Writing prompt – flotsam

To The Isle cr Claire LuxtonYou may recall that last week I published a piece on the art of Claire Luxton. I held this particular piece, To The Isle 2, back because it somehow cut to the quick of me.

The way the fragile bones of the woman’s spine show through her translucent flesh suggest she is an integral part of this marine landscape, as though she may well breathe saltwater more easily than air.

Is she shipwrecked, washed up, or simply enjoying the thin sunshine on her skin? What will happen if someone finds her here, while she seems so vulnerable? Or does she have a hidden sting or bite that will keep her from harm?

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Theatre review – Bristol Old Vic Christmas plays

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter cr Jack Offord2

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter photo by Jack Offord

Fairies, woodland creatures and wise women rampage through Bristol old Vic’s Christmas plays this year, shedding irreverent joy as they go.

I attended the press launch last week, and it was pure pleasure – what better way to spend a drizzly December day than in a theatre crammed with light, cascading streamers and baubles (kudos to the decorator), a gigantic fragrant Christmas tree and even a small bed to take selfies on?

The first treat of the afternoon was The Night That Autumn Turned to Christmas, a visual and musical feast. While aimed primarily at tiny tots, like all the best children’s fiction, it included plenty of humour for grown folks too, thanks to the talents of the three multi-tasking performers, Clare Beresford, on the double base Miriam Gould on the violin, and Dominic Conway playing guitar, banjo and ukulele.

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter photo by Jack Offord

Miriam Gould and Clare Beresford as opera-singing rabbits photo by Jack Offord

The show is a collaboration between the celebrated Little Bulb Theatre, Farnham Maltings and Bristol Old Vic, and is crammed with moments to treasure, regardless of age.  Want opera-singing rabbits? They’ve got those. A moral conundrum between a fly, a frog and a spider? It’s in there. A Scottish owl quoting poetry by Robert Burns? Absolutely (and this one was a particular pleasure). There’s also a smattering of audience participation as we aid the woodland wardens (who happen to be fairies, though not of your usual fey and Disney-fied variety) in helping the animals prepare for the long winter ahead, but just enough to keep the smaller audience members entranced.

As clever lighting shifts the timescale from day to night, one final treat may be in store – a glimpse of the winter unicorn. Give yourself up to the magic of the spectacle and you’ll feel a shiver run down your spine as it finally trots into view…

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic - David Emmings as Prince Percy Photo by Steve Tanner

David Emmings as Prince Percy Photo by Steve Tanner

And then onto Sleeping Beauty, a slightly weightier affair suitable for ages seven and up, directed by the much-lauded Sally Cookson. The scene opens on Prince Percy weeping bucket-loads of tears, and ended, as all the best tales too, with the beginning of a new adventure.

In this version, more than gender is changed. The fairy godmothers, or good fairies, have morphed into wise women – often caught chatting via the clunky telephones they keep in their equally enormous handbags.

The prince’s first birthday is approaching, and a party is planned, the invitations dispersed. Naturally, the invite to wise-women-gone-bad Sylvia (Stu Goodwin on dazzling form) goes unwritten and unsent, with familiar results. The prince is doomed to prick his finger before his 16th birthday.

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic - Stu Goodwin as Sylvia, Joe Hall as King Derek and Lucy Tuck as Queen Vanessa - Photo by Steve Tanner

Stu Goodwin as Sylvia, Joe Hall as King Derek and Lucy Tuck as Queen Vanessa – Photo by Steve Tanner

In fact, the prince’s sleep lasts only to the interval thanks to passerby Deilen, with the whole second half drawing inspiration from a Welsh folktale and taken up with Deilen’s quest to find ‘the leaves that hang but do not grow’. Before she can achieve her aim, wicked Sylvia saunters back into the mix, resulting in the floods of tears we witnessed at the beginning and giving Deilen one more task to perform.

Kezrena James as Deilen is an independent, strong-minded, believable heroine who serves as a strong antidote to the usual female fare of fairytales and pantomimes alike, while David Emmings’ Prince Percy is kind-hearted and just gutsy enough not to be irredeemably annoying.

