Spoken Word Reviews

TWO LADIES - Creme Anglaise Publishing

I couldn’t think of a better way to start the hectic final Saturday of the Fringe than in the elegant surroundings of No 1 The Square, with coffee and cakes, listening to two intelligent and fascinating women talking about their lives and their books. Not to mention some lovely music, as the event opened with a rendition of Jerusalem.

The two ladies are Christine Palmer and Jean Gemmell, and they take it in turns to interview each other. Jean is up first, and Christine described her as a true Renaissance woman; producer and director with theatre makers Present Company, a former Headteacher and leader of a Teaching Union, as well as mayor of Amber Valley. Asked about her inspiration for her memoir, Look Back with Laughter, she simply said Covid. A regular speaker at public events, friends asked her to record her anecdotes during lockdown and that turned into the book.

Jean was a great raconteur; cheeky, funny, with an eye for a handsome man. She talked about the importance of laughter, how sometimes things that give us grief and sadness, eventually look funny in retrospect, and that laughter is a wonderful way to relieve yourself of that burden. Reading an extract from her book about tap dancing to Jerusalem as a child we learned that the music from the event all linked to the stories in their books.

After a few more songs, it was Christine’s turn to speak. A former documentary maker for the BBC she moved to France after retiring and found her new career writing books. It all started when after a lifetime of running around after others, she did something for herself and walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostela on her own, and then wrote her very popular book, Walking Back to Happiness. She has also written three dual language books for children about her dogs Custard and Cromwell, with English on one page and the French version on the facing page.

Here, Christine was reading from her first novel, Jack Be Nimble, a story that runs through the decades from 1944 to the present and opens not far from here in Belper. Christine is witty and tongue in cheek and, like Jean, wonderful company for a delightful morning. I only wish I could have stayed longer for more cake and chat in convivial company, though of course I came away with a book!

Stephen Walker

VOICES FROM THE PEAK - Mark Gwynne Jones

Mark Gwynne Jones is one of the most celebrated visitors to Buxton Fringe, but somehow I’ve never got to see any of his shows. Until now. For the last few years, he has been putting together a series of fascinating soundscapes – Voices from the Peak – which tell the stories and memories from across the Peak District, a project described by The Times as ‘an array of audio odysseys’ – and this is the jumping-on point for this highly entertaining live show.

Mark Gwynne Jones is a hugely charismatic performer, and he held the audience at High Peak Bookstore and Café in the palm of his hand. With humour and ease, he moved between live poetry, on subjects from a blade of grass, to the Green Man, to the dentist, all linked together by his reminiscences of growing up in this area, and its amazing geography. He presents an excerpt from his soundscape – the memories of an underground mineral miner – and also a delightful short film where he explores the tower of St Mary’s Church, Wirksworth. All this wrapped up by a hilarious poem about a tortoise having sex with a shoe that was worthy of Jake Thackray.

Mark’s rapport with an audience puts everyone at ease – I certainly won’t leave it so long before seeing him live again. In the meantime, all of the Voices from the Peak soundscapes are available online and are highly recommended.

Robbie Carnegie

WHIRLPOOL PEOPLE: DECONSTRUCTING THE SELF ILLUSION - Ben Moores

Actor, writer and theatre maker Ben Moores has spent much of his career putting his interest in philosophy, science and spirituality into his theatre work. But as his knowledge has deepened he’s chosen to share it in the longer form of a new book, Whirlpool People: Deconstructing the Self Illusion.

The talk, which forms part of a tour promoting and discussing his book, goes deeply into spiritual and scientific debate to discuss life, death and transcendence. It particularly investigates whether we all exist as separate discrete individuals, or exist in a state of connection, at one with the universe. If that sounds a little ‘new age’ that would be unfair, much of the research Moores touches on is established scientific and philosophic thought, and his range of references, from Einstein to Hume and back to Feynman is extensive and well-judged.

His synthesis of the material is delivered with passion, as he covers concepts around oneness with the universe, achieving a state of flow, how we create our own stories, and relate to others. Some of the material is easier to grasp and accept than others; notions about how all that can ever exist is the present, a never-ending series of “nows”, is explained well, and it is a helpful concept that allows many to shake off worries about the past and future. Whereas, though concepts around duality are fascinating, they are more esoteric and it is harder to see how that might help us in everyday life.

