Richard III

Remember all the times at school you were told that Shakespeare’s plays have universal themes that cut across time and culture? And you sat there thinking  “yeah, right….” well those teachers were so right- and the new production from the Almeida of Richard III which was screened tonight demonstrates it in bucketloads.

No one could have had any idea how relevant, how close to the truth this production could be to the reality of 2016’s summer of politics, terrorism and divided nations when it was planned. But the fact is you cannot get away from the parallels- the manipulation and twists and turns of Brexit, the gunning down of innocents, the pride and fall of political machinations, the double crossing and switching of sides- it’s all there.

I have a bit of a penchant for Shakespeare updated- the contemporary feel, the sparse but striking set, the references throughout the play to the recent rediscovery of Richard’s skeleton, all added an immediacy, an intimacy, a way of drawing in the audience. And when Richard looks for his assassin, Tyrell,  in the audience and you wonder, even while watching at the cinema, whether someone is sitting next to him/her – it so strongly reminds me of sitting on the Tube as a teenager and wondering if the rucksack was a bomb- and now in 21st century Britain, it’s is he/she a suicide bomber? Who can we trust? And when we stop trusting we go mad.

And Richard, as portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, is shown in a horribly new light in the creepy, sinister, totally obsessed with power, jealous, angry, verging towards a form of madness by the end of the play- a sociopath who has no idea and no interest in behaving within any of the normal boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour, and yet sexy and somehow able to manipulate both the men, and women (most of whom he sleeps with or assaults) around him. The character’s wit and intelligence are in a constant internal battle with his pent up frustrations of being the unattractive  youngest brother, the one with the disability, with the chip on his shoulder- and like so many people with disadvantages, he has to work extra hard to get what he wants, and he works extra nastily.

Another aspect of the play which worked so well was partly due to the very strong acting of the women characters. I’m not always a fan of Vanessa Redgrave- but here, as Queen Margaret she was deadpan, spewing out curses not as an hysteric but almost as the truth, as facts. And Susan Engel as Richard’s mother, the Duchess of York, had an immense power, an aura about her-  sometimes you feel that she’s a weak character- here she was strong. And of course seeing older women actors having something really meaty to act, and being taken seriously on stage, is a joy.  Joanna Vanderham as Lady Anne I wasn’t so convinced by. I saw her in The Dazzle where she lived up to the title so I know she can do much more. Lady Anne is a difficult part to play- there’s not a lot of it and she is very much a victim, but it felt as if there was something lacking.  However, Aislin McGuckin, as Queen Elizabeth, created a depth of character- you felt for her throughout as she lost her husband, her children, her dignity.

The women in Richard are the victims of war, of bloodlust, but other than Lady Anne, they are survivors, unlike many of the male characters, most of whom are killed by the close. We are left with the Earl of Richmond, who we all know, as did Shakespeare’s audience, would become Henry VII, the saviour of the English, the founder of the Tudor dynasty. The political rhetoric, the Murdochisation of the tale, overtly communicated by the winners, completes the play and leaves us with a very sour taste in our mouths as we recognise the traits of those we see, jostling to become the political elite,  in the media today.



Traces- poetry in the horsebox (until Saturday 16th July)

(photo credit top row Winston Plowes)

Traces: (noun) a mark, object, or other indication of the existence or
passing of something.

“Holmes and Plowes have spent too many nights in hotel rooms and holiday
cottages with spotless beige carpets worrying about the stains or traces they
might leave behind. The idea for ‘Traces’, a mixed media art/poetry exhibition,
emerged from this stain-angst.
‘Traces’ will explore the realms of stains, echoes, footprints, fingerprints,
shadows, indentations – the subtle or blatant traces of a presence, the things
that we inevitably leave behind. Each trace, each stain hosts a narrative. In
‘Traces’ Holmes and Plowes will present these narratives as forensic stanzas
accompanied by an installation which will correlate with the texts and provide
a visceral and visual element to the work.”

It is fantastic to have Winston and Gaia as the first poets in residence at The Gallery at the End of the Lane, which as most of you will already know, is a converted horsebox, that I created one summer holiday while studying art. Under instructions to create something out of a box, I went to my usual extreme, excess being my middle name, and roped in some college friends to create the most remote pop-up gallery in Gloucestershire.

