A Pleasing Terror

My love of all things spooky is no secret, so I’m looking forward to a treat this Friday – a trip to The Lighthouse in Poole, to hear actor Robert Lloyd Parry read two of M.R. James’ best-known ghost stories. 

The evening is entitled ‘A Pleasing Terror’, and if the show I saw last year is anything to go by, it will be spine-tinglingly good. You’ll notice I’ve stolen the above image from an article on the Guardian website. I was going to take a photo of the set so I could blog about it, but I fell down the stairs, and thereafter was too embarassed. A warning to the curious, indeed. But it was worth it for a closer look. 

What I love most about this concept is the way M.R. James’ study is recreated on stage, with props ranging from a comfortable leather armchair, to (in last year’s production) a bowl of soup; and a handkerchief of crumpled linen, deployed at the optimum moment. Old photographs and postcards; strange brass instruments; used crockery – I’m not even sure if all those things were on the stage that night, or if I was so entrenched in the atmosphere that I imagined them. Real candlelight completes the picture, and is used to dramatic effect in a deft piece of shadow puppetry. The attention to detail is fantastic, bringing to life not just the characters and events of the stories, but Montague Rhodes James himself – scholar, antiquary and master storyteller. Robert Lloyd Parry is fantastic in the role. 

Tying into another of my slightly odd interests, I was also pleased last year to recognise the eerie high voice of counter-tenor Alfred Deller, singing thematically appropriate music (from beyond the grave, natch) while the audience entered the auditorium. 

You can see the influence Nunkie Theatre had on our Halloween set-up this year, also themed around the idea of the story teller. You’ll have to take my word for it that this looked a lot more impressive in real life…!

Halloween at Hemlock Hall, 2015 -  the reading room.

In which a darkened room doesn’t photograph very well.

If you’re able to get to one of the remaining dates on Nunkie Theatre’s current tour, it comes highly recommended. And if you aren’t, a DVD is conveniently available; though you may then have to watch out for the proverbial ghost in the machine…

Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival 2015 – In which our author engages in some speculation…

Bournemouth Arts By the Sea Festival recently revealed this lovely teaser trailer (created by Treehouse Digital) on their Twitter feed. The full festival programme is due to be revealed this month – and could come out any day now!

As a Bournemouth resident, artist and general cultural aficionado*, I’m quite excited about this. But I’m also impatient. So I have used my skills of Google-Fu, and discovered a few things that I’m speculating we can expect to see at this autumn’s festival…

As for the rest, we’ll all just have to keep one eye on the Arts Bournemouth website for the official unveiling of the full programme. I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait! This year the festival runs from Friday 9 October 2015 until Sunday 18 October, and it’s set to tie in with the International Year of Light. This seems appropriate, as the festival has previously included some really beautiful light-themed public art installations – such as the Lost Light ‘beach huts’ from Michael Grubb Studios; and last year’s Carabosse Fire Gardens.

See more posts on my blog about Arts by the Sea:

Arts by the Sea Festival neon sign, in the bandstand

Disclaimer: all information found herein has been gleaned from Googling “Arts by the Sea Festival” and similar terms, and seeing what came up – some of the artists have included the festival dates on their websites. I don’t have any insider information that is not already available to the public, although I have volunteered to help out as a festival ‘champion’ this year!

* Isn’t ‘General Cultural Aficionado’ a character in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel?

Instagram Flashback: Some light reading

Books! Witches & Wicked Bodies book of the exhibition; The Haunted Looking Glass ghost stories; The Cult of Beauty exhibition bookFrom August 2014: A delightful order of unusual books arrives from Foyles.

The book in the background – with the bewitching face – is from a fantastic V&A exhibition called ‘The Cult of Beauty’ which I saw a few years ago. Then the exhibition went to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and I very nearly saw it again there. One of the paintings that starred in it is Albert Moore’s ‘Midsummer’, which is usually displayed in our local museum (and one of my favourite places), the Russell-Cotes. So now you know.

