Book review – The Dog Who Found Sorrow

The_Dog_Who_Found_SorrowAn uncanny magic occurs in picture books when you achieve the perfect balance between images and words. The Dog Who Found Sorrow, written by Rūta Briede, is both illustrated and translated from Latvian by Elīna Brasliņa, a combination which may be in part why this book exudes such eloquence. Evocative  illustrations are scattered sparingly with text that entices you into to a fable of resilience against melancholy.

Add in the final incantation of the book being published by The Emma Press, who are increasingly making waves with their poetry anthologies and other books, and it’s small wonder that this book is both beautiful and haunting.

Pages bloom with scant petallings of words layered lightly on a pictorial patchwork that brings our hero’s predicament to life: “One morning my home town was invaded by black clouds – first there was just one, but soon I lost count.”

While the theme of a town submerged in sadness seems decidedly grown up, the handling of the text and artwork opens it up to all demographics. In fact, this feels like an acknowledgement of the sophistication of our emotions, regardless of age.

In the story, everyone is depressed by the clouds filling their town, and no one thinks they can do anything about it, not even our hero. But this is no ordinary dog, this is a dog who wears an overcoat, grows roses and plays the harmonica. He can even climb a ladder.

I love the detail that our hero is a dog living as an equal among humans – it’s one of those appealing touches beloved of children’s books and requiring no explanation.

Our hero soon decides it’s silly to just accept things as they are – sad and grey. “Maybe there was something I could do. I put on my rain hat, took my backpack and climbed up to the attic to get onto the roof.”

The poetry of the book is so elegantly echoed in the rich, world-conjuring imagery that I can easily imagine being transformed into an animation in the future. Our dog is afraid but determined, which is something we can all draw hope and comfort from.

And with such an inspiring protagonist, of course there’ll be a happy ending.

The Dog Who Found Sorrow is published by The Emma Press

Seen or read anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

Poetry review – Empire of Dirt

Empire of Dirt coverThe poems in Thomas Stewart’s debut pamphlet Empire of Dirt share the enchanted forest feel of the darkest fairytales. Nature appears on these pages as something elemental and vaguely sordid, with humans only one footfall away from entering the shadowy, loam-scented spaces on the fringes of suburban streets.

Moving, enticing and richly redolent, these poems summon the paradoxical sense of peace laced with disquiet that’s so particular to woodlands, where the unseen creeps ever closer.

Many of the poems are about observing. In And then The Flowers Came, he writes: “outside/ the trees can/ smell me, their/ roots/ brew plots,/ they’re watching/ me, with/ everyone else”.

In Skull, Stewart invites us to become the voyeurs, ogling the intimate miracle of Adam birthing his Eve.

More contemporary suspicions come into play with the awareness of a neighbour spying from between the petals of a hibiscus across the road: “she watches/ how many cigarettes/ I smoke/ or how many times/ I check Grindr/ on my phone.” The tension between timeless and modern, and between threat and temptation, is palpable.

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Theatre review – Wise Children

Wise Children company, credit Steve Tanner (3)Vibrant, comical and moving, Wise Children at Bristol Old Vic is a joyfully dizzying swirl of an end-of-pier helter skelter with a vein of minty gravitas spiralling through the middle.

Etta Murfitt, Gareth Snook in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner

Etta Murfitt and Gareth Snook as Nora and Dora Chance

We meet twin sisters Nora and Dora Chance (Etta Murfitt and Gareth Snook) as they prepare to celebrate their 35th birthday, then zip back through time to meet their paternal grandparents. Some theatrics, debauchery and a spot of violence orphans their father and his twin brother, and so a pattern is laid out for the sisters before they’re even born.

Bringing Angela Carter’s last novel to wriggling, whooping, high-kicking life is director Emma Rice, the creative whizz behind the enchanting The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, among others. The production is the first from Rice’s new theatre company, also named Wise Children, and it’s a fabulous indication of the treats to come.

