'Young @ Heart' by Stephen Walker
28 October 2016
Flourish House in Glasgow is a Clubhouse that enables people with mental health difficulties to gain a sense of well-being. Members recover confidence and skills whilst achieving social, financial and vocational goals. It is part of an international network of Clubhouses that provide a safe environment to help people make the transition from hospital-based mental health care to re-entering everyday life. I was at Flourish House on Thursday evening for a film screening and discussion as part of Luminate 2016 and the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival. We watched the film ‘Young @ Heart’, Stephen Walker’s inspiring 2007 documentary about the Young @ Heart Chorus – a choir of singers in their seventies, eighties and nineties from Northampton, Massachusetts, who sing an unlikely repertoire of songs by Jimi Hendrix, Coldplay, Sonic Youth etc. It’s a wonderful film which shows older people having fun, not taking themselves too seriously but working hard towards a communal goal. These are clearly not the greatest singers in the world but the ecstatic reaction of the audiences for the choir’s performances completely rebuffs any concerns about ‘artistic quality’: the Young @Heart Chorus is obviously ‘great art’. The film really shows the individual characters of many of the singers and the deaths, during the filming, of some choir members is incredibly sad. Ultimately, though, this is a life-affirming story – funny, moving and completely inspirational. After the film, Richard Warden from the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival chaired a panel discussion involving a mental health nurse from a South Glasgow hospital and the director of a community choir based in the Gorbals. The film provoked a fascinating and uplifting discussion about mental health, ageing and the therapeutic power of singing. It was a lovely end to my two days in Scotland visiting Luminate Festival events.
Labels: Film, Luminate2016
Cha Cha Cha Tea Dance at North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre
27 October 2016
On Thursday afternoon I was at North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre in Motherwell for the Cha Cha Cha Tea Dance – part of Luminate 2016 and the North Lanarkshire Encounters Festival. Like Luminate, Encounters runs throughout October, offering the chance to experience something new in arts, literature and music. The Tea Dance was well attended with around forty participants, most of whom were local care home residents. There was enthusiastic dancing to live music from people with a wide range of physical abilities, including many who were dancing in their chairs. Both the older people and the care home staff were clearly having a wonderful time: I haven’t been to an event for ages with so much smiling! It was a lovely afternoon, with plenty of tea and biscuits for all.
Labels: Dance, Luminate2016, Music
'Directed by North Merchiston' by Duncan Cowles
27 October 2016
On Wednesday evening I was at North Merchiston Care Home in Edinburgh for the launch of ‘Directed by North Merchiston’ - a series of five short films created by residents of the care home working with the film-maker Duncan Cowles. Cowles, who is only 26 years old, spent three months visiting his five collaborators, whose ages range from 84 to 101. In each case he asked them what film they would want to make and developed five very individual pieces, each about 7 or 8 minutes long. The films are beautiful, funny and very poignant, reminding us that care home residents are each fascinating individuals with very different characters. So many arts in care home projects revert to a standard reminiscence format and it was wonderful to see how Duncan Cowles avoided this. Much of each film was focussed on the process of making the film, with us seeing the residents watching footage of themselves speaking to camera to decide what to use. This self analysis helped to give us a very clear picture of these older people as they are today, rather than just focussing on their memories. After watching the films you really felt you knew these individuals well, so it was fascinating to have three of them in the audience for the screening together with many members of their families. It was also interested to see the effect the project had had on Cowles himself who has become a familiar and regular visitor to North Merchiston Care Home and a good friend to the residents. You can read an interview with Duncan Cowles and watch some short teaser videos at: http://www.creativescotland.com/explore/read/stories/festivals/2016/luminate-2016-directed-by-north-merchiston
Labels: Film, Luminate2016
27 October 2016
On Wednesday afternoon I was at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow to see the first performance by ‘The Flames’ - a new multi-media theatre group for participants aged fifty and over established by Tricky Hat Productions and directed by Fiona Miller. Their devised work, developed through five days of rehearsal workshops in October 2016 and presented as part of the Luminate Festival, combines drama, poetry, mime, film and specially composed music to explore life after fifty and challenge perceptions of ageing. Seven actors sitting on a line of chairs facing the audience took turns to come forward to one of two standing microphones. In each case we had no idea what to expect – particularly from the actor wearing a brown paper bag over her head. This series of vignettes challenged stereotypes and ruminated on the modern world. Often an individual performance was accompanied by silent black & white film of the same actor’s face projected on a giant screen above the stage. These videos by Kim Beveridge provided a wonderfully intimate feeling of really getting to know the performers and valuing them as individuals. We were also treated to a taste of ‘The Flaming Elders’, a sister project by Tricky Hat which is collaborating with older people in Inverclyde, Dumfries & Galloway and North West Glasgow. Four musicians performed live to accompany video projected on the wall behind them. It was great to see older people engaging in innovative, improvised performance after a very short period of intensive rehearsal and to get a sense of the confidence and joy this collaborative process had given them. You can read an interview with Tricky Hat Artistic Director, Fiona Miller, at: http://www.creativescotland.com/explore/read/stories/theatre/2016/the-flames-at-luminate
