Novella review – Burn It All Down by Karen Jones

Burn It All Down by Karen Jones_front_coverImagine a farm on a seashore where two sisters celebrate the possible death of their brother-in-law, and the third, his wife, isn’t sure whether to mourn or join in with her sisters’ revelries.

Imagine a home where chickens, guinea pigs and hedgehogs roam free with the memory of a pheasant on a leash.

Imagine if you couldn’t be sure what was real.

Inspired by the artwork of Andrea Kowch, Karen Jones paints a world where loneliness etches figures against the dusk. Beth has been married off to a man she doesn’t love, which means that the farm where she grew up now belongs to strangers. When her husband fails to return from a sea voyage, the mood grows unstable and Beth’s main concern is whether she will ever be touched again.

Her sisters Olivia and Esther are wild, riddled with spite and mockery, yet seem to want more than anything to lift Beth from her melancholy and infuse her with their unbridled joy. They are also uncanny creatures, who, Beth notes, “know my thoughts and dreams, even though I have never told them of these fancies. They knew my mind as if it were theirs.”

The stories turn you like waves with dreamlike passages soaked through with stark realism as the sisters claim they need no man, and pragmatic Beth disagrees, stating in ‘There Goes The Bride’: “They are naïve. No one would trade with us. No one trades with women, except to take advantage.”

The last line in the same brief tale offers an excellent example of the author’s capacity for wielding wit to devastate unwary readers: “Alone in my marital bed, I counted my blessings; it did not take long.”

The ekphrastic writing is so vivid, it’s easy to envision the paintings they sprang from, but it’s well worth a quick Google – like having a rumour satisfyingly confirmed.

The penultimate story is also the title tale and contains the full novella pinned to just enough words to fill a page. It’s a gorgeously compact work of prose poetry. The rhythm offers echoing refrains and vivid scenes to revel in, from “an ungrateful cat” who spits out milk to the desire to “knead your skin and bruise it like the berries for tomorrow’s pie, because there must always be pie.” These are sentences so artfully crafted they engage all the senses and seem richly scented and as seething with heat as a crowded kitchen.

The entire novella is a feast of impressions, where grief tangles in the wind with delusions and uncertain wishes. By the end of the book however, the yearnings have settled into something satisfyingly sure and possible. An enrapturing read full of heady passages that weave together to draw you inescapably in.

Burn It All Down by Karen Jones is published by Arroyo Seco Press and available to buy here.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

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 review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Novella review – A Tricky Dance by Diane Simmons

A Tricky Dance Cover. Shows figures dancing in a swirl of red and blueContained within just forty pages, Diane Simmons’ novella-in-flash portrays a 1970s childhood and adolescence that shines with possibilities. Exploring the ways we discover, confound or eschew our assumed paths through life, Diane introduces us to Elspeth, not the richest and maybe not the smartest, the most popular or the prettiest, but very much the star of her own story.

Diane seeds in the important details with a deft hand. In the second story, ‘Things in Common’, we learn that new girl Lorna “doesn’t mention her dad. Maybe she’s not got one. It’d be great not to be the only one in our class without a dad.”

The slim volume shimmies with what isn’t, who hasn’t and what can’t possibly be, with dreams held close to protect them from being quashed with mockery. This is a community where it doesn’t do to let others know you’re bolshy enough to crave the stars, as Rory, the one person who truly seems to see Elspeth for all wonder she contains, discovers when he’s reckless enough to admit to wanting to be an astronaut. “‘We don’t have rockets in Scotland, stupit!’ Jennifer sneered at him when he gave his answer. ‘We’re no America!’”

Elspeth wisely keeps her dreams to herself, for now.

This is a place and time where liking (or pretending to like) the right Bay City Roller sits alongside the practice of “guising” – going from house to house to earn some pennies with a dance or a song.

For Elspeth, ballet lessons seem as far out of reach as the moon, as she counts the coins in her piggy bank, “calculate what I’ll need for Guides, for the school trip to Edinburgh Castle, for my mum’s birthday next week. Maybe if I stopped Guides, sold my uniform, scrounged a few quid off Mum… And then I remember the hole in my school shoes, remember Mum’s face when I told her.”

