Spoken Word Reviews

STORYTELLING AT HIGH PEAK BOOKSTORE - Ian Gregory

What could be better than to be sitting comfortably, surrounded by hundreds of books, ready to hear some new and exciting stories?

Especially written for the occasion by storyteller Ian Gregory, Ian had used as his theme, the mysteries of the Peak. He chose from his new collection of four short stories entitled, Nathan Bennett, Mr Brownings Target, Fire Put out and the Cave Lion. Speaking to a group of avid listeners whilst standing in the middle of a busy store next to a crowded restaurant was no easy task. Ian however, skilfully overcame the background noise from the overflow of excited children, as they and their parents roamed around the shelves, discovering new books that excited them. So much so that he was he was asked to do another of his new tales, the Black Predator.

All together a very pleasant afternoon.

Jonathan Rowlands

THE SONG AND THE SOUL OF ENGLISH POETRY - Michael Gibson

A series of one-hour illustrated 'lectures' on early English poetry. How many Fringe Festivals can boast that!

Michael Gibson describes himself as a poetician. He is a writer, performer, researcher and student. His passion and enthusiasm for poetry in general and early English verse in particular seems to be unquenchable.

In this first show - entitled Beowulf's Boxer Shorts - he presents his argument that early verse, song and dance are rooted in the same rhythm and metre - similar to that which we now recognise in the limerick!

In the course of an hour - packed with material but never hurried - we were led through a handful of songs and verses, including some writing by Queen Elizabeth I as well as Cædmon of Whitby, the earliest known English poet.

Michael speaks the language beautifully and and has worked hard to arrive at an authentic sound. This was a fascinating hour and it is a matter of regret that I shall not be able to hear all the shows.

NB Michael is performing 5 different shows over the course of 6 days. Check with the Gallery for the exact schedule. Each show 'stands alone'.

Keith Savage

WHISPERS IN THE GRASS - Creeping Toad

With such an explosion of entertainment available during the Fringe, it is important to carve out a little space for your own creativity.

Gordon MacLellan (aka Creeping Toad) is very good at helping us do this. Whispers in the Grass took place eight miles south of Buxton in the liberating, beautiful surroundings of Dove Valley Activity Centre near Longnor, an inspiring setting. Many of the participants belonged to Borderland Voices, a charity promoting health and well-being through the arts, and had pens poised to “settle into an ease of stories and poems” as Toad put it in the event’s description. However there was also an opportunity to sit upstairs, enjoying panoramic views, and taking advantage of trays of pens, printing blocks, pastels and oil pastels to create your own individual masterpiece. Toad had an idea about making little books to combine words and pictures and I think cutting up or folding up my own large-scale barn drawing might well be the way to go...

A little structure is sometimes useful and we were offered poem ‘shapes’ to try, from haikus to kennings and even 280-character Twitterpoems. Below are some of the lively poems produced by the group:

Rock-weigher

Field-ruler,

Bone-layer,

Stone shepherd

(drystone waller)

Vole-taker,

Cry-maker,

Dawn-waker,

Sky-streaker

(buzzard)

I’ve also had a go myself so here is a Cinquain (5 lines with 2 syllables in the first line, then 4, 6, 8 and 2).

Calm down

Pick up a pen

See those frothy flowers

Swirl them onto patient paper

Art heals

Stephanie Billen

MEET THE EXPERTS - Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Today was the first in a series of hour-long ‘Meet The Experts’ talks given free of charge at this superbly refurbished venue. Three of the eight talks are on the Country House theme and ‘Duchess Georgiana’s Servants’ was the first; coinciding nicely with the opera ‘Georgiana’ performed as part of the festival. Accident or intention, this was excellent programming.

In a full house and after a ‘no further ado’ introduction by the curator (excellent – some intros are far too long), Hannah Wallace took to the floor, checked that everyone could hear and see OK (why don’t all talks begin like this) and introduced Duchess Georgiana - popular 18th century celeb living the high life in London’s uber-fashionable Piccadilly. But this was not about the Duchess, it was about the servants and Hannah succeeded in bringing them out of the shadows and into the light of some very well-researched, interestingly illustrated and confidently delivered work. It must be said that the reviewer didn’t know the topic upon arrival and came through the door with little concern for duchesses, or their servants but soon began a change of heart - due mainly to Hannah’s gift for the well-paced building of interest.

