Monday, 5 March 2012

Just back from Cardiff

Just back from Cardiff and performing as a guest act at the Dickensian Twist Slam as hosted by the unstoppable Mab Jones with her boundless energy and charm, at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, to celebrate the 200th centenary of Dickens and also World Book Day. We were there as Widsith and Deor's Monster Theatre! I.e. storytelling theatre but with a cast of 90% Monsters (bodymasks), presenting our new adaptation of Charles Dicken's Christmas story 'The Chimes'.
   It was good weather for travelling, despite a quick hail storm before Bristol! And then over the Severn and Wye Rivers, with what felt like driving over the Sea, the bridge was so vast, and then at last into South Wales. It had been far too long! and was good to be back (I used to go to South Wales a lot at one stage, although knew Swansea rather than Cardiff). Surprisingly, (having spent a lot of time formerly also in North Wales, and knowing West Wales a little and the Marches pretty well) I had never yet been to Cardiff but always meant to go, so this was the perfect opportunity. The weather cleared up, we found the Arts Centre and parked down a quiet road, and then it was off to have a quick look round before the evening show. Cardiff had a Castle which looked a complete mixture of styles! A wonderfully eccentric timeline through architectural fashions, and the city centre seemed full of interesting arcades, packed with  small independent shops. We passed open air market stalls, one of which had the kind of stall I run myself, except that it sold chocolates: The signs modest, to-the-point and ever-knocked-over by the shy proprietor, who had toasting tongs to pick the chocolates up, which weren't ideal for the task. The goods themselves were large and square and evidently about taste and not fancy swirls or wrappers. The brown paper bags to put them in were also, purely functional - the emphasis was definitely on the goods themselves! And they were indeed, some of the finest chocolates I have ever had - amaretto and coffee were the chosen flavours, in plain chocolate, and they were freshly picked off the chocolate tree. Divine. No sales pitch, no fripperies, just some of the best-tasting chocolates a gourmet could wish for. The Bute Park looked lovely, we passed a view of the expansive waters leading to Cardiff Bay, and when at last it was time for a drink, we discovered that Wetherspoons had taken over a beautiful theatre building, The Prince of Wales. It had split levels with a modern but sympathetic and stylish spiral staircase, balconies and boxes with huge red velvet curtains fringed with gold in alcoves, a balcony above tiered with theatre seating, a bar where the stage had once been (it looked like), curtain still above where the  proscenium arch must have been, a theatrical frieze, some striking - plasterwork? decoration over the proscenium arch as well, stained glass windows in unexpected places, an airy roof of exposed timbers over the upstairs bar, and altogether was (as well as a very busy pub) a magical space! And then (after a brief supper) it was back to the pleasant, airy, Chapter Arts Centre to unload the cargo of Monsters and meet Mab Jones, who had so kindly liked our Monster Theatre videos. There was a brief open mike, and then the slam proper, with people interpreting the C19th inspired element in a whole variety of different ways. To listing as many titles of Dickens' novels in a poem as possible (though I could've sworn he left out Bleak House!) to tacking the author's character, to lauding the age in which he lived in wry rhyme, to an almost dancer-like recitation/performance of a C19th poet (Browning), and many other takes, some more or less loosely having a nod to the theme. It was a very tough set of decisions for the randomly picked five judges, as at least five contenders were equally good, they just had very differing styles, so in a sense, it felt wrong to pick one above the others. But the most slam-friendly professional did just win, as something about the confidence that lots of bookings and experience brings tipped him upward in the judge's eyes, understandably, and he did have the most stage presence. Moreover draws can be so messy! And absolutely impossible between so many. But was still a pity to see folks who'd done so well in the first round get knocked out, and the five turn into just three, but the more slams I see, the more I just feel this is the nature of the beast. It's very rare that I've thought 'yes it should be x' and then it was, at the end. So I couldn't help but feel for all the finalists, but then it says much for the quality of the performances elicited by the slam! And of Mab Jones ability to attract such talent. She kept the pace moving with great aplomb - no mean feat with so many contestants, an open mike, AND two guest acts! Our own adaptation of 'The Chimes' seemed to go down very well, with myself as Toby, and Deor doing amazing quick-changes as all three aristocrats AND the goblin of the bells, all with bodymasks, three of them huge, and two with light up eyes. There was a heap of generous applause and I and Deor got lots of kind compliments, Deor about the masks (people just love them), and myself about the storytelling. 'I've never seen two person storytelling done in that way - it's great!' was a comment from one of the poets that left me glowing. 'Brilliant! That was spot on!' said one woman from the audience - I wish I'd said more in reply than just a sheepish 'Hey thank you!' but you always think of something more to the purpose long afterward! The evening finished with a Vaudeville act dressed as Queen Victoria with lots of showmanship, and then it was time for the show to end, and 'so to bed' as Pepys used to say!
   Huge thanks to the wonderful Mab Jones for having us!