There’s a huge amount of power in this matter-of-fact, uncomplaining tone. Elspeth is determined to find a way to dance, to get on and fit in, despite the challenges she faces, and that makes her hugely appealing as a protagonist.

In the early stories, the loneliness and treachery of playground rivalries and betrayals take centre stage, but before long Elspeth’s spirit and determination grow unmistakable.

The steadiness to the prose keeps you rooted in Elspeth’s world, where extra paper rounds and hand-me-down dancing shoes provide opportunities. Small triumphs come in the form of mastering Pythagoras, while letters written to the Jackie Magazine advice page manifest gifts as crucial and magical as any glass slippers.

Elspeth’s quiet confidence elevates these interlinked tales. As she heads to the football field and notice that one of the lads, Ewan, has the ball, she notes: “He always has the ball. And he’s always Jennifer’s dancing partner. But me and Ewan hang out some nights and play football – I bet he’d rather dance with me.”

The language pops throughout, painting Elspeth and her classmates in your mind’s eye as vividly as any description could. Filmic and absorbing, I felt I’d streamed a mini-series and binged it in one sitting, and was now desperate for Season 2 to drop.

A Tricky Dance by Diane Simmons is available to purchase here.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

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 review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Book review – The Naming of Moths by Tracy Fells

The Naming of Moths book coverWith such an evocative title and cover, you know you’re in for a world of wonder with this collection of short fiction. The tagline ‘Short stories of myths, monsters and mothers’ adds a flicker of curiosity before you enter the pages’ worlds.

The gorgeous title story won author Tracy Fells the Canada and Europe regional award for the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. This tender tale of loss and solace weaves in the displacement of war with ancient mythologies about the longing for a child. In it, we’re invited to consider ideas of responsibility and ritual, in which the naming of moths has both an emotional and empowering purpose.

Fells has the skill to pepper potentially sad scenes with quirky, images that make you smile: “The woman with the moustache is refreshing her lipstick in the only mirror left uncovered.” In other tales, “computers squatted like fat hens” while in another a cake falls “in jammy clumps” onto a pair of “ballet pumps.”

‘Twisted’ is an exquisitely told, achingly dark tale of birthdays and family, balanced by luscious lines like the ones above.

Fells’ lyrical mastery over word choices gives every passage a special sort of glow, illuminated. A theme of metamorphosis runs throughout, as characters take back some element of control, changing lives for the better or simply shaking off the past in favour of a hopeful future. Vulnerable characters find their strength, often aided by more bolshy, beloved allies, such as Auntie Ruth in ‘Twisted’, who “said exactly what she was thinking, even if it was a bit rude.”

Other stories run along more overtly surreal tracks. ‘The Weight They Left Behind’ is a haunting piece full of colour with a hint of Black Mirror satire.

In ‘Household Gods’, Fells reminds us how little we know of other peoples’ struggles, and of the wells of compassion that run deep. Drawn into a hospital’s Special Care Unit for premature babies, we meet a couple who barely know each other, and are challenged to judge or withhold judgement from Mo, the protagonist, and his fumbling attempts to look after his ageing mother, his new wife and baby Nadira. Even here, the possibilities include the uncanny.

Fly on the Wall Press is a publishing house with a passion for great storytelling that does far more than entertain. The four-times British Book Awards’ Small Press of the Year finalists describe themselves as publishing “unparalleled political fiction, evocative poetry, and genre-defying anthologies addressing urgent global concerns.” These preoccupations are seeded subtly through their carefully selected and beautifully produced books, lodging in your consciousness and prompting you to re-examine a world where nothing should be taken for granted.

The realism in Fells’ collection forms firm foundations elevated by imaginative flights that serve to highlight aspects of human nature. These stories made me marvel at our capacity for love in all its forms, and to forge our own paths despite obstacles. Each story nudges you to remember how much happens unseen in the lives of every stranger we encounter. Sometimes it takes the surreal to help us truly glimpse the realities we live among.