I’m always interested in hearing from artists who would like to spend time in this magical place- there is something about a confined space that can be transformational- so if you have an idea for a project, please do contact me!

Winston and Gaia will be here until Saturday morning, so please do come and visit, find out what they’re up to- writing poetry inspired by the things that get left behind. The exhibition is particularly lovely at night, when the fairy lights illuminate the detritus of life, turning it from rubbish to rubies.



A quiet evening

Sometimes you just have to do stuff that isn’t the height of artistic expression, risk taking or even very exciting. But it can still turn out to be good. Last night my friend Caroline and I spent a good 2+hours preparing my students’ art work for an exhibition at Woodruffs Café  which opens at the weekend.

I’ve always said put art in a frame and it changes the relationship between you and it and never was this more so than last night. Work in many styles and using a variety of media, often by those who have never or rarely made art before, suddenly has weight and respect. The framing is only a proportion of the work- Friday evening will be a frantic hang: trying to get the right pictures in the right place in 3/4 hour is not going to be easy.unfortunately I don’t have the remarkable eye of my former tutor, Andrew Bick,  at University of Gloucestershire, who has the ability to hang work to the millimetre perfectly.  But I will be so proud of what they’ve all achieved since September.

And to celebrate our hard work Caroline  and I went to No 23 in Nelson Street Stroud. A bistro/bar serving tapas, they were in the process of cleaning up and closing but invited us in and served the most beautifully presented cheese board and delicious spiced  roasted almonds on the mini terrace. When it finally became dark and the lights of the houses on the hills round Stroud shone out we could just imagine the wine dark sea below  and pretend we were in Spain, Italy… of the factories even had a bright light that we decided was the lighthouse overlooking the bay…. red fleecy blankets kept the chill off and rope lights, golden, wrapped round the balcony added to the

illusion of summer warmth. Amazing what your imagination can do….


catch up

I’ve been a bit lazy lately. Actually that’s a complete lie. I’ve been really busy, just too busy to get round to writing anything here.

A couple of weeks ago I went to see the Bristol Acting Academy’s production of The Government Inspector, a riotously funny, black satire by students on a part time course, who are taught by the tutors at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. A friend of mine  was in it- and she did a great job- it was interesting that because clearly most of the actors on the course are women, so they played male characters, but although costumes were masculine, there was a charming yet slightly odd feeling of sexual ambiguity,  which, when I’d seen the play at the National Theatre in the 1980s, starring Rik Mayall, was so very different. The energy levels of the performance were incredible, but it wasn’t a testosterone fest as Rik’s had been. There was something slightly other worldly, fantastical about it, which added to the surreal qualities of the production. However,  it was the actor playing Bobchinski/Dobchinksi, who stole the show. His physical theatrical presence, his adept use of his voice and his chameleon like ability to change from one character to another, was stunning to watch. I really hope that he makes it as an actor, because he should.

My friend, Natasha Brown, who had invited me to the production, then starred in a reminiscence theatre performance- which a community group performed a week ago at the Dursley Festival, I had carried out all the research for the script and collaborated on the writing, and had my first attempt at directing/producing/being stage hand/props/ and anything else that needed doing…. We gave a second performance later in the afternoon at The Hollies residential nursing home, which was a brilliant experience for the younger members of the cast, who were feted by the old ladies, and demonstrated to me how effective this kind of work can be, as the residents joined in, entered into spontaneous discussions and conversations with the actors, and a number of them wanted to continue to reminisce afterwards.

On top of that, I saw the National Theatre’s production of the Threepenny Opera, a tour de force of production and staging, singing and musicianship as well as acting.  I’d not thought about the piece for a long time, having studied it as part of my learning about 20th century opera performance while at university (even then I was slightly obsessed with opera- and sang the opening solo in a contemporary opera at the Cambridge Music Festival- my one claim to fame!) but was not disappointed- the relevance for today of performance pieces such as these continues.

And then Handle with Care– a fascinating, addictively drawn in play set in a storage container warehouse. The rummaging and unpacking of a life’s worth of sentimentally valued items, the constancy of the being pushed round the labyrinthine space, forced into small spaces, even shut up in the dark at one point, the pressure of life, of family, of relationships, of things made this a must see play.

And now it’s piano exam season. 5 this week, and then another 12 the weekend after next…..