Book review – Who Are You? by Anna Kavan

Who Are You coverLike a long, hot fevered dream, Anna Kavan’s story of a stifling marriage swarms with darkness and half-seen threats. Living in a tropical region labelled only through slang as ‘white man’s grave,’ our heroine is struggling to give up of the illuminated life of academic pursuit she’s left behind and accept the wedded unhappiness she’s been forced into.

Her husband, known by the staff as Mr Dog Head, seems no more satisfied with the arrangement. Her silences make him distrustful, which in turn causes him to simmer with violence. Favourite games include playing tennis with unwary rats, and forcing the girl to look on. At any moment, it appears, he’ll turn that brutality on his wife.

We witness the story through the eyes of an omniscient narrator, who shares one viewpoint, then another, often only speculating about the inward cause of responses and actions. It feels as though we are the mosquitoes that the girl unthinkingly lets into the house – swarming and spying on this desolate marriage.

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Book review The Dragonfly by Kate Dunn

The Dragonfly by Kate DunnA father incarcerated for killing his wife. A grandfather ousted from solitude into the care of his granddaughter. An angry nine-year-old, a toy monkey and a boat slicing through the waterways of France.

Got that?

Kate Dunn’s set-up seems as much a surprise to her characters as to readers, seeking a genre to hook her book onto. As we meet Colin, an English man who has buried his loneliness in boatbuilding, there’s a curious comfort in not quite knowing where we’re going.

Colin holds himself separate to us so that it takes a while to get a sense of him and the great, multiple heartbreaks that separated him from his son years before. This aloofness is no error in judgement from Dunn, however, as the pages drift by and you find yourself warming to Colin and his awkwardness.

The story really comes to life when Delphine, the afore-mentioned angry nine-year-old, and her precious soft toy Amandine. Fizzing into the plot, Delphine is full of a barely contained rage that seems only appropriate given the death of her mother Charlotte and subsequent imprisonment of her father Michael. Continue reading

Invigorating imaginations with At-Bristol

Nephew exploring At-Bristol by Judy DarleyAt 10am yesterday, my eight-year-old nephew was the first person to enter At-Bristol. For the fleetest of moments, he had the whole, magical place to himself. The expression on his face was one of awe, but also faint panic. As a child with ADHD, being presented with limitless possibilities can be daunting. Swiftly he focussed on his favourite exhibit and we hurried over to feed a skeleton and watch his energy levels rise and fall.

This is just one of countless interactive exhibits at the Bristol hands-on science centre, and before long we were moving on to listen to music through our teeth, play with pint-sized parachutes, and test our reflexes in countless ways, as rain drenched Millennium Square beyond the plate glass windows.

Glass Microbiology by Luke Jerram1

Glass Microbiology by Luke Jerram

I crept way for a few moments to take in Luke Jerram’s stunning Glass Microbiology exhibit – breathe in a moment’s peace among the viruses sculpted in glass and head back out into the mayhem where my husband was helping the nephew milk a pretend cow.

Exploring the Solar System Planetarium show

Exploring the Solar System Planetarium show

We’d deliberately timetabled in a couple of shows in the Planetarium to allow the nephew and ourselves a bit of quiet time. I’m also partial to a bit of space travel, and the 3D shows offer a sense of swooping through the solar system. We visited Venus (too hot, very stormy, not the best place for a holiday), and Saturn’s Rings (too cold, but very beautiful), before swooping back to Earth (just right, and the most beautiful of all). We spent time on Mars and Pluto, and learnt about atmosphere, gas giants and that Neptune is the most glorious shade of blue.

Nephew in Planetarium by Judy Darley

The Planetarium is also on the floor with some of the most engaging displays, in my opinion. The Aardman area animation is ideal for children and adults who like to doodle, while an impressive wind drum provided the chance to build structures to mimic a sycamore seeds spin. We discovered the cause of the Bermuda Triangle’s many ship disappearances, and entered a tilted room where perspective skewed in a pretty magical way.

Constructing roadways

Elsewhere the nephew devoted himself to building roadways for plastic balls, spun metal disks and proved himself to be impressively adept at creating bubbles within bubbles within bubbles. Just watching him get to grips with his surroundings was a masterclass in harnessing a fizzing mind to gain the most rewarding experience possible.