Wise Children company1, credit Steve Tanner (2)

The small cast conjure a whole world, with earlier incarnations of the sisters and their fathers appearing throughout, sometimes as ghostly memories and other times in a change of costume as a lover, pier comic or stagehand. Gender is fluid, and morals even more so. The recommendation is that performances are best suited to ages 14 and up. Sex is portrayed with cartoonish vigour or fleeting tenderness, and education on this theme from Grandma Chance is accessorised by bagels and sticks of seaside rock.

Katy Owen as Grandma Chance in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner (2)

Katy Owen as Grandma Chance

The youngest Nora and Dora (apart from Lyndie Wright’s puppets) are performed with boisterous wide-eyed enthusiasm by Mirabelle Gremaud and Bettrys Jones, while their showgirl personifications, played by Omari Douglas and Melissa James, exuded sex appeal and vulnerability in equal, overflowing measure.

Melissa James as Dora, Omari Douglas as Nora in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner

Melissa James as Dora and Omari Douglas as Nora

 

Katy Owen is magnificent as the girls’ ever-tipsy, often unclothed (apart from golden nipple tassels) grandma, while the elder embodiments of their father and uncle, (Paul Hunter and Paul Rider) manage to smudge the bravado of their younger selves (Ankur Bahl and Sam Archer) into the wistful, somewhat melancholy humour of old age.

Bettrys Jones, Katy Owen, Mirabelle Gremaud in Wise Children1, credit Steve Tanner

Bettrys Jones as young Dora, Katy Owen as Grandma Chance and Mirabelle Gremaud as young Nora

The sisters long to be acknowledged by their father Melchior, who abandoned their pregnant mother, but settle instead for the intermittent adoration of his brother, Peregrine. Dashing and affectionate, young Peregrine is also the instigator of one of the production’s most chilling scenes.

Taking place in a moment of quiet between 13-year-old Dora (Bettrys Jones) and her uncle, while other action takes place around them, it’s skilfully handled enough that we questioned whether we’d really seen what we thought we’d seen – a unnerving parallel to the reality of such instances.

Melissa James as Showgirl Dora in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner (2)

Laughter, song and dance coupled with the vivid set (including an ingenious turning caravan and some exquisite projected animation) plus enticing costumes by Vicki Mortimer keeps the tone on the right side of fun, but this dark core thread draws us towards the shadows beyond the glitz, if only for seconds at a time.

Wise Children is on at Bristol Old Vic until 16th February 2019. Find out more and book tickets. Production images by Steve Tanner.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

Review – Quartet: The Four Seasons

Quartet coverEdited by Deborah Gaye of Avalanche books, Quartet is a celebration of the moods that make up each season. The anthology of poetry and short prose doubles up as an almanac reminding us of the best that every quarter of the year has to offer.

Two of my pieces, a poem and a flash fiction (More Water Than Land and The Moth Room), lodge in these pages, among with many, many others. We begin in winter with a murmuration, glimpses of lapwings, an “upturned umbrella” on Pendine Sands, and the generosity of a dawn sky “layered in gold.”

In DecemberJohn Mole welcomes nostalgia in the form of “our ghosts/ as they come out of hiding/ to warm their hands/ at the fire we have made”, while in Foula, Auls Yule, Katrina Porteous invites us to “drink to the days/ the sun makes ripe”.

In Precious, Gaia Holmes evokes the magic of ice working “its dark magic,/ gliding and glazing/ the grid of dull roads,/ laminating grass/ and slug tracks,/ making rotten fence posts/ precious”. It’s such a vivid, recognisable scene of the ordinary rendered spectacular. Continue reading

Poetry review – The Weather In Normal by Carrie Etter

The Weather In Normal coverThis limbo time between Christmas and New Year always seems to me to be a period for renewal and contemplation. Few things facilitate this better than a poetry collection that speaks of space, time and what it is to be human. make p

Carrie Etter’s fourth poetry collection, The Weather In Normal, is an ideal choice. A deep tenderness weaves through the pages, from the love of family to the love of place. Etter succeeds in reminding us that the breadth of her setting is echoed within the confines of each person, where rolling prairie sweeps us through the range of emotions, predilections and experiences that make up our psychological topography.