Hannah’s talk was a fascinating romp through a Devonshires’ back story – footmen with gambling problems, seriously larcenous confectioners, priggish children making the nanny’s life hell, obscenely overpaid coiffeurs and French chefs sent packing by Bakewell protestors. Not to mention the goings-on at Chatsworth and its geriatric geranium planters. Hannah poured the details and incidentals surely and steadily and left the audience undoubtedly hoping that she will one day put her name to a book on this subject.

A thoroughly enjoyable talk. Catch another of these at 1pm every day ex Sat, Sun, Mon until 19th July.

Jim Marriott

BY ROYAL APPOINTMENT: AN AUDIENCE WITH MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS - Discover Buxton Tours

Of all the variety of fringe productions it’s nice to see a local story relating to a significant part of Buxton’s history – the prolonged visits of Mary during her ‘imprisonment’. The perfect location for this talk is, of course, the Old Hall hotel – right behind the blue plaque commemorating her residence. The piano lounge set aside for the performance was packed to capacity.

Jane Collier, in full period regalia, presents her story as Mary. While much of this is well known it is poignant to hear again in the first person the story of her childhood in France, marriage at 15 years old and widowhood at 17.

The story has been clearly researched and small details such as the Queen’s horse-riding style, and the extensive breakfast menu added a note of familiarity to the story.

The downside of the first person narrative is the one-sided self-justification without much discussion of Mary’s plotting and the account doesn’t extend up to her violent end, which misses a dramatic finale.

After the presentation there is a question and answer session where Jane steps out of character and shows her extensive knowledge of Mary and her times. We are then taken on a short walk to see the ‘tower’ of the Old Hall where her rooms were and across to the ‘fragrant Wye’ - with a description of how the geography was in those times.

This is a great show for visitors who know little of Buxton and leave the performance with an understanding of our town’s place in history.

Further performance 18th at 7pm

Brian Kirman

FERN HILL AND OTHER DYLAN THOMAS - Theatre Tours International Ltd

If you weren’t a Dylan Thomas fan on entering the Rotunda then you were on leaving. Guy Masterson performed a selection of the Welsh bard’s work to an appreciative audience. ‘Performed’ being the right word. He took on the persona of the multiple characters of the stories and interpreted them with humour and affection.

He opened with “Holiday Memories” which begins with an evocative list of seaside observations,

“A tune on an ice-cream cornet. A slap of sea and a tickle of sand. A fanfare of sunshades opening. A wince and whinny of bathers dancing in deceptive water. A tuck of dresses. A rolling of trousers. A compromise of paddlers. A sunburn of girls and a lark of boys. A silent hullabaloo of balloons...”

Guy spoke these lines while acting out each scene. Irresistible.

His longer show, as he explained, had to be curtailed to fit the one hour fringe format and so, puzzlingly, The poem, Fern Hill, of the title was omitted.

After ‘A visit to Grandpa’ Guy finished with ‘A Childs Christmas in Wales’ - a beautiful, humorous piece with resonant memories, and not just of Wales.

Excellent performance but acknowledging a great scriptwriter.

One show only – you missed it. Maybe Guy’s success this year – also with Under Milk Wood - will bring him back next year.

Brian Kirman

ANNA SEWARD: WOMAN OF ENLIGHTENMENT - Discover Buxton Tours

OK, before I write this review I have a confession to make. Before going to see the event today I was not familiar with the work of Anna Seward. I’m ashamed to admit that I had not encountered any of her writing and so I went along with a completely open mind. I’m glad I did.

For those of you who – like me – have never heard of Anna until now, she was a poet, author and social commentator who frequented Buxton in the hope that the spring water would cure her ailments.

The choice to perform the show on The Slopes is an inspired one, given that the views from all around must have been very similar to those enjoyed by Anna herself on her trips to Buxton.

The actor, Sarah Gordon, completely inhabits the character and makes it very easy to believe that Anna Seward is back with us. Here a distinguished lady, there a gossip (albeit a refined one!) and always a storyteller, she vividly brings to life a woman ahead of her time and conveys the intelligence and independence that such a woman must surely have had to make it as a woman in a man’s world.

There’s no interaction with the audience and Sarah’s performance is the better for it; just stand back and enjoy a historic character coming back to vivid life before your eyes and let her talk you through the world as she experiences it. And extra points for using the expression ‘infra dignitatem’ – not an expression used nearly enough nowadays!

Finishing with a reading of the poem ‘Buxton In A Rainy Season’, complete with the customary local weather, just rounds the performance off nicely and leaves you eager to find out more about this interesting author.

Paul Goff-Deakins

UNDER MILK WOOD - SEMI SKIMMED - Theatre Tours International Ltd

To begin at the beginning.