Exiting the science centre into sunshine, the research continued as we headed up to College Green and discovered the tree full of shoes (close to the cathedral, in case you’d like to see it for yourself), met a shy juggler (the nephew’s many questions seemed to alarm him somewhat!) and discovered that it’s possible to skim pennies on the water surrounding the fountain – four skips across the surface from one side to the other.

At-Bristol is a marvel for curious minds, giving adults a way to access their own inquisitive side and nourishing children’s natural sense of wonder. The clamour and chaos is all part of the mix, but if you get in tune with that, you’ll emerge prepared to reinvent the world.

Find out more about At-Bristol

Theatre Review – Jungle Book by Metta Theatre

Jungle Book - Photo5 by Richard DavenportWhether you’re a fan of the Rudyard Kipling original, Disney’s animated version or the more recent life-action release, Metta Theatre’s street dance extravaganza adapted and directed by Poppy Burton-Morgan offers something completely new.

Exploding onto the stage at Bristol Old Vic until 29th July, the set is minimal, the cast compact and the story stripped right back, but the energy is overflowing.

Jungle Book - Photo1 by Richard Davenport

Raw, ruthless and stark, the world we enter blurs nature and the urban jungle, with each animal group represented by a different gang. Bagheera (Kloé Dean) is a street artist armed with a spray can, the wolves are skateboarders (Matt Knight and, aptly, Ellen Wolf), and Baloo (Stefano Addae) is an endearingly comical street sweeper. Streetlights double up as trees and crowd control barriers create different areas of conflict and confinement.

Jungle Book - Photo4 by Richard Davenport

Costumes merely hint at the characters we’re witnessing – jackets and hoods with strips of fur, or a slinky shimmer of green in the case of Kaa (Nathalie Alison). More striking are the movements employed by each animal tribe – their postures and rhythms immediately let you know the species being shown.

Shere Khan, played by the disturbingly flexible and double-jointed Kaner Scott, fills the stage with tension every time he limps on. As the lighting by William Reynolds alters hue to hike up the atmosphere or change setting entirely, he picks up pace to chase a mother wheeling a pram off stage, and the sense of something terrible about to happen is palatable.

Jungle Book photo by Richard Davenport

Mowgli, in this instance a girl played by the spirited and charismatic Alfa Marks, brings the opposite mood on stage – bringing humour, light and a great deal of charm. We watch her being tutored by mentors Baloo and Bagheera in the dances that will help her survive jungle life, with each gang having its own particular moves, from sinuous Kaa to the raucous and mischievous monkeys.

The suited humans have their own language, depicted through frenetic, almost robotic steps. Their light is also far colder than that of the more feral parts of the jungle, adding another sinister thread to Mowgli’s survival story.

It’s all enormous family-friendly fun, carrying us through scene after scene on a wave of sizzling vivacity. The scene where Mowgli tries on different formal clothes and samples a series of formal dances shows off the breadth of her talent as well as heightening the contrast between jungle and so-called civilised living, with a healthy dose of comedy. The circus skills, particular those performed by Mowgli and Kaa, are extraordinary to watch, with aerial choreography masterminded by Alfra Marks.

Jungle Book - Photo2 by Richard Davenport

This is a performance that reaches beyond words to attain something far more emotive, animalistic and elevated. My only quibble? Mowgli’s closing speech urging us to use our words to stand up for what we believe in. It’s a confusing conclusion to a play where body language takes precedence so powerfully.

Jungle Book is at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until 29th July 2017.
 
Find out more at www.bristololdvic.org.uk.

All photos by Richard Davenport.

Breath after breath

Waterclour by Liz Butler RWS

Watercolour by Liz Butler RWS

If you visited RWA’s exhibition of The Power of the Sea in 2014, you’ll know how excellent their taste is in choosing works preoccupied solely with one particular element of nature.

This time around the remit was to seek out pieces that scrutinise a more intangible aspect of our surroundings – the very stuff we live in and breathe.

The Balloon over Calais by E. W. Cocks, 1840, oil on canvas, cr Science Museum: Science & Society Picture Library.

The Balloon over Calais by E. W. Cocks, 1840, oil on canvas, cr Science Museum: Science & Society Picture Library.

More than one artist on show creates a sense of substance through the presence of a balloon or several; for others, such as Jemma Grunion and her scattering of oils and resins layered on board, it’s the clouds that transform the unseen into the visible.

Paintings by Jemma Grundon and orbs by Polly Gould

Paintings by Jemma Grundon and sculptures by Polly Gould. Image by Alice Hendy.