The Naming of Moths by Tracy Fells is published by Fly on the Wall Press and available to buy here.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

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 review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Play review – Arabian Nights sets Bristol Old Vic aglow

Arabian Nights production photos taken at Bristol Old Vic on 24th November 2023 in Bristol. Arabian Nights Company_Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Bristol Old Vic has a tradition of staging festive productions that transport us to other worlds, with colour-infused sets and costumes, modern twists on familiar tales and a dash of humour to keep the audience enthralled.

Writer Sonali Bhattacharyya and director Blanche McIntyre have delivered in full with Arabian Nights, treating audiences to an imaginative production packed with characters designed to win hearts and jolt emotions.

With contemporary references and ironies sprinkled in, including mention of TikTok and a mobile phone as a gift for a girl who would prefer a bag of lentils, the central messages are the power of stories and of working together.

When Schere heroically takes the place of a neighbour to become the King’s next wife, she breaks a pattern the peevish king has been wedded to since his wife left – marrying a woman and then casting her into the palace dungeon the very next morning. At this point, we are told, around 100 ex-wives languish in the dungeons. Schere is determined no more women will be sacrificed to the King’s broken heart, and intends to keep the King’s attention with stories, with each nightly tale ending on a cliff-hanger.

Yasemin Özdemir as Schere is a force to be reckoned with, fearless and determined to help the King learn to be a better person. Sara Diab as Dina portrays Schere’s younger sister, deftly demonstrating her blossoming from a person who’s always believed they’re less than their sibling, and discovering her own courage.

As the King, Nicholas Karimi brings to the stage a character who is both comical and terrifying – basically a toddler who might have you thrown in the dungeon if you fail to serve him the dinner he demands.

As the King’s whims empty the sea and rob his people of food, hope begins to flourish in the form of candles glowing in the windows of parents in gratitude for their daughters who have not been summoned to marry the King thanks to Schere.

Yet when Schere is asked to make one final sacrifice, it’s more than she can bear.

Arabian Nights production photos taken at Bristol Old Vic on 24th November 2023 in Bristol. Nicholas Karimi as the King and Yasemin Özdemir as Schere with Hannah Sibai’s palace windows lit by Nao Nagai. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Nicholas Karimi as the King and Yasemin Özdemir as Schere with Hannah Sibai’s palace windows lit by Nao Nagai.

Hannah Sibai’s set is gloriously realised. Simple windows hanging in mid-air to represent the village, and an ornate trio of windows as the palace, with atmosphere painted with lighting from the talented Nao Nagai.

And, yes, Samuel Wilde’s puppets are magnificent – relying at times on the full eight-strong cast to work the horse in flight, an extraordinary serpent and the tentacles of a leviathan.

Arabian Nights production photos taken at Bristol Old Vic on 24th November 2023 in Bristol. Full company working the serpent.

Full company working Samuel Wilde’s serpent puppet.

Family sits at the heart of the tale, with Schere and Dina’s dad Maruf (Saikat Ahams) desperately trying to keep his daughters safe. We’re never told what happened to their mother, only that they miss her and set a place for her at meals. I thought she might appear in a moment of crisis, but in the end she is only a memory. The neighbours join in to help, however, and show that family can be more than biological.

One wonderful strand in the production is the discovery that the ex-wives are far from passively awaiting rescue, and are instead busily striving towards their own great escape.

It’s an apt reminder that while the stories we see ourselves represented in can empower us, we ultimately have the ability to write our own stories and be an active player in our own triumphant tales.

Arabian Nights is at Bristol Old Vic until 6th January 2024. Book ticket from £10 (plus concessions) here.

