Feeling the Force of The Devizes Arts Festival

If there’s a stigma among the typical denizen surrounding the Devizes Arts Festival that it’s all rather pompous and geared toward the elder generation, all walks and organ recitals, and that sounds like you, then I bid you look closer at this year’s newly announced line-up.

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Devizes Arts Festival has pulled a colossal rabbit out their hats for this June’s festivities; really, I don’t know where to begin. Yes, some of it conforms to the customary Arts Festival bookings, such as an audience with international journalist and veteran reporter John Simpson (Corn Exchange. Friday 31st May) and an organ recital by the Sub-Organist at Durham Cathedral, Francesca Massey (1st June St Johns.) There’s even a two-hour festival walk; Historic Devizes (2nd June. Devizes Town Centre,) guided by experts from the Wiltshire County Archaeology team, and a Civil War Battlefield walk at Roundway Down on 9th June.

 
Now, don’t get me wrong, while there’s no bad about any such events, and chatting with organiser Phillipa Morgan, who is keen to point out, “we had fifteen sold-out events last year,” there’s many-a darn good reason to cast off this erroneous label.

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I assure, many acts are set to blow some interest in the direction of those who’d not considered the Arts Festival before. Ska, for instance, (you know me, fancy picking on this one first!) with Skamouth favourites, Coventry’s (the home of Two-Tone) Barb’d Wire (1st June Corn Exchange) who boast legendary and original rude boy himself, Trevor Evans, combined with local songwriter/singer Lloyd Mcgrath. This is certain to raise a few eyebrows; perfect for the 40th anniversary of Two-Tone.

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You can zip your soul boots too, for seventies pioneers in funk, The Real Thing are confirmed, (8th June. Corn Exchange.) Known for legendary hits “You to Me Are Everything” and “Can’t Get by Without You,” Devizes is sure to feel the force!

 
Wiltshire’s own Nick Harper is at The Exchange, 13th June, contemporary Congolese and Cuban music 15th June at the Corn Exchange with Grupo Lokito, and experimental prog-rock with CIRCU5 (16th June. Cellar Bar.)

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The brilliant radio, television and stage comedian Ed Byrne (12th June. Corn Exchange) was the other to immediately catch my eye. Joined by special guests, David Haddingham and Sindhu Vee, this one promises to “have you rolling in the aisles.” With sold-out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe, and the West End, it reminded me of a conversation I had with some organisers last year, about how they travel to Edinburgh to source acts for the Arts Festival. This dedication has paid off, it seems, and we’re set for an explosively good year.

 
I asked Phillipa if this stigma was something the committee addressed, as it certainly is a line-up of variety. “Classical music is still there but we’ve tried to broaden the appeal. I think we’ve just moved in that direction as a result of an awareness that the requirement is changing and we’re trying to be more inclusive.”

 
So, what else is up for grabs this year? Children’s author Clive Mantle will be entertaining youngsters with illustrated readings from his time-travelling, Himalayan adventure and talking about his writing and his own travels in Nepal (1st June. Devizes Town Hall 2:30pm.) Although familiar as an actor to audiences of Holby, Vicar of Dibley and Game of Thrones, Clive Mantle is also now a successful children’s author: his first book “The Treasure at the Top of the World” was short-listed for the People’s Book Award and a second book in the series is due out in June. This is suitable for eight-year-olds and above.

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Also, for young-uns, Blue Peter Award winning author and performer, Gareth P Jones presents Aliens in Devizes! (8th June. Town Hall) Pet Defenders, a secret organisation of dogs, cats, rabbits and rodents dedicated to keeping the Earth safe from alien invasion. Suitable ages from six to nine, but sounds like fun to me!

 
The best jazz violinist in the country, Christian Garrick and John Etheridge, one of the most stunningly versatile guitarists, presents Strings on Fire (3rd June. The Exchange.) Meanwhile, two siblings that make up the exceptional violin and viola duo, String Sisters, Angharad and Lowri Thomas String Sisters are at St. Andrews Church on the 5th June. Multiple award-winning musicians, who’ve played with Alfie Boe, Michael Ball, Paloma Faith, Marc Almond, Boy George and Robbie Williams.

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2nd June at The Bear Hotel Ballroom, there’s a quirky, funny and poignant award-winning solo show about Nick Drake; a celebration of music, photography, life, coincidences and the legacy of one of the most influential singers/song-writers of the last fifty years.

 
Competitive improv as you’ve never seen it, The Shakespeare Smackdown (4th June. The Exchange,) is from the creators of Olivier Award-winning “Showstopper! The Improvised Musical.” Britain’s favourite celebrity organic gardener and Gardeners’ Question Time star panellist, Bob Flowerdew has An Audience with on the 5th June at Devizes Town Hall.

