Contributions from Jemz Henderson, Steve Toase, John Davey and Jamila Knothe.
Harrogate is fast becoming one of the countries literary and cultural hot spots (despite the fact that this writer has just spent five minutes trying to work out if he was right to leave an apostrophe out of the word countries… and still doesn’t know).
With The Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival (running from 16 – 19th July) being in the top three literary festivals in the UK according to The Guardian; the theatre consistently attracting critically acclaimed productions and big name stars to it’s stage; long established venues like The Blues Bar running live music every night; new venues such as Major Tom’s and Ten Devonshire Place adding to the live scene, not to mention the spectacular Royal Hall and then the former white elephant come good Conference Center offering a stage suitable for the very biggest of acts, there is a platform here for any manner of events.
What is more, these kind of events are already happening and involve not only large companies, but social groups and forward thinking individuals. Collectives such as the superb Poems, Prose & Pints (third Wednesday of the month at The Tap n’ Spile) put on regular events offering great forums to budding writers; Knaresborough’s Release The Hounds organization holds very ambitious shows featuring stars in the world of spoken word; underground dance nights like The Open Deck Social (Sunday’s at Retro) give up and coming DJs a chance to show what they can do, whilst national promoters like Knee Deep bring people to the town who are at the top of the game in the DJ scene.
Red House Originals run events that combine the worlds of Art and Music, and Henshaw’s Arts & Crafts Center in Knaresborough have craft fairs, live gigs and even beach parties….
Don’t forget the superb community event that is the FEVA festival in Knaresborough which has something for everyone, plus of course the hugely successful Harrogate International Festival who somehow manage to run great things like the Montpellier Big Screen (11th & 12th July) and also pack venues on a Sunday morning for the type of classical shows that are fantastic advertisements for the town.
Recently I started to review a few things in my regular column, I am really happy that I’m now getting contributions from other people who have the advantage over me, in that they can actually write! Not only does this mean that you can find out about more of what is going on, it means I can spend more of my town down the library / night class / pub (*delete as believable).
Here are some reviews of the recent production of Macbeth at The Theatre, and first, The Harrogate Readers Day at The Old Swan.
Before reading, as someone who couldn’t until recently remember how Macbeth ends, I feel I’d better warn you there are “spoilers” in that review ;)
Reader’s Day, The Old Swan Hotel, Saturday 25th April
Harrogate is lucky to boast a wealth of literary events throughout the year and Saturday 25th April was another exceptional day. Run in association with the Mercer Gallery, The ‘Writing About Art’ Readers’ Day with authors Esther Freud, Patrick Gale, Michèle Roberts and artist Sarah Pickstone was a great opportunity for local writers Jem Henderson and Steve Toase to meet and chat with some fantastic authors.
Jem Henderson went to Patrick Gale’s breakout session and Steve to Esther Freud’s.
Jem Henderson – Reader’s Day was an opportunity for me to meet one of the authors of a book I hold dear to my heart, Patrick Gale’s most famous work Notes from an Exhibition, and as well as a chance to talk about his newest work, A Place Called Winter.
A Place Called Winter deals with the life of a Harry Cane, based on Patrick’s real great-grandfather. Patrick started the talk with a few pictures and mementos from his own collection before talking in depth about the research that he carried out to write about them.
The novel is vast, charting Harry’s journey from England over to the Saskatchewan plains in Canada, forced to leave by a secret which threatens to ruin the lives of his family back home. It details his adventures and experiences over in Canada, where he meets fellow emigrants both good and bad, as well as a Cree ‘two-spirit’ who helps him come to terms with his traumatic past.
Listening to Patrick talk about his writing process was a great experience – a chance to see an author to explain not just plot points but the writing process and how he creates his work from fragments of his own family history – both respectfully and creatively. Earlier discussions about writing and how each author plotted and wrote their own works helped to cement in my mind how I can better consider my own practise as a writer to ensure that I can finish my own novel!
Steve Toase – Before the Readers’ Day I was unfamiliar with Esther Freud’s work, but read Mac and Me in preparation. In the breakaway session I was struck by Esther’s candidness when talking about the genesis of the novel.