But, (along with the musicians Brian Hargreaves, Ruth Hammond and Pat Moran who deserve a special mention for sweeping the action along) it’s the wise women who steal the show – hats, handbags, oversized feet, wings and all. They’re a delight joy to watch – old biddies doing their best for the young prince they’re determined to see find a happy ending.

Sleeping Beauty is at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until the 17 January 2016.
The Night That Autumn Turned to Winter is on until 10 January 2016.
Find out more at www.bristololdvic.org.uk.

Writing prompt – grave news

Arnos Vale sunken grave cr Judy DarleyAn eerie news story caught my imagination last week. Newspaper headlines often make great #writingprompts, and this one on the Guardian website read: Police seal cemetery after grave disturbed.

You can read the full report, what little there is of it, here: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/nov/23/police-seal-off-cemetery-after-grave-disturbed

What could have happened in this Durham cemetery, and with what aim in mind?

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

A meeting of minds

Dario Fo exhibition cr Judy DarleyI’m an ardent admirer of the inspiration one art form can fuel in another. Occasionally these prompted pieces can take the form of a dialogue with the original works, adding meaning and verve to those earlier pieces.

At the Santa Giulia museum of Brescia, a duel exhibition is performing just this feat, showcasing 35 works by 1997 Nobel prize winner Dario Fo created in direct response to the work of his hero Marc Chagall.

Rather like a duet of piano and cello playing out to exquisite effect, with one passage of notes echoing and building on the other, the exhibition features celebrated pieces by Chagall reflecting moments from his youth and early adulthood, with dreams and impressions woven into the paintings and sketches, many of which have never been displayed before.

Marc Chagall sketchbook

Marc Chagall sketchbook

I entered this gallery first, accompanied by dozens of members of the Italian press, all jostling for a closer look and a quote from curator Eugenia Petrova and artist Dario Fo.

The images, which include stunning early works from Chagall’s childhood in Russia, resounded against the walls of the narrow space, presenting scenes of farmland against portraits of Jewish workers – this is the artist whose painting The Fiddler inspired the musical Fiddler on the Roof, a detail I rather love, and which demonstrates the visceral energy of his work.

L'ebreo in Rosa by March Chagall

L’ebreo in Rosa by March Chagall


Fo, you may recall, is most celebrated for his work in the theatre (as a playwright, set and costume designer, director and even composer) explaining in part, perhaps, this match made in heaven.

Many of Chagall’s works speak of love, too, which is also an enduring theme for Fo.

Blue Lovers by Marc Chagall

In a separate hall, I strolled amid the 20 works by Dario Fo, each created especially for the exhibition. Accompanied by 15 preparatory paintings, the companion pieces draw from Chagall’s work but also Fo’s own life.

They fizz with vigour, revelling in their colour-saturated canvasses. Even pieces depicting traumatic events (such as this one by Fo showing the new-born Chagall being plunged into an ice-cold bath to shock him into breathing), are packed with humour.

Dario Fo birthThere’s a wonderful sense of Dario’s personality imbuing the pieces, a wry wickedness and a glint of mischief. This is, after all, the man who muddled together European languages to create a brand new theatre experience.

Dario Fo cr Judy DarleyWhile Dario (pictured left) claims to have learnt storytelling from fisherfolk and glassblowers, his passion for the work of Chagall means much of his mark-making has been influenced by the artist described by Pablo Picasso as “the only painter left who understands what colour really is.”

It’s a legacy that lifts both segments of the conjoined exhibition, along with a passion for the fantastical and surreal.

Dario Fo was born in March 1926, and discovered Chagall’s work when he was only in his twenties.

It’s such a happy and harmonious union that I can only wonder that this collaborative exhibition didn’t happen earlier, and be glad that it happened at all.

Dario Fo's signature

Marc Chagall. Russian years 1907-1924: with a story in pictures by Dario Fo is on at the Santa Giulia museum in Brescia until 15 February 2016. I can’t think of a more delightful excuse to flit over to this beautiful Italian town than an exceptional spot of culture. Find out more about Brescia at www.bresciatourism.it/en/

A Chagall-inspired writing prompt.
A Chagall-inspired play.