Thursday, 28 March 2013

Capturing the soul

PRIMITIVE civilizations used to believe that a photograph would capture part of your soul. It turns out they were right.
Proof is given at an exhibition at Florence Arts Centre, Egremont where  photographer Donna Brookes and others have put work on display.
Making The Usual Unusual is the title – and it does precisely what it says on the tin. Something as simple as a portrait of a young girl has been turned into something much more dramatic.
Donna – a Whitehaven photographer and, it would seem, part-time witch – does indeed appear to have captured some of the soul of her subjects. There’s a haunting, mesmeric quality about them. These are eyes that don’t just follow you round the room but stalk your mind for days afterwards.
Most ‘smiling family’ pictures today are tediously dull. You know the ones: taken against white backgrounds and with the requisite giant red ball in the foreground. They are pictures that tell you what everyone looks like but reveal absolutely nothing about the real person behind the smile.
One look at Donna’s work and her subjects shout their emotions at you with just a single glance.
Artists Fliss Watts and Iain Taylor are also exhibiting at Florence. These too are works that help you see the world in a new way. It’s an exhibition of breath-taking originality. Thank goodness. 

Friday, 15 March 2013

Downton Abbey with gardening tips

Review of Old Herbaceous at Keswick Theatre by Alan Cleaver

Peter Macqueen as Old Herbaceous. Photo by Keith Pattison
SEX, violence, blackmail, murder... that's right, it’s another play about gardening.

The rich tapestry of life is laid bare during this performance of Old Herbaceous: Propagating plants, killing slugs, winning gardening competitions and even flirting with the under-housemaid.

The star of the show is the garden of the Manor House, Fairfield in Gloucester and the narrator is head gardener, Mr Herbert Pinnegar - otherwise known as Old Herbaceous. The story first appeared as a novel in 1950 but was adapted by writer Alfred Shaughnessy as a one-man play in 1979 and has been a perennial favourite with actors ever since. This time it’s actor Peter Macqueen who has dusted off the tweed jacket and cloth cap of Old Herbaceous to regale the audience of Keswick Theatre with anecdotes from his past.

Macqueen is a favourite with Keswick regulars. Of unknown age - but estimated by theatregoers as being anything from 25 to 55 - he has played roles ranging from Blackbird's Toby Studebaker to Dickens' Scrooge. Thankfully, he manages to avoid the obvious stereotype of a curmudgeonly gardener and gives Old Herbaceous a rich blend of pathos and humour. The ease with which Macqueen fills this role is probably because he has a secret: Macqueen is a gardener himself.  Josie Lawrence and Ainsley Harriet are among his clients and his green fingers ensures he brings a confident air to the performance. As he tell his tales, Macqueen potters around the greenhouse taking cuttings, sowing seeds and mixing fertiliser with a dexterity normally only demonstrated by street magicians.

There's no plot to this gardening tale, only some entertaining stories told with a glint in Old Herbaceous' eye. Plus some sound advice on growing strawberries as early as April and what to use as fertiliser. It's Downton Abbey with gardening tips - what more could the modern theatregoer ask for?

  • Old Herbaceous  runs until Saturday, March 23. Tickets from or 017687 74411.
  • Peter Macqueen is taking the show on tour as part of Arts Out West.  He’ll be at Lindow Hall, Bowness on Solway on April 19 (Phone 016973 51788); Torpenhow Village Hall on April 20 (016973 71514); Calderbridge Village Hall on April 21 (01946 841478); Muncaster Parish Hall on May 18  (01229 717544).

Monday, 11 March 2013

Boden bewitches at Cockermouth

Jon Boden and The Remnant Kings
Kirkgate Theatre, Cockermouth
Sunday, March 10th

MUSIC gigs rarely get any better than this: Cracking songs, bewitching arrangements and performed with aplomb.
It was not surprising - though a little bit worrying - that Jon Boden revealed during the show that two of his fans in the Kirkgate audience had been to all ten gigs on this current tour.
This was the last date of the tour and, as always, was a sell-out show. Jon Boden, Sam Sweeney, Paul Sartin, Rob Harbron and Rick Foot also appear in the folk big band Bellowhead as well as various other folk outfits so each have their own fan base.
As the Remnant Kings, the band retain something of the 'big band' sound compared to the more traditional folk set-up of fiddle, accordian and flute.
The dictionary defines folk music as music passed on from one generation to the next and Mr Boden covers tunes not only passed down from the 18th and 19th century minstrels but also looks to the future and what songs might survive - and in what form. Hence Kate Bush's Hounds of Love and Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust made an appearance in enchanting arrangements.
The use on stage of wax cyclinders hauntingly relay some of the music from the past during the show and Mr Boden - shaped perhaps by having been brought up in Winchester during the cutting of the M3 through Twyford Down - speculates on a purely acoustic post-apocalyptic future. The eclectic choice of acoustic instruments by the band all add to the evocative atmosphere.
It all makes for a fascinating and bewitching soundscape which was well received by the Kirkgate audience.
The good news is that Jon Boden and John Spiers return to the Kirkgate on Tuesday, May 14. But there's barely a handful of tickets left so hurry up and book your seat. Phone 01900 826448 (10am to 1pm).

Review by Alan Cleaver

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Poet Laureate wows them at Keswick

Carol Ann Duffy
Words by the Water, Keswick 
8 March 2013

POET Laureate Carol Ann Duffy read several of her poems to a packed house at Keswick's Theatre by the Lake.
And despite suffering from a cold she still managed to do so with a swagger which shows Duffy is very much at the top of her form.
The audience enjoyed a good giggle at poems from her 1999 anthology, The World's Wife which, appropriately for International Women's Day - looked at the wives of the world's more famous men.
There was humour and clever word play in many of her poems, The Counties demonstrated the rich heritage of county names which the post office has deemed unnecessary in this age of the post code. And there was a wry smile from Duffy when she reached the line claiming she wanted to write to the Queen at Berkshire in praise of Slough.
But there was also pathos with a reading of Last Post - honouring the death of World War I veterans Henry Allingham and Harry Patch. And a beautiful reading of Christmas Truce supported on stage by musician John Sampson. 
Mother's Day was just a couple of days' away and Duffy has acknowledged how her mother's death 'deafened' her to poetry for a couple of years. She read from Premonitions, the cathartic poem which - thank goodness - finally broke down the psychological walls stopping her writing poetry.
This was an entertaining, educational and inspirational night which topped off a week of events at the increasingly popular annual Words by the Water Festival.

- Alan Cleaver