This may be covered in more detail in the book, but what would be useful in the show would be the opportunity to consider the practical aspects of this knowledge, and how it could help us to live better and more fulfilling lives. Moores brims with enthusiasm and the desire to get his ideas across, but it would be nice to slow down at times, so we can reflect on what we are learning with more audience engagement.

Moores is an energetic and engaging presenter and the hour in his company hearing his ideas is fascinating and stimulating, and you will leave with plenty of food for thought.

Stephen Walker

PORTENTS - Sinister Masterplan

Portents is the simplest of shows, storytelling, but with its unique soundscapes and perfectly told tales it is a real treat. Last Year’s New Writing award winner Polis Loizou returns with collaborators in Sinister Masterplan, storyteller Laura Sampson and sound artist Sam Enthoven, for an hour of tales centred around bad omens.

After a brief introduction by Enthoven and a quick chat about portents - which itself includes a portent for later - the two storytellers take turns to read a couple of stories each. Enthoven uses a contact Mic (used for scratching sounds, steps and bells), a synthesiser and the wonderful theremin, to create fantastic soundscapes as the stories are told. It turns a great evening of storytelling into a must see event.

Loizou opens with a tale set in Wales about a man seeking the fairies help to gain health, wealth and a wife, but he goes about it all wrong, and gets what he seeks in the most backhanded way possible. If there is a lesson to be learned from this evening it’s to avoid asking fairies and witches for help.

Loizou has the most masterful pacing to his stories. There is a preternatural calmness to his delivery that he used to create an eeriness as his voice takes on the tones of impending doom. His tales seem set in a twilit indeterminable past with the scene set by old fashioned words like ‘suitor’ and ‘musket’. His second story about a woman who’s husband doesn’t return from the war, until she asks one of those witches, builds to a fantastic climax supported by a wonderful atmosphere being created on the spot by Enthoven,

Though clear and assertive, Sampson has a sense of mischief about her delivery, a wry sense of humour and a questioning style. In contrast to Loizou she enjoys throwing in some more modern idioms into her tales, describing the wise woman as a ‘smelly sociopathic weirdo’ in her story set in the boglands of Lincolnshire about the disappearance of the moon. Her first tale is particularly portentous, as Enthoven’s bells spell an inevitable death for a young man.

The different styles of storytelling, but thematically linked material, mix well, and it is a marvellous spooky evening for the audience.

Stephen Walker

SIR ORFEO - Michael Gibson

A most unusual, thought provoking and academically orientated event presented by ‘poetician’, Michael Gibson. Essentially this was the telling of the the tale of Sir Orfeo, a fictional king in England in the late 13th century. However, before doing this, Michael set the context of the time when this was originally written and the language of the early medieval period – no mean feat in the ten minutes or so available. Michael went on to describe the parallel between this folkloric tale and the politics of the early medieval period – “the concept of the useless ruler”. Very interesting and possibly not without relevance to Edward II’s rule and even more modern circumstances – attendees and readers of this review may have their own thoughts on this matter!

The performance was illuminated by Michael’s playing of his reproduction of an early form of lyre – apparently a fashion of the times and favoured by Edward II who as with other medieval rulers tried to portray themselves as David-like characters to enhance their popularity. Maybe Tony Blair and his guitar weren’t a million miles away?

Michael continued to his main task of the evening – to read his translation of ‘Sir Orfeo’ with musical accompaniment and beginning with a verse in the original language to give an indication of the metre and rhythm of the writing.

Altogether a fascinating event well worth seeing and hearing.

Jim Marriott

WE'LL LET YOU KNOW! - Dreamshed Theatre

Bill Cronshaw is an actor, director and writer with 21 plays to his name. From his experience of holding auditions for actors for Dreamshed Theatre, he has now produced a book, ‘Speak The Speech’. The book collects monologues from a number of his plays, giving actors something fresh to perform in auditions rather than the speeches that directors may have heard a million times before.

In this relaxed, highly convivial hour, Bill talked informally about the speeches and the ideas behind the plays from which they came. He often draws on personal experience when writing, whether it be the mortifying family parties of his youth in Wythenshawe, or his lifelong love of Manchester City. Through readings from the monologues, either delivered himself, or encouraging members of his audience to perform, Bill asks us to read between the lines of his characters. What is the status of the person on the other end of the phone? What’s this girl’s boyfriend really like?

