Tom Hammick – The Trajectory of a Romantic

Allsop Gallery, Bridport Arts Centre

Until 25 July

BR Rating ****

By Katie Brent

The intensity and pureness of colour in Hammick’s work is the first thing that strikes as you step into the gallery, quickly followed by the large scale of some of his pieces. Standing in front of Three Beds your eyes drink in the colours, layer upon layer of colour apparent here. Subtle little edges visible of contrasting colours, flecks implying what lies beneath. The figure, solitary and motionless, suggests a contemplation of the surroundings. The centrepiece, a large blossom tree reminiscent of a Japanese woodcut, adds to the serenity and calmness emanating from that his painting.

Fallout depicts motionless standing figures, seen from behind, their gaze fixed on an erupting volcano in the distance. This draws you in, the viewer becoming one of the onlookers in this strange nightly world, at once dreamlike and yet familiar. Possibly there is a darker theme here: we, the viewers, are witnessing events that are out of our control.


Houses and people recur in Hammick’s work, confirming that family and place are important themes. In his woodcut, Outskirts, a house sits surrounded by trees and snow; the soft glow of the lights inside draws you in and is suggestive of its human inhabitants. The grain of the wood is visible up close and adds a lovely texture to the work and a subtleness of tone. The whole image is made up of muted, pastel tones of green, offset by the warm yellow and orange tones of the lights.

Hammick’s work is often inspired by the landscapes he has lived in, south-east England as well as Nova Scotia and Canada. I also sense a Japanese influence. His fascination with buildings and their locations is explored, both in suburban and isolated settings. His work reminds me of Peter Doig’s, which has a similar, dreamlike quality.

Here is an artist who is very confident in his work, his printmaking influencing his paintings and vice versa. At the heart of it is an understanding of colour and how this can convey emotion.

The exhibition coincides with the release of a new monograph of the artist’s paintings featuring text from Julian Bell, which is available to purchase from the gallery.

By |June 29th, 2015|Art, Katie Brent|0 Comments

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised]

Reduced-Shakespeare-Company-2-photocredit-Karl-AndreReduced Shakespeare Company

Bridport Arts Centre 27 June 2015

BR Rating *****

By John Pownall

There can be few theatre-goers who know nothing about the RSC, the Reduced Shakespeare Company that is, not their distant highbrow cousins from Stratford who share the same abbreviation. They’ve been performing the complete works of the bard in just over an hour and half for over three decades. So the prospect of their visit to Bridport drew a very large crowd to the Marlowe Theatre, a crowd that walked away at the end of the evening full of the thrill of live entertainment performed at high speed and with great energy by three wonderfully engaging actors.

The tall one, Gary Fannin, introduced the performance by holding up the complete works, all six pounds of it, and told us that to succeed they’d have to get through eight ounces every seven seconds. It soon became clear that their method here would be to skip large sections and to focus on the big names – Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth and Hamlet. As they said at one point, reducing the tragedies is the most fun.

Before the interval we got all the comedies rolled into one because, as the trio explained, they are all “crap”. The reduced, distilled Shakespearian comedy became, after some mangling and re-fashioning, Four Weddings and a Transvestite, primarily because, as they put it, Shakespeare tended to write the same comedy over and over again. In fairness, the true comedies do date less well than the darker and problem plays. The other difficulty here is that it’s harder to satirise comedy. It’s a clever trick to get them all over in five minutes so that the real fun can commence.

The same approach worked with the histories. The younger member of the trio, the hilarious David Ellis, suggested at one stage that Shakespeare should be less boring, that watching him should be more like watching sports, exciting and visceral. To achieve this, the three actors performed all the histories as a game of American football, the crown being thrown one to the other as the names unrolled, all the Henrys, and the Richards, and the (very) odd John.

Other highlights from the first half included a rap version of Othello, and a TV cook version of Titus Andronicus. As well as huge amounts of hilarity (some of it at the audience’s expense) there was also occasional education along the way. Who knew, for example, that the latter play, one of Shakespeare’s most immature, least loved pieces, was the most commercially successful during his lifetime, paving the way for him to develop as a writer off its proceeds? Little nuggets like this found their way into the madness, proving that the production is penned by writers with a real love of their subject.

The second half was devoted entirely to Hamlet. With no apology to fans of King Lear, this was described as the greatest play ever written in the English language. In the hands of the ‘The Bad Boys of Abridgment’ it almost retained its dramatic power as Ellis uttered the latter part of the famous soliloquy despite himself, gradually working away from mockery towards genuine feeling. This is proof that even when spoofing the poet-playwright’s most complex work, the great philosophy and psychological insight, will shine through.

Would Will himself approve? Certainly; the great man’s energy was always devoted to ensuring that his theatre was full; he was as much a businessman as a bard. The theatre was packed to the rafters – reduced, yes, but in no way belittled.

By |June 27th, 2015|John Pownall, Review|0 Comments

Beyond Cragporth Rock

BCR-Haste-Theatre-main-300dpiHaste Theatre Company

Bridport Arts Centre 21 June 2015

BR Rating ***

By John Pownall

The premise of this play is a simple one: six sisters marooned in an old house clinging to the coast, having escaped from a world devastated by an Armageddon brought about by financial crisis. Surely this kind of apocalypse could only be dreamt up post-2008. Interesting how the shadow of the bomb has been replaced by the echo of the crash.

At times, it’s a clever and creative production from a young and adept group of actresses. The initial tableau places the audience after the event, as it were, in sight of the (we later learn) fictitious deaths which they construct for themselves; death actually coming, when it does, with the end of the world, with the walls crashing down, and the house disappearing into the sea.