Cast

  • Saikat Ahams as Maruf
  • Ajjaz Awad as Gulab/Umm
  • Sara Diab as Dina
  • Roxy Faridany as Maryam
  • Nicholas Karimi as The King
  • Patrick Osborne as Jafar
  • Yasemin Özdemir as Schere
  • Arinder Sadhra as Rahiq/Zara

Everyone else

  • Writer Sonali Bhattacharyya
  • Director Blanche McIntyre
  • Designer Hannah Sibai
  • Lighting Designer Nao Nagai
  • Sound Designer & Composer Oğuz Kaplangı
  • Movement Director Aline David
  • Puppetry Designer and Consultant Samuel Wilde
  • Casting Director Christopher Worrall CDG
  • Associate Director Melina Namdar
  • Costume Supervisor Anna Dixon
  • Associate Puppetry Designer Hannah Southfield
  • Puppet Maker Izzy Bristow
  • Puppet Maker Bryony Harrison Pettit
  • Puppet Dresser Katy Hoste
  • Placement Maker Jessica Miller
  • Placement Maker Blue Harrison
  • Fight Director Annie Mackenzie

Have you watched, seen or read anything interesting? 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.

Porto in five senses – touch

São Bento Railway Station by James Hainsworth

There’s more to see (and touch) at São Bento Railway Station than trains. By James Hainsworth

In February 2020, my hub and I spent a long weekend in Porto, little knowing that the coronavirus pandemic was about confine us for the most part to our own homes.

In this time, I believe it’s vital to recall the beautiful, wide and varied world that exists beyond our immediate locality, and with this in mind I’ve been sharing a five-part travel guide to Portugal’s second largest city.

Each Tuesday in lockdown I’ve posted a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense, beginning with the most evocative – the sense of smell. Last week was all about the sounds that knit this city together.

Today I’ll guide you through this characterful town via the sense of touch.

Touch – the city walls

Porto is famed of its tiled edifices, one of the finest examples of which is the foyer of São Bento Railway Station (Praça de Almeida Garrett, 4000-069 Porto, Portugal).

Porto tiled boulder by Judy Darley

Even some of the boulders are tiled in Porto. By Judy Darley

I couldn’t help reaching out to run my fingers over the city’s ancient walls. This was before touching became a risk-seeker’s adrenalin sport, don’t forget. The moist atmosphere, which is part of the reason why so many buildings are tiled way and beyond our own bathroom tiling at home, ensures that any uncovered stones tend to sport lichen or lovely moss.

Porto craggy walls by Judy Darley

Stepping inside buildings such as Chocolateria Ecuador (Rua de Sá da Bandeira 637, 4000-437 Porto, Portugal) reveals the textural riches within, as well, in this case, the scent and flavour sensations.

Chocolateria Ecuador by James Hainsworth

Treat your sense of touch, taste and smell at Chocolateria Ecuador. By James Hainsworth

Plus, quite a few shops we visited have their own shop cat mewing out for a consensual stroke.

Porto shop cat by Judy Darley

Come on in to meet today’s special purr-chase. By Judy Darley

Explore Porto’s other sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – hearing

Porto in five senses – hearing

Seagulls above Porto Cathedral1 by James Hainsworth

Seagulls above Porto Cathedral by James Hainsworth

This travel article was originally published in April 2020.

Late in February 2020, my hub and I flitted off for a long weekend in Porto. We had no way of guessing that within a couple of weeks we’d be in lockdown, confined to our homes.

Porto’s attractions may be closed for the foreseeable future, but I believe it’s more important now than ever to remember that a whole world exists beyond our immediate surroundings.

Each Tuesday in lockdown I’ve posted a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense, beginning with the most evocative – the sense of smell. This week is all about the sounds that knit this city together.

Porto busker on Rua das Flores by Judy Darley

Busker on Rua das Flores, Porto, by Judy Darley

Hearing – Porto’s street musicians

While Fado, the Portuguese songs of lament, rolls out from a number of bars as well as part of a Cálem port tasting package, you can’t go wrong with a bit of busker-appreciation in Porto. The streets are peppered with musicians and singers; the more tourist-heavy the route, the more performers you’ll encounter. Even on a breezy day in very early March, people paused to listen to this musician on Rua das Flores.

