Elephant Man

Elephant ManBridport Arts Centre
28 March 2015
BR Rating ***

By John Pownall

This new recreation of the Joseph Merrick story had its first outing at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, and contains many fringe elements: an effective use of sound and vision, and plenty of strenuous physical theatre to keep the tempo fast throughout.

The most striking aspect of the production is the central performance of Merrick by Daniel Chrisostomou. This is a brave and naked recreation of Merrick’s pain, pathos, and sensibility, using the whole body, the voice and the face to convey the trapped humanity of the young man cursed by the congenital condition which turned him into an exhibit in a travelling freak show.

Rarely has the Marlow Theatre been blessed with such thespian excellence. Chrisostomou was marvellous. The evening really came alive when, for the first time, after half an hour of uttering merely grunts, snores and wheezes to suggest Merrick’s physical constraints, the poor fellow asked the physician, Treves: “Can you cure me?” Thank heavens, one thought, for crystal delivery, and sensitive intonation.

Other performances were less compelling. The key role of Dorchester’s Frederick Treves, so sensitively portrayed in the David Lynch film by Anthony Hopkins, was not quite up to the mark. It is unfair, perhaps to compare any of the performances with those in the movie; but some more time on characterization for Treves might have been sensibly spent. Bearing in mind that it was Treves’s record of the events on which this and other imaginings are based, one would have hoped for a more measured delivery of the crucial lines about Merrick’s humanity and alienation. That said, the scenes in the hospital during which Treves exhibited his ‘patient’ were sufficiently ambiguous to leave one questioning some of the ethics of the treatment meted out by the physician. But there was no self-discovery here; no sudden realization on the part of the physician that his own role was open to the same objections as the freak-show owner from whom Treves took Merrick. It was all a bit too frenetic at times.

It’s surprising, perhaps, that a third recreation of this tale was conceived; after all, one has the Bernard Pomerance stage play to hand already, which was good enough for David Bowie on Broadway in 1980, and, more recently, Bradley Cooper in the West End. But new things were added, and the production certainly has more than enough merit to suggest that the Fourth Monkey Company are worth catching again if they tour these parts.

By |March 29th, 2015|John Pownall, Theatre|0 Comments

Jay Rayner – My Dining Hell


Jay Rayner

Bridport Arts Centre
27 March 2015
BR Rating ****
By Angie Heywood

When Jay Rayner fielded questions from the audience, he was asked whether he had ever reviewed any West Dorset restaurants. “I might have reviewed one today,” he said mischievously. Well it wasn’t Lula, which is a relief, and perhaps a shame. I greatly enjoy Rayner’s weekly column in the Observer and despite his cutting wit and fearsome reputation, I find him a fair critic.

Letting rip on awful restaurants makes for good copy and amusing reading of course, and some of Rayner’s examples in the first half of his one-man show were hilarious. And right. His pet hates, such as ridiculous menu descriptions (‘Basil enthused pasta’ was a gem), staff who keep interrupting to ask if everything is all right and wine waiters who won’t let you pour your own wine, are abominations.

It was instructive that each of Rayner’s six chosen worst experiences was in a London restaurant and all bar one was ultra-expensive. The full-English breakfast at the Dorchester Grill costs £35, while the fanciest bottle of wine at Beast is £5,990. Why not round it up to six grand? Better still, buy a car.

Rayner insisted he is a writer first and foremost, with a duty to sell papers rather than restaurants. But he loves his work because to write about food is to write about life. Rayner certainly has the zest for that. He was very funny, self-mocking, irreverent and versatile. He rounded off the evening by playing jazz piano with some skill and plenty of gusto.

Angie Heywood is head chef at Lula Restaurant on East Street.

By |March 28th, 2015|Food & Drink|1 Comment

Green Fingers, Puzzled Faces

Sideways GlanceSpring has sprung and it’s off to Groves, the garden centre

By Elspeth Edgely

Research has shown that 20 per cent of drivers don’t know where they are going. Their reasons for being out and about have nothing to do with arriving anywhere specific. Similarly, you don’t need a reason to visit Groves, even though right now you may feel an overwhelming sense of urgency to get there. Everyone has instincts at this time of year, whether or not you have a window box.

Why not examine those hose connectors, flick through the seed packets, filter your way through to garden chairs – you know the ones, the stripy kind you can stretch out in? Before you know it you’ll have merged into the general purposeful getting-down-to-it atmosphere, and you won’t even have left the main building.