We were left with a greater understanding of Bill’s audition process, and how he tries to bring the best out of those taking part, so they they can fully imagine their way into his characters.

This event was very much a conversation between Bill and his audience, informal, chatty, relaxed and informative. We were even treated to a copy of the book each, so we can enjoy his characters and writing at our leisure. All in all, a very pleasant way of spending a lunchtime.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Bill, or his book, go to dreamshedtheatre.co.uk.

Robbie Carnegie

MEET THE EXPERTS - LUNCHTIME TALKS - Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Meet the Experts is a regular Fringe event from the Museum & Art Gallery. The first in this year's season was a talk by Dr David Barker, something of a coup for the Museum team!

Dr Barker is a renowned specialist in post-medieval ceramics - pottery to you and me - and a good sized audience were treated to a talk on some of the material recovered from the restoration works carried out at the Crescent. Of course, the Crescent has a long history and is a large, complex site and so just one small area of the work was the focus here. Well, just one drain really. Doesn't sound like much, but it told a great deal.

Pottery is probably the most common thing archaeologists find on excavations, and this proved to be the case here. Dr Barker showed how by careful examination and analysis a story of the people who ran, worked and used the Crescent in the very early 19th century. It was fascinating to see how the types of pottery opened up a world of social habits and class playing out in perhaps the town's most famous archaeological site. It seems there was a lot going on both upstairs and downstairs back in the day!

The series continues through the week with talks beginning at 1.00pm Weds/Thurs/Fri and promise to give us a treat on each day!

Ian Parker Heath

TWILIGHT TALES - L & J productions

The Twilight Tales are a collection of four stories and a short play 'The Last Tram' brought to life by their creator, Leslie Oldfield and the professional actress, Jill Scott-Neves who gave a lovely, understated performance.

This is original writing, the stories are all set in and around Buxton and show meticulous research, reflecting different periods in the town's rich history - from the Romans to the forgotten Canadian soldiers of the first world war and more. The play is a stand-alone piece.

The work has an other-worldly quality reminiscent of Roald Dahl's 'Tales of the Unexpected' with a touch of M R James.

Pooles Cavern is an inspired choice of venue creating an intimate setting for a very engaging and enjoyable hour of story telling for an appreciative audience.

Janet Payne

WILDCRAFTED WORDS: NATURE POETRY TO REWILD YOUR SOUL - Rebecca Robinson

Rebecca Robinson had chosen the right venue for her debut Fringe show; the elegant and cool surroundings of the Pump Room created the perfect place to relax and enjoy an immersive, meditative, and relaxing audiovisual experience inspired by nature.

The evening opened with a well-researched introduction explaining the inspiration behind her poetry. Quoting from diverse sources, Rebecca emphasised the role of nature in providing beauty, peace and emotional sustenance. The ancient Celtic conception of time as cyclical and seasonal rather than linear was discussed, and Rebecca was also right up to date with modern scientific research and the understanding of how trees and fungi interconnect via mycorrhizal networks in a symbiotic relationship.

After a brief delay due to technical issues, which she took in her stride, the second part of the event took the form of an audio visual presentation of Rebecca reading her poems over images and music curated from other sources.

This allowed us to fully enjoy the poetry, which opened with the impressive Woman, Wild, featuring imagery drawn from nature to emphasise woman’s strength. The poems then settled into the wheel of the year, but by starting in autumn, Rebecca cleverly disrupted the linear sense that would have arisen from a spring to winter cycle.

Autumn had some fine personification of the trees and poems such as September displayed lovely assonance and flowing rhythms. I was struck by how well some of the berry and fruit images on screen worked with that poem, and it was a sense that recurred throughout a mellow and contemplative half hour. Winter featured an insightful look at how we miss so much of the beauty of winter by hibernating like the animals in the poem, which recalled the overriding theme of how much getting out into the countryside is central to our well-being.

The pace of the reading was well-judged, and though it may sound minor, it was a good choice of font for the words appearing on screen. It would be nice, however, if they were directly over the imagery without a backing.

A Q&A session revealed some more of Rebecca’s influences, where she gained her love of nature, and how personal loss deepened her relationship with the outdoors.

Rebecca can turn a very fine rhyming couplet, and it would be good to see her expand her repertoire with some tonal and stylistic shifts that would widen her range, but this was a very well put together debut event with some beautiful poetry which the audience enjoyed. It should give Rebecca plenty of confidence for her future.

