The Beaux Stratagem

The_Beaux_Stratagem_poster_notitleBridport Arts Centre 26 May 2015
BR Rating ****

By John Pownall

Serendipitously, the National Theatre’s own production of George Farquhar’s last hurrah opened to the press the same night as Bristol Old Vic’s Theatre School brought its youthful, vibrant version of this late Restoration romp to Bridport. The Old Vic apprentices have brought us wonderful things in the past, but nothing quite so naughty.

The cast and the audience thoroughly enjoyed a production that brought the original vividly up to date with clever use of appropriate pop, rock, and even rap material, such as Stand and Deliver, Poison Arrow, and Gangster’s Paradise. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was just as the interval beckoned and the entire cast mimed and danced to the Manhattan Transfer. Yes, the show took liberties with the original, but was largely faithful to its spirit of good-natured ribaldry.

The theatre was as full as it has been for some time, a testament to the school’s well-earned reputation, as well as the drawing power of high-quality comedy. We were rewarded with strong performances by the four young players taking on the key roles of Mrs Sullen, Dorinda, Aimwell, and Archer. These are not easy parts. Mrs Sullen, in particular, requires comic timing as well as real sensitivity as the wronged, unhappy wife; Alais Morie managed it extremely well, and certainly had the clearest delivery on stage, with the possible exception of the excellent Tom Bailey, as Aimwell, who looked and sounded very much like a young Hugh Grant. All four thoroughly deserved their rapturous applause at the end, as did the great support provided by Corey Montague Sholey, Alexander Hall and Maaniv Thiara.

The visual comedy was played up throughout. We had some clever physical theatre, plenty of dance, and an extremely funny depiction of the gallery scene when picture frames were placed around members of the cast who then froze into the painted figures. Jac Cooper’s semi-naked Venus, complete with splendid blonde wig was uncomfortably convincing in a rather bizarre way. It had the audience in stitches.

Occasionally, perhaps, there was a little too much thrown at us. After the gorgeous Chanson D’amour arrangement, the music changed swiftly to the Benny Hill theme, which gave the cast yet another chance to have some daft fun. It spoilt the end of the first half a little. Sometimes it’s good to know when to quit.

The near destitute Farquhar wasn’t even 30 when he died during the play’s opening run in London in 1707. As with Marlowe, one wonders what the English stage lost with his untimely death. It’s wonderful, and somewhat touching, to see such young actors and actresses enjoying themselves so fulsomely with a script 300 years old, written by a terminally sick Irishman not a decade their senior as the ink dried on the parchment. The tour deserves good turnouts; if you missed it, catch other dates in Dorset late next month as the run nears its conclusion.

By |May 27th, 2015|John Pownall, Review, Theatre|0 Comments



Alighieri Dante

A talk by Graham Fawcett
Sladers Yard 21 May 2015

BR Rating ****

By Elaine Beckett

Given the complexity of Dante’s epic poem, and the potential for going down a metaphorical rabbit hole, it was reassuring that Graham Fawcett started at the beginning, with his own translation:

Halfway through the lifetime of our years
I came to, in a dark and sombre wood –
the path I should be on had disappeared.

‘How many of us have not felt that’? asked Fawcett. No one replied, and from this silence grew such an intensity of listening, sustained throughout the first and second half, as if the truth of the thing were about to be unveiled. But Fawcett reminded us of course that homework was needed; we couldn’t just sit there expecting him to take us to it, he didn’t want to rob us of the unexpected pleasures and shocks of discovering it; yes, we could have the three main themes – the journeying to the brink of Hell, the stop off at Purgatory, the ascent into Paradise – but we’d have to go home and dust off the book, and read the whole of it, cover to cover, all 14,322 lines of it, preferably in one sitting, like he had once done.

Unlike the previous talks I’ve attended, it was helpful not to be confused between Fawcett experimenting with his own imagery, as opposed to reading lines from an actual poem. At times we were treated to passages read in Italian, as Dante ‘would have thought them’. When the three rhythms of the Italian lines, and the 11 syllables of the same, were heard, it was easy to imagine how 14th-Century folk might have been immersed in the music of Dante’s vision, travelling alongside him in his eventual flight to Paradise, Beatrice’s beauty winging them on.

Fawcett’s marvellous ability to shine light on that which endures through poetry, that which employs the healing power of art, is compelling. He pointed out that in Dante’s time purgatory was thought to be a real place, somewhere in the southern hemisphere. Was the audience left wondering, as I was, about how little appears to have changed since then, what with sub-saharan Africa in meltdown, and climate change soon to render the Pacific uninhabitable? As for the Inferno, who is not filled with ‘self-flooding despair’ at the daily descriptions of ‘relentless evil’?