Porto tram by Judy Darley

Porto tram by Judy Darley

There’s also plenty of ambient noise here – the whirr of approaching trams and the cry of seagulls choosing which monument to settle on are two that seem to sum up Porto’s romantic character.

Explore Porto’s other sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – touch

Porto in five senses – sight

Torre Clerigos views by James HainsworthThis travel article was originally published in April 2020.

In February 2020, my hub and I flew to Porto for a city-break. It’s difficult to imagine how easily we took that freedom for granted before the coronavirus spread into a global pandemic.

For a long time, I thought I’d wait until life goes ‘back to normal’ to publish my impressions of Porto, but I’ve realised how important it is to remember what an extraordinary world exists beyond the homes we’re now confined to.

Each Tuesday over the coming weeks I’ll post a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense,

Two weeks ago I began our five-part journey with the sense of smell.

Last week we tucked into the sense of taste.

This week we’ll explore the sense of sight.

Torre Clerigos by James Hainsworth

Torre Clerigos by James Hainsworth

Sight – climbing high for panoramic views

You can’t beat a tower for views. Torre Clérigos’ lovely, spindly structure has been standing for more than 250 years, but only opened to the public in 2014 following a full renovation. The baroque tower is more than 75m high, with 225 steep winding steps that open up into narrow viewing platforms offering a 360° panorama of the city.

Torre Clerigos church by Judy Darley

Your entrance ticket includes a visit to the church, Igreja dos Clérigos, which is circled by walkways that take you up and up, with openings at all sides and levels to offer views of the church and all its treasures from every possible vantage point. There’s also a museum that includes the exhibition Passion, Journey of Shapes and Images of the Christ.

Torre Clerigos Christs exhibit by Judy Darley

A wall of Christ. Photo by Judy Darley

Reaching the top of the tower takes patience and persistence as there’s only room for one way traffic, which means everything comes to a halt whenever a tourist wants to go down. The steps are winding and uneven, so do be careful, and take your time.

Torre Clerigos by Judy Darley5

On the way up the winding stairs, narrow slits offer glimpses of Porto. Photo by Judy Darley

It’s well worth the spiralling pilgrimage, however. From the highest level you can view everything from the bridges and port houses to the nearby Livraria Lello bookshop (Livraria Lello, S.A. Rua das Carmelitas, 144 4050-161 Porto Portugal), credited with inspiring JK Rowling while she was writing Harry Potter. We decided to pop in (which required more patience and persistence than the tower!), after we’d drunk our fill of the sights from Torre Clérigos.

The serpentine queues waiting to enter Livraria Lello are nothing compared to the crush within, where people edge toe to heel with one another through the glorious space where books look on in wonder (I assume). Think the exact opposite of social distancing and you might be able to envision the intensity of the crowds.

Livraria Lello by Judy Darley

Livraria Lello – one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops, even without the Harry Potter fame. Photo by Judy Darley

Explore Porto’s sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – hearing
Porto in five senses – touch

Porto in five senses – taste

Porto Calem tasting by James Hainsworth

Fortify yourself with a sip of the elixir named after this fair city. Photo by James Hainsworth

This travel article was originally published in April 2020.

Little over a month ago, my hub and I travelled to Porto for a long weekend away. We had no idea how extreme the global coronavirus pandemic was about to become, or that by this time we’d be growing accustomed to life in lockdown.

I considered waiting until this is over to publish my experiences of Porto, but believe a little armchair travel is more important now than ever.

Each Tuesday over the coming weeks I’ll post a new travel guide to Portugal’s second city, one of my favourite places in the world, focusing on a different sense. Last week I guided you through Porto via the sense of smell.

This week I’ll show you around via the sense of taste.

Dom Luis I Bridge by james Hainsworth

The Eiffel-inspired Dom Luis I Bridge. By James Hainsworth

Taste – the port houses

Porto is famed for its port houses, and the rich, sweet fortified wine you might pull out on winter evenings is actually named after the city. To reach it, you can amble down the alleyways from Porto Cathedral to the Ribeira district. The river is crossed by six bridges, the most famous and photographed of which is Dom Luis I Bridge, built in 1886 and designed (you might have guessed this from its familiar structure) by a student of Gustave Eiffel.