However, the problem with the play is its lack of emotional focus or force. If the intention was to bring across the psychological impact of impending doom, then the point must surely be that less is usually more. Haste Theatre, with their emphasis on high-energy physicality, fail to carry the audience with them into any despair of isolation or annihilation. Everything moves too fast, so that one comes away with a kind of Keystone-Cops version of the end of the world.

This may, in part, be down to method. The fourth wall simply didn’t exist. The cast each spoke to the audience throughout, to the extent that there was no space for the audience to use any imagination, or to witness the development of relationships on stage. The only attempt to create some kind of nuanced interaction between characters was by Anna Plasberg-Hill, who was compelling as the fragile, eccentric Maggie. Generally, the characterization was not convincing. As each character told her back-story direct to the audience, it seemed to heighten the absence of any individual journey within the narrative. Without that, it is hard for an audience to care.

Another problem seemed to be the effort put in to raising laughter. They key here is if at first you don’t succeed, give up. Some of the humour was just too juvenile even to work ironically, if that was indeed meant. A repeated telling of a darkly humorous anecdote by one of the sisters became tedious after about five minutes. Yes we got it, of course: in the endgame people break down and laugh at crazy things, but not over and over again.

What to like? Well, the group are excellent physical performers. Timing, energy, and choreography cannot be faulted; these actresses have all been trained well, and have obvious abilities. The most touching moment came with a song. Maggie led the sisters in a beautiful harmonization sung through a cleverly-hung sash window; the women’s voices were indeed haunting and lovely. In fact, the music was excellent throughout. But while Beyond Cragporth Rock is all about the finish of everything, it didn’t feel quite finished itself. Work in progress, perhaps.

By |June 21st, 2015|John Pownall, Theatre|0 Comments

We Are Many

We are manyBridport Arts Centre 18 June 2015

BR Rating ****

By Caitlin Appleton-Scott

 

“How?”

My first utterance on leaving the Bridport Arts Centre.

We Are Many is a documentary film about the largest protest event in human history, when people from 789 cities, in 72 different countries, protested that the choice to go to war in Iraq would not be in their names.

One of the most upsetting but powerful moments was when George W Bush banters with a delighted and laughing audience, about not finding weapons of mass destruction. Throughout the clip, the film cuts to videos of the injured, the dead, and the children; some of whom are likely to be among 1.25 million who were made orphans.

At first I was in awe…refreshed…willing to have confidence in humankind’s ability to act humanely. Watching footage of the crowds, you can’t help but feel delighted; one-and-a-half million people marched in London, three million in Spain; there were protests in France, South Korea, Italy, Russia, Japan, even Antarctica; it seemed impossible that so many voices could be ignored.

So I repeat, “How?” How did they choose to go to war? And why wasn’t the entire population of Britain on the streets?

Now we hit the second stage: hopelessness, self-pity, pity for everyone (although not pity for Blair and Bush.) We call ourselves a democracy, and yet with so many people protesting, we still went to war in Iraq.

Fortunately, I felt slightly more motivated by the end. Although slightly annoyed that the documentary finished with ocean-polluting, turtle-killing balloons being let go, I left feeling slightly more hopeful than devastated. For the first time in 231 years, the government chose not to pass a policy to go to war (in Syria). Maybe we are capable of learning from the past, and not prioritising monetary gains, although that seems unlikely.

As many people as possible should see this film, whatever their purpose – for self-development or for the marvellous Mark Rylance, as long as they are reminded of the fact that “ye are many – they are few”.

By |June 19th, 2015|Caitlin Appleton-Scott, Film, Review|0 Comments

Worm-Hole

Worm-Hole_image_with_textLyric Theatre 18 June 2015

BR Rating ****

By John Pownall

Niki McCretton’s solo show, which she first took to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2001, mixes vivid physical theatre with energetic and graceful choreography. It involves a charged emotional journey undertaken by a solitary woman in nun’s habit, confined to the space of a room that becomes a kind of prison during the course of the story – a story almost devoid of words.

The room faces us as the show begins, furniture stands draped in white sheets, a door opens and a solitary woman enters. Music plays almost throughout, each piece the backdrop to a section of the repeated cycle of the heroine’s daily routine that seems dictated by a bizarre filing system of trunks stretching across the rear of the stage. These trunks contain a series of objects, food (never has Pot Noodle seemed quite so unappealing), and Time magazine cover-portraits that are hung on the wall, first Einstein, then Margaret Thatcher, and finally the Queen. This triad of figures provides a sense of the external power that exerts influence over the young woman’s life. What’s happening here? Like Beckett and the theatre of the absurd, it’s not easy to describe what the play is about, yet something interesting is clearly going on.

Certainly, the gradual disintegration of the woman seems emblematic of the corrosive effect of regimented life, of life lived to rules, constrained by false gods and sacred texts. In the end, there is a sense of gleeful subversion as the heroine disrobes, removing her habit and joining with a puppet facsimile of herself, finally breaking through the fourth wall, walking through the auditorium out of the fire exit and into Rax Lane and midsummer sunshine.

It’s that lovely sunshine that Niki wants to bring into the Lyric more often, with the funds necessary to replace antique, boarded-up windows in this grand, but high-maintenance listed building. The show has been reprised to help raise those funds, and tickets are free on the door with audience members encouraged to donate as they desire at the end.

The show deserves a big audience on its own merit and there is the added incentive to help preserve one of Bridport’s most interesting buildings, and a theatre space which allows this kind of niche production to live and thrive.

By |June 19th, 2015|John Pownall, Review|0 Comments