By |May 23rd, 2015|Elaine Beckett|0 Comments


The Harbour, West Bay

March to October
Mon-Fri 12-3pm
Sat-Sun 12-4pm (5pm midsummer)

Some swear by the scallops; some swoon for the fish stew; some chuckle at the chowder. Everyone in the know rates Rachel’s kiosk as the most surprisingly scrumptious eating establishment in the locality and far beyond.

Set amid the traditional purveyors of jumbo sausages and dubious burgers, Rachel and John Kingston offer ‘good honest seafood at a reasonable price’. The words are Rachel’s and she is too modest. The food is fantastic; the prices a joy.

When Rachel was made redundant at the age of 35 after working for a clothing company for14 years, she pursued her dream. She had always wanted a kiosk and reckoned that seafood at West Bay would be a winner. She learned some skills at the White Horse Inn, Litton Cheney, and opened the kiosk six years ago.
With Rachel and John devising the menu and the ever-obliging Jess Bendell as front of kiosk, the enterprise has been a success from the start. With three hours prepping every day, and working so hard in the cramped space with three induction hobs that they sometimes have ‘scrambled eggs for brains’, they are almost too successful. There will be queues; there will often be a wait for the grub. But fear not: when it comes, you’re in heaven.

By |May 19th, 2015|Cafés, Food & Drink|1 Comment

Eyes on the Prize

Bridport PrizeFor poets and fiction writers, there is just still time to submit that work of inspiration for the Bridport Prize.
(Entries close 31 May)

By Gill Capper

Last year, The Bridport Prize for poetry and fiction had 15,000 entries from 90 countries, which makes it all the more extraordinary that Bridport itself has produced a significant number of those winners over the last few years.

Ellie Madden (now Sturrock), who is a familiar figure flying around town on her bike wearing colourful outsize spectacles, was a runner-up for the prize in 2005 with her poem, Pie. [Click on link to read the poem.] She was inspired by her win to found the poetry group Some Bridport Poets (who acquired their name when Ben Fogle was stuck for a way to announce their performance for the inauguration of the Arts Centre’s new chairs).

And two of their current members – Elaine Beckett and Sarah Barr – have also been successful in the competition.

Sarah Barr was a runner-up in 2010 with her poem, Clearing the Ice, and she also won the Dorset award in the same year. The Dorset award is given to the best single piece of work – poetry, short story or flash fiction – written by a Dorset resident who has been shortlisted in any of the three main categories. In 2012, it was awarded to Elaine Beckett for her poem, For Roy.

Virginia Astley, known to many Bridportians as a busker in Bucky Doo Square who plays the flute, with her daughter Florence on harp, was highly commended in the poetry category in 2013 for her poem, How did I ever think this would be OK?. She also took the Dorset award that year and has now published her first pamphlet, The Captive Harp, with Southword Books.

So be inspired, Bridport. (Entry forms in the Arts Centre)

By |May 16th, 2015|Gill Capper, Poetry|0 Comments

Stompin’ Dave and his Bluegrass Band

stompin-daveElectric Palace 15 May 2015
BR Rating ****

By Sean Geraghty

I first encountered Dave as Dr Stomp busking outside the Arts Centre in the late 1990s. He cut a memorable figure hair flailing in the wind, wrestling with his rattlesnake fiddle, feet flying, hopping about on the square stomping-board. He had something of a cartoon image for a while. It seemed he was exorcising some sort of demon, putting in lengthy stints long into the afternoon.

He gigged at the Hope and Anchor in the good old days and became a fixture in the square alongside Oz and the old fella.

It’s delightful to see Dave in his present set-up, leading the line on the banjo with a band that had perfected the not-really-from-London-in-disguise look. Fortunately, they totally nailed the musical content. There was plenty to enjoy with fiddle and banjo solos, great harmonies and solid shiny bass lines.

Working around one live mike, with the occasional tweak from out front they got the enthusiastic crowd tapping their feet and a good number up on the dance floor. The healthy turnout demonstrated how Dave’s popularity has continued to grow.

The second set got off to a gutsy start with Ain’t gonna be treated this way. After a corny wander into Goodnight Irene things kicked up through the gears via Midnight Special, I’ll Fly Away and onward we went until three encores including a smoking solo, Duelling Banjos, (however contradictory that sounds).

Dave has a hatful of tricks, dancing while singing or picking up and down the fret-board, strumming the banjo up over his shoulder and spinning around on the well-worn stomp-box; even on the acutely raked Palace stage he floated like a ballerina in his patched pants and steel-tipped shoes.

Dave is a great musician and his tour is universally well supported, deservedly so. It may be only 50 yards or so from Bucky Doo to the Palace, but Dave’s certainly come a long way in between.

By |May 16th, 2015|Music, Review, Sean Geraghty|0 Comments