The lower level of this one (the road-traffic and pedestrian level) is the one you want, Stroll across to Vila Nova de Gaia, pausing to admire views over the water and the cable cars swooping over Vila Nova de Gaia.

Founded António Alves Cálem in 1859, Porto Cálem (Avenida de Diogo Leite, 344, Vila Nova de Gaia) exported across the Atlantic to Brazil rather than the UK like everyone else. It clearly paid off – within a few years, the business had its own fleet of ships. Today Cálem,along with Kopke, Burmester and Barros, is part of the Sogevinus group, and boasts an interactive museum and atmospheric tours culminating at the tasting room.

Porto Calem museum by James Hainsworth

The museum is a fun starting point, with information on the Douro region where wines are produced before being brought to Gaia to further deepen their flavours with time and patience. My favourite part of the exhibition was a table of smells, where you could take a sniff, try to identify the smell, and then reveal your accuracy by pulling out a drawer. Hazelnut, it appears, has a more recognisable and pleasing aroma than chocolate, which is unexpectedly bitter in scent.

There’s also a chance to watch a curiously relaxing film of skilled artisans crafting a gigantic oak and stainless steel port barrel.

Porto Calem tour by James Hainsworth

The informative tour includes in eerie insight into flooding in the Gaia district, with water heights on marked on a gigantic barrel.

But the highlight, of course, is the tasting, where you can sip the silken white, tawny, ruby and even rosé port, with flavours encompassing plums, sultanas and hints of honey.

Time your visit with care, and you might emerge into the riverside’s glimmering dusk with the sweetness of port still on your tongue.

Rio Douro after nightfall by Judy Darley

Explore Porto’s sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – hearing
Porto in five senses – touch

Porto in five senses – smell

Claus Porto exterior by James Hainsworth

Claus Porto, Rua das Flores. By James Hainsworth

This travel article was originally published in April 2020.

On the last day of February 2020, my hub and I flitted off for a long weekend in Porto. It was in the week that separates our birthdays, and 29th February is a rare date that in itself made us want to make it memorable.

We had no idea how extreme the global coronavirus pandemic was about to become, or that just weeks later we’d be in lockdown, confined for the most part to our own homes for our safety and the safety of others.

For a long time, I thought I’d wait until this is over to publish my travel piece about Porto, and that there was no point in sharing it until people can roam again. Then I realised how important it is to remember what a beautiful, wide and varied world exists beyond the views we see from our windows. I originally published this piece on 31st March 2020. As we embrace travel with open arms once more I want to share it again, and dream of journeys to come.

Portugal’s second city is a vivid tangle of streets bisected by the River Douro, with the banks linked by gorgeous bridges and flanked by steep streets lined with colourful buildings housing residents, bars and museums aplenty. It’s the perfect place for a 48-hour escape, with uncommon attractions to feed each of your five senses.

Each Tuesday over the coming weeks I’ll post a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense, beginning with the most evocative – the sense of smell.

Smell – Claus Porto’s fragrance emporium

Claus Porto staircase by Judy Darley

Claus Porto’s M.C. Escher-esque staircase. By Judy Darley

Claus Porto (Rua das Flores, 22 Porto 4050-262) is a fantastic soap and perfume company founded by German businessmen Ferdinand Claus and Georges Schweder in 1887 in the Portuguese city they loved. Using ingredients sourced from the Portuguese countryside and eventually opening its own lithography company to produce the art gallery-quality packaging, Claus Porto has survived two World Wars, plus dictatorships and revolutions.

Claus Porto soaps by Judy Darley

Claus Porto soaps, not artisan bakery macaroons… By Judy Darley

The flagship store occupies a typical 19th-century Porto townhouse that used to be a marionette museum and now sports an eye-boggling tiled floor and an exhibition space on the first floor showing off their packaging and historical titbits, including a gold medal awarded at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis, USA.

