by Edward Said in his book Orientalism.

Paul Bowles was the not entirely welcoming host and mentor to the Beats in Tangier and while most of them were just passing through, leaving a trail of kif smoke and boy flesh behind them, Morocco is essential to the work of William Burroughs, his Interzone being modelled on Tangier and Marrakech and its surrounds bleeding into the red lands of his later work. Read Naked Lunch and weep or try Tangier: City of a Dream for a comprehensive introduction to the literature produced there during its international period.

For those who prefer a lighter but no less intelligent read, try the travel books of Tahir Shah set in Casablanca. The Caliph's House describes he and his family's first year buying and renovating a riad in the city, confronting a depth of cultural difference that is only hinted at in surface dealings with a friendly and humourous people. In Arabian Nights continues the narrative and branches out in journeys to find the storytellers of Morocco so beloved of his father and recount their tales.

Naturally, that book ends in Place Djemaa el-Fna, the main square of Marrakech, where storytellers, clowns and acrobats still ply their trade. There over Easter weekend with the city occupied by tourists from all nations, it was the snake charmers, monkey boys and gnawa musicians that seemed to dominate, more international and photogenic entertainments maybe, but the mystery of Marrakech is being Disneyfied, or so it seems until the sun sets and the smoke of a hundred wood grills fills the air with the aroma of heart and tongue. In the dark, the medievalness of the souks overwhelms their modernity and you are someone else, somewhere else again.

Morocco was fertile territory for my writing and I hope to begin to publish and perform some of the pieces I began there in the near future. I spent a happy last day at Cafe du Livre in the French colonial quarter, reached through the entrance to Burrough's Marrakech hotel. For good food and drink, a fine selection of new and secondhand books, free wifi internet and place of calm to collect your thoughts, I recommend it.