Stephen Walker

THE BEAT GOES ON - The Glummer Twins

The Glummer Twins are firm Fringe Favourites but last time we saw them at our Springboard event, Ray Globe was on his own as David Harmer had succumbed to that bug that's been going round. So it was great to see both of them in fine form with a show looking back over the past eight decades.

Described as Beat Poetry for the Saga generation, the Glummers certainly know the market for their sharp rhymes set to funky beats or Ray's guitar. Their signature opening The Beat Goes On followed by 1957 are chock full of references to 50s legends such as Elvis, the Everleys, and 'Black Chevy, Chuck Berry, white walled tyres'. Turns out they're probably too young to remember all that, but it's the last time they'll feel too young all show.

David thinks the 60s are rubbish, all doctor's appointments and bowel trouble, fortunately Ray puts him right and we get Ready Steady Go, a tribute to the TV show clearly fondly remembered in the audience. Then we were on to the summer of love, a chip shop hippy, and a song full of Beatles references with a prize at the end.

As we move through the years our protagonists age and their concerns change, from dodgy nightclubs in Rotherham to IKEA and on to a landmark birthday that Ray didn't take too well. The patter between them is half the fun and the audience lap it up, the material chimes perfectly with their contemporaries, and after a personal favourite about whatever happened to the Mods (turns out they’re still around, even if their transport is a little different), a happy audience spills out of the Old Clubhouse. I overheard one man say, 'I’m going to remember that about KIPPERS', but you’ll just have to go and find out for yourselves.

Ray and David are a pair of old pros who know how to put on a show, and you can't get better than that. With some new tracks and some old favourites sprinkled along the timeline of their lives you'll have a great time with the Glummer Twins.

Stephen Walker

THE RAVEN AND THE SLEEPER IN DREAMLAND - Buxton Spoken Words

The twelve members of Buxton Spoken Word delighted an audience of 25 ticket-holders this evening with a varied and well-choreographed programme of poetry and stories. The two hours passed quickly.

Don Dolby introduced the performance with memories of Fringe stalwarts Keith Savage and Viv Marriott. He read Jim Marriott’s elegiac poems to his late wife, the emotion in them expressed largely by analogies with winter weather. Karl Largan followed with a set of light-hearted poems about love and relationships, variously amusing, unsettling and touching and illuminated by excellent metaphors. Sarah Raybould gave us two poems reflecting her experience as a GP and one evoking the Peak District landscape as it strikes a relative newcomer to the area. Keith Howden returned us to the elegiac theme with which Don had begun the evening: a poem about a pauper’s grave engraved with the names of eleven tiny infants, whom Keith envisaged as a celestial football team; and one about a pit accident in the Midlands, ending with the line “some things you don’t forget”.

The programming was well planned: Keith’s contribution led us neatly into the centrepiece of the evening, in which Don, Karl and Sarah were joined by Randy Horton, Alison Morton, Mark Johnson, Maggie Pollard, Ken Smith and David Packman to deliver renderings of three Edgar Alan Poe poems: The Sleeper, The Raven, and Dream-Land. Each participant read a small excerpt, typically two stanzas, so these haunting poems with their undercurrents of loss, death and dreaming were read to us in a succession of different voices. The effect was striking. It brought all three poems vividly to life (Dream-Land was new to me - I now need to read it for myself!) and the audience was spellbound. We needed the interval to digest what we’d heard.

The second half began with Peter Branson reading some of his published poems (seeing a short-eared owl on the moors above Buxton, recalling the library in his childhood, recollecting the ‘60s), and then he treated us to his new song “You’re welcome here”, with his trademark political commentary – and his tin whistle. Ken Smith read two highly entertaining stories about a fictitious English journalist called Archibald Fribble reporting the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, contriving to interview the former and brandish the head of the latter before departing with a lady of the night. Maggie Pollard added an amusing tale about Jack Dunn the molecatcher to her poetic evocations of the contrast between the Dark and White Peak, and of the reverence for ravens in many cultures. Mark Johnson’s short poems offered sad reflections on the clash between ancient and modern in the local landscape, the predicted resuscitation of nuclear power stations, and a “Peak Lament”, as well as a lighter piece about lichens. Alison Morton reflected on the continuing problem of gender inequality and then presented a memorable piece about stairs painted green-white-orange, the colours alternating between tread and riser, which survived the destruction of the house by an explosion. Finally, Randy Horton indicated a deep connection between the environmental crisis and pandemics, shared two passionate anti-gun poems with us, and ended with “America isn’t civil any more”.