You’ll see sculptures representing curls of sky and swooping birds, anamorphic landscapes by Polly Gould, clouds created on tracing paper through the art of rubbing out, a glass trombone and an avian flu molecule. There’s even a depiction by L.S. Lowry of early 20th century air pollution – it’s clear that air resonates with countless possible interpretations – from freedom to sound.

L. S. Lowry, A Manufacturing Town (1922), oil on panel, 43.2 x 53.3 cm. British Council Collection. Photo © Art Image Library LTD. © The Estate of L.S Lowry. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2017

L. S. Lowry, A Manufacturing Town (1922), oil on panel, 43.2 x 53.3 cm. British Council Collection. Photo © Art Image Library LTD. © The Estate of L.S Lowry. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2017

The exhibition itself is beautifully laid out, allowing space to meander and contemplate as light streams in through the main galleries’ lovely and very appropriate skylights. Through four centuries of work, there’s an overriding sense of humanity marvelling at the things that soar so high above us, and of the desire to enter, investigate and conquer this nebulous territory. Artworks focused on flight abound, and a colourful windbreak made from shredded plastic by artist Freya Gabie wafts gently in the breeze.

Windbreak made from shredded plastic by Freya Gabie. Image by Alice Hendy

Windbreak made from shredded plastic by Freya Gabie. Image by Alice Hendy

Other works offer an altogether more intimate examination of our relationship with air, not least in Capacity by Annie Cattrall, made in part using exhalations of human breath. Just knowing that gives me delighted chills.

Capacity by Annie Cattrell. Image by Alice Hendy

Capacity by Annie Cattrell. Image by Alice Hendy

For me, the sky has always seemed to be our very best art gallery, offering up colour studies, sunset silks and endlessly reconfigured sculptures.

To host an exhibition concentrated on this extraordinary theatre of the atmosphere is an act of audacity that I applaud.

Jeannette Kerr voyaging through the Arctic

Jeannette Kerr voyaging through the Arctic

As an added bonus, you’ll find Arctic Air, an exhibition by Janette Kerr PPRWA RSA (Hons), made in response to three weeks on a ship sailing up the coast of Svalbard, Norway. The works are compressed with layers of wonder, representing Janette’s awe at encountering icebergs and glaciers, and thinking of “the hundreds, even thousand, of years locked inside, suspended in tiny air bubbles.”

Ancient Air by Jeannette Kerr

Ancient Air by Janette Kerr

Just like the exhibition in the upstairs galleries, this is a contemplation of a part of our planet so otherworldly that it almost feels off-world…

And yet this element is what enters our body and fuels all our vital internal churnings. Without it we could not exist, let alone create and appreciate art.

Air: Visualising the Invisible in British Art 1768-2017 is on at RWA in Bristol until 3rd September 2017. Find details at http://www.rwa.org.uk/whats-on/air-visualising-invisible-british-art-1768-2017. All images in this post have been supplied by RWA.

Book review – Elephant Tales by Mark Shand

Elephant Tales by Mark ShandGiven to me by my sister as part of a boxset of Penguin 60′s miniatures, this small volume has been travelling with me everywhere recently, and aptly so as it’s one of the finest examples of travel writing I’ve encountered.

In Elephant Tales, Shand is learning to drive Tara, a female elephant of great dignity, stubbornness and, intermittent whimsy. Like an eccentric great aunt and errant toddler in one, she ambles her way through the pages and into your heart.

The fondness and respect Shand feels for this pachyderm. Carrying him on her back and occasionally, though more often not, doing his bidding, Tara offers the author, and us, an uncommon view not only of the atmospheric Indian landscape, but also of the people and wildlife that populate it.

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Theatre review – What if the plane falls out of the sky?

What if the plane falls out of the skyThree dysfunctional siblings invite us to examine our fears in this raucously comedic tragedy.

Heron (Susie Riddell), Magpie (Adam Fuller), and their little sister Feral Pigeon (Emma Keaveny-Roys) have been left to fend for themselves, and are struggling to keep their inner dread at bay. To face their terrors head-on they’ve devised a multi-step reward programme of badges and affirmations, and some eerily familiar dance moves.

As we took our seats, the siblings asked us for our fears. A curious number of audience members mentioned audience participation. And yes, as you might expect, there was plenty of that to go around. One pair got to try froggy bagging (don’t google that. I just did and cannot unsee what I have seen). For the rest of us the participatory element mainly involved partaking of a complimentary in-flight snack and drink, then doodling the things that scare us.