Dylan Thomas’ Play for Voices was completed late in 1953, weeks before the author’s death. It has become one of the best-loved texts of its time - I hesitate to say in the English language. Phrases and characters from Under Milk Wood are familiar to many who have neither read nor heard the Play. It has inspired musicians (Stan Tracey’s jazz suite, for example) and been plagiarised (though King Crimson’s Starless is forgivable).

But Under Milk Wood has 69 characters. Surely it is absurd to try and make it a one-man play? You might have thought so but Guy Masterson’s performance has, over many years now, shown what can achieved with imagination and ability.

Guy brought his ‘highlights’ version to Buxton - a 60-minute production rather than the full-length two-hour show. The semi-skimmed show was originally developed for Edinburgh. He has performing the piece for over 20 years but says he never tires of Thomas’ language and can never tire of sharing it with audiences.

Hearing Under Milk Wood is to hear phrases and images that might have been coined yesterday. There is a freshness and immediacy about so much of it that can only be truly apparent when it is heard rather than read.

Guy Masterson inhabits the characters and loves them as Thomas surely did. “We are not wholly bad or good/Who live our lives under Milk Wood/And Thou, I know, will be the first/To see our best side, not our worst.”

This production was a joy from start to finish and I would readily see it again tomorrow.

Keith Savage

IMPOSTORS - Sinister Masterplan

The Spoken Word section of the Fringe programme is particularly strong this year and this evening of spooky tales from Laura Sampson and Fringe regular Polis Loizou, featuring atmospheric live sound effects from Sam Enthoven, is surely one of the highlights.

In this nicely structured show, Polis and Laura take turns to tell two stories each, the whole evening playing out to the perfect accompaniment of an electronic soundtrack produced by self-confessed gear-head Sam. Using an interesting variety of electronic wizardry, he produces a soundscape that is beautiful, eerie and disconcerting by turns.

Particularly important is the presence of the mighty theremin, an electronic device which for all its ability to conjure up futuristic sounds is approaching its 100th birthday. The supremely inventive accompaniment also includes everything from the sound of a coin spinning to scratching noises produced by what looks like a toothbrush. This all melded nicely into a memorable performance.

The stories themselves are haunting with subjects ranging from changelings to Samurai and audience members finding themselves chilled, entertained and disturbed all in the space of one intriguing evening. Impostors will appeal to anyone looking for something a little different at the Fringe - or anyone like me who has a special thing for the ethereal theremin.

Dan Osborne

THE GLUMMER TWINS: JUST A NUMBER - The Glummer Twins

There's a road-sign off the M1 to Doncaster, saying "Doncaster avoiding low expectations". No danger of low expectations in this show. It was consistently entertaining (I am not someone who laughs out loud but I did here). Sharp and live, the intelligent observations of poets David Harmer and Ray Globe carry the flavour of the self-effacing North. Alongside poems such as Just Turned 60 and Mediterranean Homesick Blues there is some new material too (listen out for Boxer Shorts Backwards). The book of beat poetry for sale afterwards is a great idea meaning you can leave with a reminder of anything you missed from the live chants of these two very professional performers.

Peter Buxton

HEY DIDDLE DEE AN ACTOR'S LIFE FOR ME - Discover Buxton Tours

An entertaining and enlightening combination of performance and walking tour. This is one of a series put on by Discover Buxton and written by Netta Christie.

Fittingly, we met our “actor”, Sarah Gordon, outside the Opera House. She explained that we were going on a walking tour of discovery during which we would find all five of Buxton’s theatres, learn something of their history, learn of the actors who performed in them and even gain a glimpse of what it was like to be in the audience.

Sarah is a talented actress who successfully combines facts and entertainment. She took us on a travel through time from Buxton’s first theatre in the mid 1700’s to the present day. We visited hidden alleyways, found historical evidence, observed the changes in architecture and were constantly surprised by what we learnt. Sarah is used to giving group walking tours. She waits until all members of the audience have stopped walking and are gathered around before giving information. Each tour will be slightly different as Sarah is happy to answer questions and share her knowledge and enthusiasm for Buxton’s theatres and thespians.

However this is far more than a historical walking tour; we were also entertained. Sarah dropped into character to tell a series of amusing anecdotes about the characters who populate Buxton’s theatrical past. She wove pictures of a Buxton surrounded by fields with the River Wye meandering through and even gave pointers as to where we could find out additional information.

I am not going to tell you any of the stories or where the five theatres are – you will have to book on the tour and find out for yourselves!

Viv Marriott