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Theatre review – A Christmas Carol

Ensemble and Felix Hayes as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint LewisOver the years, Bristol Old Vic has set expectations high with its inventive, ingenious takes on classic Christmas shows. The production of A Christmas Carol met those hopes head on with a bundle of exceptional touches:

  • A multi-talented cast
  • Infectious music
  • Light audience participation
  • Magical lighting
  • Creative sets
  • Impressive puppetry
  • Gender swapping

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick and tick.

Full Company in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint Lewis

Adapted by Bristol Old Vic’s Artistic Director Tom Morris, Dicken’s spooky, marginally gloomy tale of redemption is revved up into an exultant spectacle. Scrooge is misanthropic and menacing (helped by actor Felix Hayes’ height and undeniable stage presence), but delightfully droll. Wry asides ensure that at times we’re almost on his side for eschewing the glitz and kitsch of Christmas in favour of a bit of peace and quiet…

Felix Hayes, Saikat Ahamed and Nadia Nadarajah in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint Lewis

Nadia Nadarajah’s Bob Crotchet, shown far right above, converses entirely in British Sign Language, which serves both to enhance the physical exuberance of her performance, and to keep Scrooge at one remove as he struggles with and largely turns from what he refers to as “wavy hand language”, at least initially.

Saikat Ahamed and ensemble in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint Lewis

The majority of the cast members play multiple roles, with the audience invited into the theatrical mischief – snow is delivered in handfuls from the top of a rolling staircase, and when stepping from his nephew Freddie’s home to that of the Cratchit family, Scrooge passes Freddie the bonnet belonging to Mrs Cratchit, commenting, “You’ll be needing this”, and reminding us of actor Saikat Ahamed’s dual role.

Felix Hayes as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint Lewis

More doubling up occurs with several of the ensemble also providing the original musical score, right up to musical director and composer Gwyneth Herbert, who also plays the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Full Company of A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint Lewis

Designer Tom Roger’s set is equally adaptable and dynamic – as well as the staircase mentioned above, there are doorways on casters and Scrooge’s four-poster bed, with Anna Watson’s skilful lighting adding atmosphere in spades. Humour is woven throughout, but never more so than in the scenes of revelry, including the Fezziwigs Christmas party where dance moves include flossing. The British Sign Language for ‘dance’ is incorporated as another enthusiastic move.

Audience participation  includes a brief singalong near the end, which, while fully optional, gives the audience a chance to release some of the giddy joy that has inevitably been building up throughout.

In many senses, Dicken’s story is a moral coming of age tale. With the Bristol Old Vic treatment, this production ramps up this theme, as Scrooge is reminded of the power of the imagination he’s set aside since his school days, as well as the love he let slip by and the value of human connection.

A gorgeously rambunctious and imaginative production.

Production photography by Geraint Lewis.

A Christmas Carol is on at Bristol Old Vic until 13th January 2019. Find out more and book tickets.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

Seven days of books

Alison Uttley A Traveller In TimeA while ago my sister tagged me on social media to share the cover of a favourite book every day for a week. In the shopping frenzy that precedes Christmas, I thought I’d share those recommendations here.

1 On day one I chose one of my favourite childhood books: Alison Ottley’s A Traveller In Time. This book captivated my imagination. We lived in an old house and I often thought I could feel the vibrations of the people who’d lived there before us. Uttley’s words gave these fantasies vivid realisation, as well as introducing me to Mary Queen of Scots.

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer was another favourite at this time.

The Persephone Book of Short Stories2 I knew I wanted to include some short stories, but picking just one writer was a problem.  The Persephone Book of Short Stories came to my rescue.

It comprises 30 stories by women writers, with their original publication dates spanning from 1909 to 1986.

Amongst this number are an array of excellent stories including gems by Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy Whipple and Diana Athill.

Plus it’s a really beautiful book.

The Bone People by Kerry Hulme

 

3 It’s a long time since I read this book, but I was really keen to include The Bone People by Keri Hulme. It’s a truly magical blend of Maori and Christian fables wound into a suspense-filled narrative – begun as a short story before blossoming into a self-published novel that ended up as a Booker prize winner in 1985.

4 Emily Hinshelwood’s On Becoming A Fish is the poetry collection I turn to when asked to read something aloud that I haven’t written myself. I love poems than encompass journeys, and Emily’s invite us to accompany her on a series of meandering strolls through the coastal landscapes of west Wales. Read my full review of On Becoming A Fish.

Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland

5 Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales by Sara Maitland contains her revitalised fairytales interspersed with thoughtful writing on Britain’s great ancient forests, month by month. There’s also a sentimental reason for including this book, as my dad and I went to hear her read twice and got her to sign this volume to us both.

Sara also wrote the wonderful A Book of Silence.

The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett

6 By chance, Terry Pratchett is the only male author to make it onto this elite list. The Carpet People (ironically photographed here against bare floorboards) opened up the possibilities of what grown ups will accept in their fictions – in other words, quite possibly anything, providing it’s done with incomparable skill and daring. Written prior to his Discworld Series, this debut is fabulously bonkers and was an early indication of his imaginative genius.

Beakless Bluebirds and Featherless Penguins by Sister Barbara Ann

7 It was a challenge to decide what to post  ton my final day. My heaving shelves of books all seemed to have an opinion! So I decided to share what I was reading at that time, and in retrospect it was an excellent choice.

Beakless Bluebirds & Featherless Penguins by Sister Barbara Ann is a book I discovered in a remarkable bookstore while visiting my American cousins. It’s part journal, part nature writing, with a passion for flora and fauna expressed with wry common sense and a light touch of humour.

Put simply, it’s like spending a weekend in the rural cottage belonging to a favourite, slightly eccentric aunt.

What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Art review – RWA Open Exhibition 166

Daydream by John Huggins. Photo by Judy DarleyThe galleries at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) have a grandeur about them that rivals many of the world’s finest art museums. Their annual open exhibition opens up those spaces to any artist with vision and talent. I adore the democratic nature of this annual show, where anyone can submit their work for the possibility of seeing it selected to see it hang or stand among notable creations ranging from the famous, to the infamous.

The 166th open exhibition lives up to those aims, with paintings crowding walls to the extent that at times you’ll be crouching, and at others balancing on tiptoe. Inevitably, this leads to some being more difficult to view, and more than once, I was asked by older gallery visitors to read out the small notices revealing artist and exhibit name.

Offerings (Earth) by Jenny Leigh_Photo by James Beck

Offerings (Earth) by Jenny Leigh_Photo by James Beck

Sculptures gathered in unexpected groupings too, from totem-esque found and assembled materials, to a transparent bin bag crammed with what resembled rubbish, amid elegant creations such as Yurim Gough’s Four Elements. Invited artists Jock Mcfadden RA and Carol Robertson provided anchor points, while the RWA’s own Academicians offered some familiarity.

The whimsical Octavia (below) by Caroline Taylor summoned up memories of myths – we sorely wanted to take her home, but found had already sold. Other favourites included Clouds, Fields, Moor by Andrew Hardwick and John Huggins’ Daydream, shown at the top of this post.

Octavia by Caroline Taylor

Octavia by Caroline Taylor

In other instances, it was human figures who enchanted us, in ceramics, bronze, ink and paint. A quizzically tilted head or the choice of a cabbage and pigeon as a crown was enough to elicit charmed giggles.

Altogether, despite the number of landscapes and abstracts on offer, this is a very congenial exhibition. The majority of the selected items brim with personality. Whether inspired by human, by animal or by a playful or startling blend of the two, the artworks on show given the impression of freezing momentarily as we enter, and continuing their conversational chatter after we depart.

Mule Head by Dorcas Casey_Photo by James Beck

Mule Head by Dorcas Casey_Photo by James Beck

The less characterful creations are, for the most part, equally enticing. I saw a child zone in immediately to this sculpture below, drawn by its bright colour and resemblance to a familiar toy.

RWA Open Exhibition 2018. Photo by James Beck

RWA Open Exhibition 2018. Photo by James Beck

To me that’s much of the magic of an assembled exhibition like this, where serious themes give way to the joy of originality. It invites us to remember the delight of creating – of letting our imaginations loose to rambunctiously play. This is an open exhibition that celebrates art in all its forms, and invites us to bring our own openness to the mix.

Until 25th November 2018 at the RWA, Bristol.