Their packaging is so exquisite that you can now buy matching notebooks – ideal for those moments of bathroom inspiration!

Claus Porto soap wall by James Hainsworth

Claus Porto shows off its lithography from floor to ceiling. By James Hainsworth

Don’t miss the ‘soap wall’ exhibit mid-way up the staircase.

The ground floor includes an artful array of luxurious soaps, lotions and other products we could only afford to sniff, plus a barber’s station. Natural ingredients range from wild pansy to parma violets to figs to cedar to tobacco blossom. During our brief visit, we grew rather fond of the barber’s dog.

Claus Porto barber's dog by Judy Darley

Meet the barber’s dog. By Judy Darley

Next week, I’ll introduce you to Porto’s tastiest attraction – port!

Explore Porto’s sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – hearing 
Porto in five senses – touch

Theatre review – Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror

Abbie Purvis as Krista. Photo by PAUL BLAKEMORE

With a cast of phenomenal actors and circus performers, Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror is a show that teems with energy, friendship, treachery and wonder. Written by Hattie Naylor and Jamie Beddard, and created by Extraordinary Bodies with Bristol Old Vic and Theatre Royal Plymouth, it tells the tale of a time when being different could cost you your life. Set in 1933, Germany, as the Third Reich are beginning to eradicate anyone they don’t like the look of, Waldo’s travelling circus offers a refuge to outcasts, while the whole ensemble face great dangers themselves.

Garry Robson as Waldo and company. Photo by Paul Blakemore

We open on a scene at the end of a performance, gaining a visual teaser of the talents on stage, from aerialists to jugglers. Hijinks with ladders, bowler hats and trapezes enthral, and audience member and would-be chemist Gerhard (Lawrence Swaddle) has his life changed forever when he braves the tightrope and is invited to join.

Garry Robson as Waldo the Ringmaster is a brilliantly complex character, hard on his performers and even harder on his own son Peter (Tilly Lee-Kronnick), with terrible consequences. Mirabelle Gremaud’s fortune teller/acrobat Queenie can see the darkness that’s coming, while in her other key role as Margot, she’s eager to embrace all that the Nazis stand for.

Despite the circus tricks, this is very much a show for ages 12 and up.

Like all good circus, and theatre, humour runs alongside pathos, Raphaella Julien and Brooklyn Melvin provide poignant and comic edge as signing clowns Mish and Mosh.

The signing is elegantly dance-like, and show interpreter Max Marchewicz is another delight – observing, signing and occasionally interacting with the rest of the cast when we least expect it.

As the star of the circus, Krista (Abbie Purvis) wins our hearts, and Gerhard’s, often delivering hard truths in the form of song. Love stories erupt and falter throughout, as the characters scrutinise their own and each other’s prejudices.

Full Company IMAGES PAUL BLAKEMORE

One of the most moving scenes shows an argument between Abbie and Gerhard in which he admits he believes his life may be worth more than that of Dora (JoAnne Haines), following which Dora clowns around gracefully trying to make the despondent, self-doubting Gerhard smile.

Circus skills add to the emotional heft. aerial work by Jonny Leitch (Renee) and Tilly Lee-Kronnick is a particular marvel, defying gravity while subtly demonstrating their characters’ deep affection for one another.

By the end, many of the characters have gained fresh understanding of each other’s perspectives, and we, as an audience have too.

Aside from all that, however, this is very much an homage to the joy and sparkle of performance, and the far-reaching strength of empathy and courage.

Photos by Paul Blakemore.

Waldo’s Circus is on at Bristol Old Vic until 1st April before going on tour.

All performances are Chilled*, Signed, Captioned and Audio Described.

Find details and buy tickets here.

  • 20 – 22 April  The Lowry Salford Quays
  • 26 – 29 April  Theatre Royal Plymouth
  • 4 – 6 May  MAST Mayflower Studios Southampton
  • 20 May  Lighthouse Poole
  • 7 June  Brighton Dome

Have you watched, seen or read anything interesting? 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.