Apocalypse Bournemouth: Carabosse Fire Gardens at Arts By the Sea Festival 2014

Carabosse Fire Gardens scultpture outside Pavilion Dance in Bournemouth

Somehow I always knew Bournemouth had the potential to erupt into incendiary civil unrest. It all came to a head at the opening of the Arts By The Sea festival, when French installation artists Compagnie Carabosse rolled into town, and started setting fire to the Lower Gardens…

Carabosse Fire Gardens, Arts by the Sea Festival 2014

Carabosse Fire Gardens - musician performing in Bournemouth Gardens, lit by fire

This was an experience which engaged all the senses. It combined intense heat, light and movement from the flames; the smell and taste of smoke in the air; and hypnotic ambient music played by mysterious shadowy men in black hats. In fact my favourite aspect of the event was this musician, playing alone with a crazy eclectic mash-up of instruments and electronic effects, singing unintelligible lyrics surrounded by flaming light bulbs. (I think I just described my dream job).

(video from YouTube – I think this must have been taken at a similar event in France. Here’s another.)

Flames poured down chutes running through the river; rose slowly into the air on metallic octopus tentacles and exploded in showers of sparks; and revolved in vast three-dimensional globes and spirals. Metal balls hung from trees, glowing blue, and sending gently twinkling embers into the air. And a penguin in aviator’s goggles was suspended above a bizarre metal contraption which it would be pointless for me to try to describe.

Penguin in aviators goggles

Carabosse Fire Gardens - weird penguin sculpture? Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival 2014.

I seem to recall that there was a river of fire running around this thing, come nightfall, and that the penguin slowly revolved…

Wandering around the gardens before the event started, while these obscure ‘machines’ were being unpacked and assembled, gave me a chance to marvel at the ingenuity of it all – at the way different shapes and movement were incorporated into the sculptures, and how it was all created from scrap metal. And vests.

Vests? Carabosse Fire Gardens, Arts by the Sea Festival 2014

These looked a lot cooler once there were flames inside them.

Yes, flaming vests suspended above the Pine Walk, some with the M&S tags still visible.

The large crowds that turned up to watch the displays were remarkably well-behaved – aided, I think, by the unobtrusive but visible security presence (I watched one security guard help rescue a baby squirrel that had strayed on to the path. Bless). This was a well-run event, and a real credit to the town. But it still had the inherent DANGER of LIVE FIRE! Making Bournemouth cool again, if only for the duration of the arts festival.

Bournemouth's hot air balloon suspended above the gardens, lit by fire installations

Night photography is difficult for me. #blurry

Next on the blog, I’ll profile some of the other fantastic arts events on offer at the 2014 Arts by the Sea Festival, and reveal how the Carabosse fire gardens had an unexpected influence on my own preparations for Halloween 2014…!

The sound of the sea.

Arts By the Sea Festival Opening Weekend – September 2013. An account of a mysterious marriage, rendered in purple prose and pencil by yours truly…

(It’s the sound, it’s the sound of the sea.)

Dressed in white with ceremonial red crowns, a train of women make their way through the town, chanting strange words of the sea and a mysterious sacrifice. They are accompanied by a motley crew of officials – a choirmistress, a souvenir seller, a chimney sweep – and me: a hanger-on; an impromptu wedding guest. Somebody has given me a small paper flag with a silver horseshoe, and I wave it self-consciously.

Passing through the square and towards the lower gardens, crowds line up in the gathering gloom, capturing the spectacle with cameras and mobile phones. People are curious, but not surprised: there’s an arts festival happening, and they’ve learned to expect the unexpected. I walk near a gaggle of brightly-dressed characters in Commedia dell’Arte masks, whose cheerful song and comic capering add an air of exuberance to the solemn parade.

We are now heading for the sea, and at the pier, the procession pauses. There is eerie music and a sense of foreboding. The sky is a deep electric blue, and coming across the water is a small boat lit by strings of yellow bulbs. The brides are illuminated, too, by torches clutched in nervous hands. Their pale, carefully made-up faces glow. They wait and the crowd waits.

A short time later, as the brides recede into the distance aboard the little ferry, I lean on the pier railings and think about what has just happened. A woman I meet tells me she’s heard that the brides are in fact on their way to Poole, where they will go on a post-parade pub crawl. The mental image of 50 or so women in second-hand wedding dresses descending on quay-side drinking establishments is as surreal as anything else I’ve seen tonight. Then I go and take a last look at the giant robot horse parked on the seafront, before going home.

Sketch for a picture inspired by the Marriage of the Sea parade

Sketch for a picture inspired by the event, which I might finish one day.


Note: for some excellent atmospheric photos of the event, see this website. Look carefully, and you might spot the impromptu wedding guest in the red scarf under the word ‘Rapunzel’.