Monday, 17 October 2016

Chapter 157: Ceirw - Savage Hart


Nature is a great healer. With a heavy heart, I said goodbye to our holiday home down in Sussex. A gentle summer with family and friends, savouring moments in a hammock underneath the apple trees, wondering at the play of dappled light and serenaded by the rustle of leaves, I was loathe to return to the ferocious whirligig of London living. The car packed up, I had one last stroll down to the bottom of the garden. As I was walking back up, I heard a crash and saw a doe came careering over a hedge, stumbling towards me, having clipped her hind leg in the jump. She passed by within reach of me, had I only held out my hand. But I stood stock still, not wanting to scare her further. She stopped a safe distance ahead, nervous, alert, waiting. A few moments later, a young buck jumped through, clearing the hedge easily in a leap. He stopped in his tracks when he saw me. Our eyes locked. Protective and uncertain, it felt like we were communicating both our fears and reassurances to each other in an instant. Time stopped, my heart thudded. And then he raced passed me to the doe. With his arrival her confidence was restored, her limp disappeared. She trotted off, insouciant, while he turned his head back towards me, a nod farewell, and then gracefully bounded off after her. I got into the car with a great sense of awe and gratitude, and certainty that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. 

Small wonder then that I should have been so excited by the thought of Citrus Arts' Bridie and James Doyle-Roberts bringing Ceirw - Savage Hart (cierw is Welsh for deer) to Jacksons Lane, a ballet combined with aerial circus skills, that opened with an encounter between a young woman and a stag in a forest. The tale is set in 18th Century, and tells the story of a wicked baron who is forced to atone for past crimes against nature, including the murder of the stag in the opening scene, by the spirits of the deer's family. It is a Romantic reimagining of Dickens' Christmas Carol, where Scrooge is brought to account by Rousseuian noble savages.

The lighting and shadows lent an ethereal hue to the set which comprised a table fit for a feast and a wall with mounts for the heads of the stag, doe and buck. The live music by Simon McCorry and James Minas-Blight was a haunting score that framed the grace of the dancers blending both classical and contemporary moves. It was spell-binding. The baron was gratifyingly lascivious, stocky, powerfully built and pugnacious, pawing and sniffing his trophy kill like the beast he was and exercising his droit de seigneur with any female that crossed his path. His wife was a touching mix of purity and chagrin, the ephemeral conscience of her husband, lover of the natural world, in mourning for the death of her stag, her dream, her desire. And if you saw the stag you would understand why. Tall, in tight-fitting ballet pants revealing a body sculpted of marble, conveying sheer animal magnetism. Regal. Dignified. The doe and the young buck, mischievous sprites brimming with energy, were both played by petite women, which complemented the aesthetic contrast in stature with the stag, and I loved the play with gender. The felt masks created by Gladys Paulus were stunning, works of art, collectors' items(!), and the act of putting them on and tying at the back with ribbons held a shamanistic significance. All three performers captured the animal gestures so eloquently and the aerial apparatus (rope, silks, trapeze and straps) gave scope for majesty or playfulness as their character required. I was riveted watching the vulnerable, precarious balances, the smooth transitions, the fluid, tumbling twists and touching duets intertwined in precise choreography. Many harts soared that evening.

There were moments when I wasn't sure I entirely grasped the flow of the narrative, but such is the oneiric nature of the piece that it did not detract from my enjoyment or emotional engagement, I was simply lost in the reverie. In a beautiful twist, nature finally transformed the set: ivy wound around the wall empty of trophies, a confetti of leaves swept across the stage. The baron's savage hart now tamed, he and his wife donned the masks of stag and doe in reconciliation with the world around them, and each other. The ultimate message was an uplifting one. Man is a cruel beast, but not beyond redemption. 