Inspiration came from a house she owned in the Suffolk village of Walberswick, and the ghostly presence of a boy she sensed within. The first version of the story concerned a woman moving in and being haunted. After 18 months she found her writing in a cul-de-sac and took the decision to abandon her work in progress. Instead she decided to tell the story of the ghost when he was alive. Abandoning a novel is a brave step for any writer to take, and one few would admit to an audience of their readers.
The second version of the novel took details from research into the families who lived in the house previously, and into Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s life.
Upon being asked whether it was easier to write about a living person she explained how she read Mackintosh’s letters to capture the tone of his language, and how he felt about the separation from his wife when she returned to Glasgow. (In real life this happened much later in his life, when the couple were living in France). She also explained about finding obscure details in her research that became significant, like a single reference to Mackintosh’s club foot.
Questions ranged from asking about the book’s hardback appearance to how much of her real life was in her first novel, Hideous Kinky. Esther answered all with honesty and good humour. By the end I’d learnt a lot about how even successful authors write themselves into corners. The difference between them and the less successful is that they write themselves out again.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Harrogate Theatre, 8th May
Reviewed by John Davey and first, Jamila Knothe
Jamila Knothe – Tara Arts is currently touring around England with their interpretation of Shakespeare’s Drama Macbeth. Directed by Jatinder Verma, the group performed in the Harrogate theatre this week. The play was noticeably Indian- influenced, without losing the Shakespearean, British components. The witches’ traditional costumes, as their singing and dancing were probably the elements most reminding of Bollywood. The witches and Macbeth’s servant were the only characters with a distinctive, stereotypical Indian accent. Further elements as the background percussions had more of an Indian “touch”, which is also given in the mostly simple-held, quite western and modern costumes of the other characters. The witches as transgendered, mad and out-of-place characters were very well played by bearded men in colourful saris. Their performance (making the audience giggle) is one of several, that put the actual drama and cruelty of Macbeth’s story into the background, underlining the relationships between the characters, especially in Macbeth’s household. Very authentic was the performance of Macbeth and his wife, being a bonded and strong couple, best seen in the dagger-scene after the murder of the king. Also very well done was the setting of the rather small stage. Light and stage design being held simple and yet enough. With his percussion, Rax Timyr was able to create and support the already given rhythm of speech, making it enjoyable for the audience to follow the play. All in all, a recommendable, different version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
John Davey – Interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays come in many forms, but Tara Arts’ Asian version of Macbeth surprises with a vibrancy and sense of mirth seldom found in the Bard’s weighty tragedy. In transferring the setting from a Scottish clan to an Indian family, the production brings movement, music, and even martial arts to Shakespeare’s text, pulsing with rhythmic energy from the kinetic opening fight scene to the final confrontation between Macbeth and MacDuff. The small cast of supporting actors slip effortlessly between multiple roles and the exchanges between Robert Mountford as Macbeth and Shaheen Khan as Lady Macbeth have a raw intensity that befits the gravitas of their terrible plots, deeds and doubts. The Asian setting and use of Indian costumes adds a new twist to the plays presentation, but it is the humour that it is the most unexpected addition, most notably in the performances of the ‘three witches.’ Reimagined as three outrageous hijras, or drag queens, these ‘wyrd sisters’ are wonderfully risqué and entertaining, frequently bursting into gleeful song and dance as they delight in their mischievous machinations. The rhythmic quality of the production is further emphasised by the inventive use of percussion and vocals performed on-stage throughout the show, adding urgency to the drama and providing evocative interludes between scenes. Tara Arts’ production of Macbeth is a fast paced and fresh yet faithful interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy that is well worth your time.
These reviews will be the type of thing I post every month as I feel it is worth restating that there really are loads of things going on. To that end if you have been to any kind of event and fancy writing a review please get in touch with me via facebook, but be prepared that I might just steal your text and take all the free truck loads of money I am expecting to arrive any day now for myself.
Cheers for reading and many many thanks to this month’s contributors, who will no doubt correct my grammar in the comment section below. Trev x x x