Seen, read or experienced anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

Book review Live Show, Drink Included by Vicky Grut

Live Show, Drink Included by Vicky GrutIn her debut short story collection Live Show, Drink Included, Vicky Grut reveals her knack for summoning up characters so real they’ll follow you around your house, loitering in your kitchen as you make a cup of coffee until you almost feel you should offer them one too. Her protagonists crackle with unspoken preoccupations that often verge on somewhat unsettling obsessions. These are people you might see marking the perimeter of a social gathering, being avoided largely due to the air of discontentment, and even, resentment, that they exude.

Yet their delivery through Grut’s carefully selected words is deeply relatable. With her skilful hand, she renders them comedic, lyrical, or a shining blend of the two. We eavesdrop and enjoy their conundrums while being glad, for the most part, not to share them.

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Milk Poetry review

Tom DenbighUnfolding in Foyles Bookshop Bristol as part of Bristol Festival of Literature, Milk Poetry wound through our ears, hearts and minds, reminding us that words have a life beyond the page. This group of skilful poets and their guests each imbue their lines, rhymes and musings with startling individuality and honesty.

Malaika Kegode founded Milk Poetry in January 2015. “Milk Poetry was conceived to be a friendly, nurturing night that treated all performers with equal respect, warmth and room for growth,” she says. “The impetus behind the night was to offer equal billing and opportunity for up and coming poets, with a focus on artist development. Many poets can get stuck in limbo after performing for a couple of years; not quite a headliner but creating work more advanced than standard open mic fare. So Milk Poetry was created to bridge that gap and offer chances for people to hone their skills on stage and perform shoulder-to-shoulder with ‘big name’ acts, so they can feel like the true artists they are!”

She adds: “As Milk Poetry has grown, I think that nurturing backbone has just become stronger, and some artists who started performing for the first time at Milk Poetry have gone on to be major players in the poetry world.”

Tom Sastry

The evening opened with the wit and self-depreciating humour of Tom Sastry. Tom is one of the 2016 Laureate’s Choice poets. He brought us the first and only use of the word “ersatz” and wrote of “ganging up on our past selves who we secretly love” and “dead cakes in cellophane.” Many of his poems were a whisper away from being reclassified as flash fictions, pouring whole lives into our ears distilled down into a few vivid lines.

Malaika Kegode. Photo by Judy Darley

Next up, Malaika Kegode’s poem rattled through and over us, drawing us into a train journey, a relationship gone awry, and an ending so tragic that it made my teeth shake. There’s something powerfully filmic about her composition, so that you see the train carriage and its passengers, see the passing fields with their excess of sheep, and see the moon and the sun each highlighting what went wrong.

Next up, multiple slam winner Tom Denbigh (picture at the top of this post) delivered a story in the form of a poem, setting word choices at curious angles that created a sense of eavesdropping, and getting caught. He brought us the evening’s first use of the word “cardigan.” Offbeat and comic, the poem twitched with a sense of the search for identity, and of trying to solve the puzzles that make up the people we encounter.

Sam Grudgings. Photo by Judy Darley

Milk co producer Sam Grudgings, who describes himself as a poet perpetually on the edge of collapse, had rather delightfully brought his granny along. Taking us collectively by the hand, Sam led us on an excursion into a haunted house, speaking not to us but to the ghost herself, with her “arson fingers.’ Exquisite imagery drew us into a gloriously painterly scene, pegged with emotion.

Beth Calverley. Photo by Judy Darley

The potent Beth Calverley, co producer of Milk and Chief Operator of The Poetry Machine, performed Witchcraft, a poem laced with tenderness. Her words glimmered as though lit from within, with echos sounding quietly on the peripheral of our hearing. As Sam said in introducting Beth, her poetry is comprised of layers of meaning – there’s far more here than a single read or listen can reveal.

Rebecca Tantony. Photo by Judy Darley

Our final poet Rebecca Tantony shared a set of poems rooted in the complexities of family. Visceral, raw and compellingly intimate, Rebecca’s poems sent tremors oscillating the bookshop’s air, rustling pages and ricocheted empathetic shivers down listeners’ spines.

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Seen, read or experienced anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.