What if the plane falls out of the sky_inflight refreshments

The play was a tableau of exquisite moments, occasionally switching from humour to pathos in the twinkling of an eye. The afore-mentioned dance routine began lightly enough, but piled in the tension as Heron’s darkest thoughts rose to the surface. Co-director and performer Susie Riddell’s talents shone as she portrayed Heron’s slowly shifting mood through subtly modified dance moves and an increasingly distressed expression. As her brother and sister faltered to a halt, the whole room fell silent.

The emotional peaks and troughs were breathtaking, a roller-coaster equivalent of hitting reset whenever the hilarity or the grief veered to the brink of hysteria.

At one point we were instructed to blow our anxiety into brightly coloured balloons. My friend’s balloon burst four breaths in, releasing a gale of giggles, but the rest of us released ours in a gorgeous moment of synchronised farty rainbow childishness.

What if the plane falls out of the sky

Talking of rainbows, Magpie overcoming his dual qualms about glitter and intimacy was a vision to behold. I’m just hoping the glitter was applied with oil, not glue, as he’s a somewhat furry man and the removal later could be excruciating.

Presented by experimental theatre company Idiot Child as part of Bristol Old Vic‘s Studio Walkabout Season, the show featured too many perfect moments to share them all here. In short, a dizzyingly cathartic show that will imbue you with a sense of joy you hadn’t known you were missing.

In Bristol, What if the plane falls out of the sky? took place at The Loco Klub. The show is also travelling to Shoreditch, Brighton, Birmingham and beyond.

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.

Book review – Some of Us Glow More Than Others by Tania Hershman

Some of Us Glow More Than Others by Tania HershmanThis luminescent collection of short stories and flash fictions offers up Tania Hershman’s unmistakable blend of the poetic, the uncanny and the deeply human. Drawing from a background in physics and a fascination with other sciences, Hershman explores our predilections and imperfections with effortless eloquence.  Through her writing you’ll feel yourself at one with nuns, researchers and divers alike, not to mention gas molecules and eerie little immortal girls.

I often see colours when reading fiction, and Tania’s tales in this collection are shot through with shimmering shades – pools of silver, midnight blue, aquamarine and ultramarine are gorgeously offset by threads of vermilion and gold.

Each of the tales examines, in its own way, what it means to be human, and the potential kindnesses and cruelties lying in wait both around and within us. While many lead us into laboratories, other sneak us into more unexpected places of moral and quizzical reflection, sometimes under cover of darkness.

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Poetry review – Hope Alt Delete by Nikki Dudley

HopeAlitDelete CoverPoet and author Nikki Dudley’s first full length collection is small, spiky and full of attitude. Rolling out and tuning into a multitude of voices, it feels like a conversation only half-overheard. Tantalising segments glimmer on the page, inviting us to move closer, listening harder, and maybe pocket a shining phrase or two to carry home and examine at our leisure.

Nikki’s energy rustles behind each line, as she plays with familiar words and makes them at once more explicit and more unknown. Sentences stretch in strange, beguiling directions, or curl up tight, and words skip defiantly into slots that seem meant for something else, or break up entirely in ways that insist we regard them anew.

“Can you under-stand me?
Can you over-stand me?”

In other spaces, words are superseded by font, punctuation and blank lines that express everything you need to know. Continue reading

Poetry review – Take This One To Bed by Antony Dunn

Take This One to Bed by Antony DunnIn an homage to rural and suburban living, and the creatures that live among (and, in one case, within) us, poet Antony Dunn examines human nature by setting it alongside, well, nature.

We meet spiders, newts, frogs, slugs, sheep, mice, bats and crows startled to “beating black”; unborn children, born ones, and, most evocatively, lovers, all sensuously laid out in deceptively simple verses that summon up the world.

For me, Leaving: vi Two Mohitos in Bratislava, feels plucked from my own memory; causing my mouth to flood with a craving for the zing of citrus and mint. The word choices are crisp and visceral – happiness is sucked, a quartered lime fished, an ice-cube shunted. It’s deeply, satisfyingly, envy-inducing.

Even in a poem about a solo journey, Dunn conjures flavour and texture by mentioning “the woman with her honey in mis-matched jars” and  “sunlight quickening/ the dust and tar/ and rosemary”.

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