Don Dolby rounded off the performance, fittingly, with two powerful poems referencing Edgar Alan Poe: “Tapping”, inspired by The Raven, and the question “Is it all a dream?” I don’t think I was the only person in the Green Man Gallery this evening who’d gladly have listened to another hour of work by this talented and varied group.

Mark P Henderson

RECONNECTING - Chapel Arts Creative Writing Group

‘Reconnecting’ was the theme of the evening chosen by Chapel Arts Writing Group for their Buxton Festival Fringe event which took place at Rems Café Bar in Chapel on July 7th. The brilliantly observed pieces, read out by members of the group, ranged from the broadly humorous, the dry and ironic, through to the deeply moving and reflected the broken connections enforced on all of us by the Covid pandemic, as well as our attempts to rekindle lost contacts.

The broken connections ranged from a power cut which forced the author to reconnect with his neighbours, through to the frustration of dealing with modern technology when it goes wrong. Pete Stellings’ piece about his infuriating attempts to get BT to sort out his internet connection, particularly resonated with the audience who had obviously experienced similar situations.

The pleasure of revisiting Greece after two years of being unable to leave the country was the subject of Simone Hubbard’s piece in which she touched on the reality of lockdown life and the emergence of new words which many of us had never encountered before such as ‘furlough and ‘zoom’.

Broad comedy came from Paula Hobdey in her poem ‘The Farm – a Physical Reconnection’ which vividly described her encounter with a rampant bull and in a beautifully performed short play written by Anne Cawthorn, which described a disastrous post-Covid caravan holiday during which a husband inadvertently leaves his wife at a motorway service station.

Other writers wrote about reconnecting with childhood memories and Mark Henderson read his touching short story ‘Socks and Buttons’ about a man and woman who gradually come back to life emotionally following bereavement. Their burgeoning relationship which begins while sorting laundry, ultimately helps them to move beyond their grief and envisage a new beginning.

A particular highlight of the evening was a brilliantly observed short story by Stephanie Billen. Set on the picturesque Northumberland coast it portrays the rekindling of an old romance between the central character Elizabeth and the middle-aged Tristram, whom she had known at university. He is even more patronising and insufferable now, than he was as a student. However, although initially flattered by his attentions, Elizabeth is finally able to put him firmly in his place.

For those who missed the performance there will be another chance to listen to the work of Chapel Arts Creative Writing Group on 17th July at 2pm when they will once again be performing their poetry, mini-plays, stories and monologues, in the upstairs room of Rems Café Bar.

Sheila Armstrong

A WHITER SHADE OF PALE - Buxton Drama League

Buxton Drama League were ahead of the curve when they entered their first audioplay to the Fringe in 2020 before anyone had even heard of Covid. In contrast A Whiter Shade of Pale was recorded during Covid restrictions and released into a world well used to streaming entertainment.

Young Jack-the-lad ghost Russell (Dan Large) haunts the ancestral home of the Wellhavalin family, scene of the near climax of his romantic escapades back in the 70s, where he makes an odd couple with Stone (Tim Warburton), a pompous Elizabethan jester fallen from grace. They seem unready to learn the lessons that will enable them to move on from the spectral plane, until a team of TV Paranormal Investigators led by the unscrupulous Toni Markham (Emma Taylor) turn up.

There are plenty of big laughs to be had, and a wonderful set-piece as the ghost hunters have a seance in the presence of the ghosts. Peter Stubbington has a marvellous comic turn as the local yokel, Wilf Cuddy, and Ellie Crauford Stuart brings common sense to bear as Sonia, assistant to Russell’s former inamorata Lady Jennifer played by Sally Shaw.

So much of the success of the production is down to Will Blake, who as well as writing the play, did all the recording and editing, not to mention injecting some wonderful sound effects and music, and what a fabulous job he has done. Director Paul Harrison has coaxed some great performances out of a host of BDL regulars who were never in the same studio together, but you wouldn’t for a second know that due to the superb editing.

Following Alice Goes Elsewhere (still available at the same website) it’s another jolly romp from Will Blake and the team at Buxton Drama League. Stick some headphones on and enjoy the ride!

Stephen Walker