Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Exeter's Duckaroo Club

Last night's Duckaroo Club at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter was an intimate affair. (Its predecessor was the Exeter Catweazle Club and was held at the Speakeasy upstairs at Oddfellows, but for some reason many of the branches of the Club were closed by the organizers of the original Club, and so the Exeter branch metamorphosized into the Duckaroo Club, and is now held at the Bike Shed Theatre.) It's on after the show in the auditorium every Thursday night, and actually the format really works! Far from starting too late, it has a 'from 8.30pm' informal get-together in the stylish yet comfy bar of the Bike Shed, and once everyone's had time to relax and have a drink or something to eat, and actually catch up with each other (which one so often doesn't! having so many folks to say hello to at such events) properly, and then roll in at 9.30 to the stage and actual theatre. To my amazement, the set from the play was still there - well, thinking about it, during a run, of course it would be. But it meant that the thoughtful and theatrical designer backdrop was all ours for the evening, not to mention the lighting. I've been to cabarets and slams in the same theatre with bold lighting that was just functional - but this was warm, atmospheric and elegant. And, as performers, it seemed to me that all of us responded to having a proper 'stage environment' to perform in, by pulling out an extra stop. Despite clashing with two other popular events (the Blue Walnut in Torquay's Performance Poetry night and Uncut Poets at the Exeter Phoenix, which would always be the case with a weekly format) and so there not being many of us there, there was definitely the 'pin drop' ambiance for which the original Catweazle was famous. The host, gifted musician and singer Kimwei Westbury started the evening with a 'Symphony for Happiness' on guitar (which she plays as percussive as well) and started with a bang! A beautiful piece, hypnotic, absorbing, and like much of her work, neither rock/pop nor contemporary/classical but a wonderful and engaging mixture of the two. Arty, modernist, yet also accessible, harmonious and brilliantly danceable, it, like Bjork's music (the only comparison I could think of) is seriously intelligent acoustic pop, (I wouldn't describe it as folk) and doing something different and genuinely experimental whilst being really melodic. We then had the treat of the classically trained Stephen Yates on guitar, which was just spellbinding. He gave a wonderful mini-lecture on Paganini and the history/beginnings of the rock star cult/ure, in whose legacy we live, and it was so enthralling, I felt as if I was re-living the kind of experience which I had at the marvellous Medieval Music course I once went to at the WEA. He plays technically challenging and virtuoso pieces with terrific skilful dexterity and it was a real pleasure to listen to him, especially as he had chosen something wonderfully creepy and off-kilter in honour of it being close to Hallowe'en. During David Heathfield's story (a Katherine Brigg's tale of the Moon falling into the snares of the marsh creatures), both musicians extemporized which was magical, and after Katie Moudry telling a tale with her poetic turn of phrase and well-toned voice, Kimwei and Stephen finished the evening off with a joint improvisation! Which was, with two such gifted musicians, and improvisation-chemistry added, really something not to be missed. An evening stuffed with treats in other words.
We (Widsith and Deor) did a section during the proceedings, of our 'Carnival of Monsters', giving the full introduction to the invocation, summoning of and speech by the Diabolo figure. We thought it went very well, and it was great to have a chance to do the whole thing, as of course at noisy drunken festival venues, you move swiftly on to the next monster to keep the pace of the evening. (But during festivals and cabarets it's best to perform it as cabaret, and not as the full theatre-experience which we are developing the full Monster Carnival as.) It was nice to shoot it past such an appreciative audience.
Big thanks to Kimwei for organizing it! It was, as said, 'pin drop' magical.

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