Labels: Drama, Luminate2016, Music, Theatre
'The Grinning Man' by Tim Phillips, Marc Teitler, Carl Grose and Tom Morris
27 October 2016
On Saturday we made a first ever visit to Bristol Old Vic – the oldest continuously operating theatre in the English-speaking world, currently celebrating its 250th anniversary. We were there to see 'The Grinning Man', a new musical by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, with book by Carl Grose. Bristol Old Vic Director, Tom Morris, has spent five years developing the show and the quality on display attests to the care a publicly subsidised theatre like Bristol Old Vic (which is funded by Arts Council England) can bring to developing new work. ‘The Grinning Man’ is loosely based on a novel by Victor Hugo (‘The Man Who Laughs’) about a man whose face has been disfigured to create a permanent gruesome smile. The character of The Joker in the Batman comics was apparently modelled on an early silent film adaptation of the Victor Hugo story. ‘The Grinning Man’ is set in an imaginary 18th century Bristol, echoing the period Bristol Old Vic was built. It’s a macabre musical that seems to be aiming somewhere between ‘Sweeney Todd’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. While the show is very entertaining – and often very funny – I found it an odd mix. The tone is both childlike and crude – at one moment knowingly breaking the fourth wall and then reverting to a child-like fairy tale. It sometimes felt like a slightly uncomfortable adult pantomime. It is undoubtedly a high quality production, with Jon Bausor’s spectacular set engulfing the stage in a blood-dripping mouth. And I liked the absence of modern technology, in favour of some old fashioned stage trickery that felt in keeping with the period. There is some great puppetry from Gyre and Gimble (the team responsible for the puppets in the National Theatre production of ‘War Horse’, reviewed here in October 2015). The music is tuneful and ageless, if at times a little earnest for the prevailing comic tone of the show. There is a very strong cast with Sean Kingsley demonstrating an impressive singing voice as Ursus the fairground showman and Julian Bleach stealing the show as the pantomime villain Barkilphedro the Fool. Louis Maskell is a fine lead as the hero Grinpayne, particularly as he has to sing most of his numbers through a scarf tied over his mouth. And it was good to see former Bellowhead percussionist Pete Flood among the band. ‘The Grinning Man’ is a fascinating show with high production values but it didn’t feel completely coherent. It will be interesting to see whether it can be honed into a stronger show.
Labels: Drama, Musicals, Theatre
'Round the Horne' by Barry Took and Marty Feldman, compiled and directed by Tim Astley
21 October 2016
When Tim Astley was twelve years old his grandfather was taken into a hospice for end-of-life care. In order to relieve the boredom Tim’s grandmother bought her husband a selection of BBC audio cassettes which Tim listened to with his grandfather. After his grandfather passed away Tim inherited the tapes and became an avid fan and collector of classic BBC comedies. Now, aged 25 and running a small touring theatre company, Tim Astley decided to mark the 50th anniversary of ‘Round the Horne’ by bringing the show to the stage. Astley cherry-picked sketches from the scripts by Barry Took and Marty Feldman, to create two 45-minute episodes. On Thursday we were at the Stantonbury Theatre in Milton Keynes to see these performed by the Apollo Theatre Company. A cast of actors played Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Douglas Smith performing the show as it would have appeared to the original studio audience at the BBC Paris Studio. They stopped making ‘Round the Horne’ before I was born but, like Tim, I was familiar, from repeats and recordings, of the show and its cast of regular characters including Rambling Syd Rumpo and Julian & Sandy. It was great to see the show performed as a faithful recreation of the original – resisting the temptation to add contemporary references to Brexit or Donald Trump. We simply saw the actors gathered around microphones, holding their scripts, with live music and sound effects supplied by Conrad Segal. It was excellently done, with some great radio voices on display. Best of all was Julian Howard McDowell as Kenneth Horne, demonstrating that, amongst the silliness and histrionics, the funniest part of ‘Round the Horne’ was often the calm, completely deadpan delivery of its long-suffering host.
Labels: Comedy, Theatre
Dancing at Blackpool Tower Ballroom
21 October 2016
On Saturday we returned to Blackpool Tower Ballroom for an evening of ballroom, Latin and sequence dancing with a group of friends from Milton Keynes Dance Centre. We first danced at the Tower a year ago (reviewed here in October 2015) and it was great to be back. This year the organiser, Philip Hurst, had restricted numbers so there were was more room on the dance floor. It’s a very special room to dance in and we certainly got our money’s worth with almost five hours of dancing. The skill and style of hundreds of amateur dancers who had travelled to Blackpool from across the country was very impressive and the sight of so many people dancing together in such stunning surroundings was wonderful. We’ll be back next year!
'Let Them Eat Chaos' by Kate Tempest
14 October 2016
When I first discovered the poet/rapper/playwright/novelist Kate Tempest, two years ago, I described her album 'Everybody Down' (reviewed here in October 2014) as “a radio play, written in verse, with background music”.
Kate Tempest’s new album ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ feels like a maturing of this particular form of spoken word, musical narrative. It’s 4.18 am and, on a street somewhere in London, “seven different people in seven different flats are wide awake – they can’t sleep”.
‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ tells each of their stories in turn. Kate Tempest again conjures up a cast of compellingly real characters, drawing their lives in an intricate mosaic of witty wordplay that is always erudite while also reflecting the language the individuals themselves would use. Considering the album as a collection of songs, there are some catchy tracks but this is an audio play that demands attention rather than background music. ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ introduces us to a diverse set of personalities, pulled together by Kate Tempest’s distinctive South London voice. It is a measure of her cultural standing that she was able to launch this new album by performing the whole thing live on BBC2 last Saturday evening. Her word-perfect performance was a tour-de-force and you can still watch it at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07yc9ms/performance-live-kate-tempest
Labels: Albums, Music
'Jonathan Unleashed' by Meg Rosoff
7 October 2016
Seeing the American author Meg Rosoff at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August made me keen to read her latest book, ‘Jonathan Unleashed’. This is her first novel for adults, after considerable success as an author of young adult fiction. ‘Jonathan Unleashed’ (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Luke Kempner) is a gentle, comic novel about a young man struggling to find his way in the world. Despite having an apartment in New York, a job and a girlfriend, Jonathan Trefoil feels strangely dissatisfied. Pondering the transition between between childhood and adulthood “he'd always assumed it would just happen one day he will wake up and find himself on the other side but no, here he was month after month still floundering in no man's land”.
And Jonathan does a lot of pondering: he is prone to Walter Mitty-ish daydreams, worrying himself into a string of ‘what-if’s’ that seem to prevent him from making even the most basic decision. But when Jonathan’s brother moves to Dubai and asks Jonathan to look after his two dogs things begin to change. The challenges and companionship of these four-legged friends transform Jonathan’s life. ‘Jonathan Unleashed’ is a very enjoyable read that will particularly appeal to anyone familiar with looking after dogs. The New York setting and Jonathan’s angst-ridden interior monologues take us into Woody Allen territory and there are some very funny lines. When Jonathan tells his best friend Max that he is getting married because “it seemed like the right decision at the time”
, Max asks in disbelief “Was someone threatening to throw a baby off a roof?!”
‘Undermajordomo Minor’ by Patrick deWitt
29 September 2016
Patrick deWitt’s novel ‘The Sisters Brothers’ (reviewed here in October 2015) is a quirky Western that draws on a wide range of influences. I have just finished reading his latest book ‘Undermajordomo Minor’, a strange fairytale set in a medieval middle-European country which also seems to combine a rich variety of literary sources. This is a novel which feels allegorical with its many unnamed characters (The Baron and The Baroness, The Count and the The Countess etc) and relishes its folk tale clichés. It’s a very dark fairytale with plenty of sex and violence but with an old fashioned politeness of language. The Ruritanian setting reminded me of Wes Anderson’s film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, itself inspired by the short stories of Stefan Zweig. ‘Undermajordomo Minor’ is a distinctly odd but incredibly engaging and funny book. I found it hard to work out what it is really about but very much enjoyed reading it.
29 September 2016
We had a wonderful holiday in Kitzbuhel in the Austrian Tyrol last week – surely one of the most beautiful places in the world. We stayed in an amazing hotel on a hill overlooking the town. Our room was in a 400-year-old castle while the modern part of the hotel included a 46m swimming pool on the top floor with stunning panoramic views of the valley. We arrived in heavy rain but after the first day we hardly had any more showers and the week just got sunnier and sunnier. I can highly recommend visiting the Austrian ski resorts in the summer: the cable cars take you quickly up the mountains where there are extensive networks of well-marked paths. We did lots of walking with the most incredible views: you really feel part of a vast three-dimensional landscape. We walked on the Kitzbuheler Horn mountain and on the Hahnenkamm – site of the famous downhill ski race. We also walked along the valley to the pretty town of St Johann. Kitzbuhel itself is a fairytale town of brightly painted buildings and cobbled streets. It’s a beautiful place: you can see a selection of my photos at: http://culturaloutlook.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Kitzbuhel2016
‘Suku: Your Life is Your Poem’ by Nils Kercher
16 September 2016
Nils Kercher is a classically trained musician from Germany who has developed a keen interest in West African music. Having studied the kora with Djelimady Sissoko, Kercher has created an album of beautifully gentle music called ‘Suku: Your Life is Your Poem’. He blends traditional West African, instruments including kora, ngoni and balafon, with violin, viola and ‘cello, acoustic guitar and vocals. Many of the tracks have a repetitive, pulsing quality that suggests the minimalist contemporary classical music of Michael Nyman, Philip Glass or Steve Reich. But ‘Suku’ also reinforces the case made by Toumani Diabaté in his 2008 album, 'The Mandé Variations' (reviewed here in May 2008), for Malian griot music to be considered 'African classical music' – equivalent to Western or Indian classical music. And I was particularly reminded of the Malian singer Rokia Traoré’s wonderful 2003 album ‘Bowmboi’ which includes two amazing tracks with the Kronos string quartet. ‘Suku’ features musicians from Mali, Senegal, Martinique, Finland and Australia – but it is firmly focussed on West Africa and has a quiet, restrained beauty.
Labels: Albums, Music