The Cast
The Baron: Zeph Gould
The Wife: Lauren Poulton
The Stage: Luke Bradshaw
The Doe: Hannah Darby
The Young Buck: Charlotte Dawson

The production is currently on tour, for further dates this year visit

Friday, 14 October 2016

Chapter 156: Peta Lily's Chastity Belt

"It's a delightful thing to think of perfection; but it's vastly more amusing to talk of errors and absurdities" 
Fanny Burney in Camilla (1796)

In the recent wave of mass hysteria about creepy clown sightings, Tamara Palmer, spokesperson for Clowns Without Borders, an organisation that brings giggle doctors to children in crisis areas,  said "real clowns don't seek to mask their identities". What she was getting at, I believe, was that, red nose and greasepaint or no, the clown persona is an authentic articulation of a performer's inner truth. A clown for me is any performer who engages the audience through play, and if it doesn't ring true, the audience will just not connect. I had heard about Peta Lily's school of "dark clowning" from friends. While a red-nosed circus clown puts their vulnerability on display for laughs, tripping up and looking stupid, the audience is free to laugh safe in the knowledge they will bounce back. A dark clown reaches into a place vulnerability and stays there, serving it up in a way that that the audience still laughs, only no longer so innocent, rather complicit in the pain somehow, disconcerted, and ultimately challenged. Having signed up time and again for any experience that promises or risks the proverbial pie in the face (cue my audience with Ken Dodd: Chapter 128 - click here), that is a place I'm aiming for with my writing.

So I was holding out for Chastity Belt. In fact, I saw the show twice, first in extract in an evening of comedy sketches, and then the full version a few weeks later, both times at the Lion and Unicorn theatre pub in Kentish Town. What struck me both times was how much of a brilliant word-smith and belting singer, as well as mimic and clown, Peta Lily is. Words tumbled out in cascades of short, striking rhythms, puns and playfulness both gratifying and spell-binding as she conjured up a succession of spirited Greek goddesses, Hindu deities, amazons and archetypes who have all had to withhold to uphold their honour. 

Peta in her crimson tutu and candy-striped shoes artfully toyed with the trope of a girlish ingenue, the coquettish flirtations and angling for a man, only to discard it along with the skirt to reveal a virginal white slip of Diana ("the goddess not the dead princess"). Peta, with her ash blond hair, high cheek-bones and piercing blue eyes, was the incarnation of Diana. She looked good for her age she heard us mentally qualify, and I winced. A fine and funny case is made for surrendering sex. The deliverance from the mess, emotional or otherwise, that comes from all the games, subterfuge, humping, grinding, pumping.  But not without acknowledging the loss that absence of intimacy entails - "no nestling... no spooning... no silken touch..." I felt my heart contract. Peta is no simple cheerleader for the cause of chastity.

Slipping a bowl up the back of her top, I loved Peta morphing into Diana the crone, the hag, queen of the sexual desert, the dromedary who is "quite happy having the hump".  I had a soft spot too for the banter of Lysistrata and her mate Trace in a poetic latter-day reimagining of Aristophanes' play in "The Only Way is No Sex". In the original, the wives deny their spouses' conjugal rights until a peace treaty is signed. Could it work today? Or would the call to arms (or closing of legs) by an older woman be nothing but a "grand empty gesture"; given her "great age" would anyone notice? And there's the rub. That is the blow landed below the belt. Is chastity a choice or a necessary protection, the only option to avoid the pain of finding out whether anyone cares? Serious questions were served up with humour and an innovative twist of lemon, sharp but not bitter, to keep the evening well-lubricated. I squirmed, I laughed, and, much to the amusement of Leonor sitting next to me, I punched the air ("I want a wife!"). Wickedly funny, full of zest, Peta Lily revealed herself to be chastity's agent provocateur for the evening, had us all right where she wanted and clamouring for more.

Oranges are not the only fruit

Note: Peta Lily is running a dark clowning workshop on 26/27 November, open to everyone from complete beginners to more experienced idiots - see (click here).

 Chastity Belt is available as a book of poetry on Amazon. Click here.