Once in the open you will be faced with some choices – but it doesn’t matter which you make. Going round in circles is perfectly acceptable at Groves and you won’t stand out from the crowd. The employees have far more pressing things to attend to than enquire after your needs. It’s as if you have accidentally opened a gate to their very tidy farmyard. They won’t mind you being there, but they’ve important matters to be getting on with.

Take a turn round the alphabetical rose circle, forge on towards ‘climbers’, investigate ‘garden supports’. There is so much to look at that you may even forget there isn’t a reason for your visit. You’ll start to notice conveniently large trolleys are available if you should, say, decide on a Jemima Puddle Duck solar lamp, a couple of polycarbonate badgers, or even a shrub. If the latter, just approach one of those highly competent assistants who will immediately release the sapling from its bounds, thereby delivering you from any second thoughts, which is why you came here in the first place: to seek relief from all the choices in this world.

By |March 26th, 2015|Sideways Glance|1 Comment

D H Lawrence’s Poetry

Graham Fawcett

Graham Fawcett

A talk by Graham Fawcett
Sladers Yard
19 March 2015
BR Rating ****

By Elaine Beckett

Lawrence wrote well over 800 poems, many of which he later revised. How, I wondered, would Graham Fawcett manage so much material? Would he provide some kind of route map? None was offered and from the look of the audience, none had been expected. Fawcett simply plunged us into a description of his own 1970s escape from Winchester (destination Florence), interweaving this with accounts of Lawrence’s escape to that city from humdrum Croydon.

It was confusing but it didn’t matter. Fawcett brought Florence to life: the noise, the smell, the heat, the disappointments. So when, at the end of the first 45-minute set, Fawcett read Lawrence’s Man And Bat, our imaginations were primed; we were in the room with Lawrence and all the dreadful choices he had to make about that disgusting creature ‘blind with frenzy, with cluttered fear’. We hoped he wouldn’t kill it, were amazed that after so much whizzing about, the poet was kind enough to wait until the bat finally dropped to the floor ‘like a clot’, inviting him to wrap it gently in his flannel jacket and shake it out from whence it came so that the bat could scream up and down along the Arno again;

And away he went!
Fear craven in his tail.
Great haste, and straight, almost bird straight above the
Via de’ Bardi.
Above that crash gulf of exploding whips,
Towards the Borgo San Jacobo.

DH Lawrence

D H Lawrence

The fact that Fawcett had been prepared to travel From London, running a high temperature as a result of ’flu, so as not to disappoint his audience (indeed needing to take his jacket on and off throughout his talk in order to regulate it) says much about the man and his infectious enthusiasm for all things poetic. Fawcett was on fire.

The second half led us dipping in and out of Lawrence’s early life, his break away from all that he feared might entrap him, via Frieda, to Sicily: always on the move, never willing to compromise, tortured by the prospect of an ordinary life, Fawcett suggested that Lawrence’s observational powers were probably at their peak in the heat of that place. And Fawcett made sure to give us the whole of Snake so we could immerse ourselves in the slow, dry details of the heat, the fear, the awe, the oedipal, class-conscious   self-criticism:

He reached down from the fissure in the earth-wall in the
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down,
over the edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat on the bottom . . .

These superb readings impelled me to reach again for my copy of Lawrence’s collected poems. The next talk, on 21 May, is on Dante. Go experience the Fawcett effect. To be treasured, not to be missed.

By |March 21st, 2015|Elaine Beckett, Review|1 Comment

The Secret Of Perfect Scrambled Eggs

LulaOur great scrambled egg test produced plaudits and brickbats, and quite a few surprises. Who would have thought that Joe’s Café, at £1.50 a portion would have so soundly defeated The Bull at £5.95? (The Bull was emasculated by soggy toast.)

The winner was Lula’s, which was given five stars by our inspector, who visited all establishments incognito and praised Lula’s “ample portion of eggs demonstrating fantastic heart-stopping creaminess.”
Naturally, we wanted readers to benefit from head chef Angie Heywood’s expertise. “Never season eggs before they go in the pan” she said. “Don’t whisk or beat them; just use a non-stick pan, melt a knob of butter and then break in the eggs; turn up the heat a little and cook them quite quickly, stirring them gently; take them out just before you think they’re ready because they will continue cooking as you fold them onto the toast.”

There you have it. Angie’s point about not seasoning eggs before cooking them is unusual but fundamental. Salt, in particular, changes their structure, making them thinner and less creamy.

By |March 12th, 2015|Food & Drink|0 Comments