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From Atila singing the Nat King Cole Story (6th June. Town Hall) to the dark comic and eclectic music of Moscow Drug Club (7th June Corn Exchange) and from An Audience with grand dame of English literature, Fay Weldon (8th June. Bear Hotel) to Elspeth Beard, the first British woman to motorcycle around the world (8th June. Bear Hotel) no one can deny the quality and variety is extraordinary this year. Talks on Sci-Fi influences on evolutionary linguistics, a homage of renditions of Eric and Ernie, author Clare Mulley’s on her third book, “The Women Who Flew for Hitler”, open mic poetry session with Josephine Corcoran, in fact there’s too much here to list in one article, my wordcount exploding and I fear you’ll be bedazzled by it all.

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So why don’t we regroup tomorrow, when we’ll highlight, in particular, the free fringe events? Phillipa, in charge of the fringe events, notes surprisingly, that although “the fringe events are subsided, for some reason they don’t seem to attract that many people, compared with ticketed recent events such as Rick Wakeman at £45, which sold out.” I think this is down to the aforementioned stigma, and here at Devizine I’m dedicated to prove it wrong. So, same time tomorrow then?

 

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A Get Together with Arts Together

“What we have learned is that simply offering support or information is sometimes not enough,” states Age UK, “older people who are in the worst place often feel there is no hope, leading to a vicious circle of low self-esteem, lack of motivation and reluctance sometimes to ask for, or accept help.”

 
What sounds bad on paper, is often not as the eye perceives. While undoubtedly this is fact, I’m visiting Kestrel Court in Bowerhill, sheltered accommodation for elderly. I bear witness to a lively group, not just engaged in an art class, but merrily lapping up every minute of it. There’re cakes in abundance, tea, and some Mozart as background music. At one-point Gerald gets up to strum a guitar, and once the class is all but ended, the artist Clifton Powell slipped on some reggae; despite hard-of-hearing and cataract, Gladys, from Paraguay, is up dancing.

 
This is the doing of a charity group called Arts Together.

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“I’ve never been a person who joins groups,” Sue tells me as we sit together admiring her still life watercolour, “always been on the edge looking in. I really feel part of this group; that’s so unusual.” Arts Together is perhaps a slightly misleading name for this local charity, as while indeed it provides members with tutorials and equipment to engage in a wide variety of art projects, it also acts as wellbeing, and an invaluable social group.

 
I asked Sue about the community side to it, did she balance it’s worth with the actual art as half-and-half. She agreed it was equally vital, describing her battle with depression. “But this kind of thing really addresses it. There’s so many of the things they say you should do, going to your doctor, behaviour training and what have you, which has never helped me. And then you get something like this, which has been a real help. If this was on prescription, I’d be asking my doctor for it!”

 

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Sue reveals a creative nature, she’s written poems and performed them. Other members of the group, such as Carol, who proudly holds up her painting to show me, has no previous artistic calling. There’s a varied degree of skill, but Clifton commends and encourages all, a reason they all sing his praises. He was joined last minute by Rachel Heard, a Wiltshire artist, known for her “explorations of natural forms,” painting.

 
Arts Together have thirteen accomplished artists, and many group volunteers. In the last year they’ve delivered 180 art sessions, over their six locations across the county. Arts Together meet, in Bradford, Trowbridge, Devizes, Pewsey, Marlborough and here, in Melksham. Projects are as wide as wire and clay sculptures, mosaics and textiles. Sue particularly warmed to the puppet making workshop. I’ve invaded the final meet of this still life project, frames are scattered over the table, once completed a windowsill becomes a makeshift gallery, presenting their work.

 


Arts Together works to support older people who have become physically and socially isolated. I did ponder if they catered for dementia patients and such like, but was informed care homes and hospices organise their own activities, while the elderly in sheltered accommodation are often left out. “There’s nothing like this around here,” I’m told. So, while I didn’t class this as “art therapy” in similar light, it’s indubitably therapeutic, it stimulates and actively encourages the participants to try new things, to be creative and social. In a word, it’s wonderful.

 

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But I’m moved by Arts Together manager, Karolyne’s announcement, “We are on the brink of closure and desperately help.” While this is not the first time the charity has been under financial pressure, they assure me it’s the worst. “Any statutory funding from public money disappeared years ago and it has been our supporters and some enlightened Trusts that have helped us survive.” I find myself shrugging; sad sign of the times.

 
This isn’t some large charity with a whole department dedicated to fundraising, managers balancing campiagns with sessions. It’s lunchtime as I get my coat, I’m invited to stay but cannot. Agreeably I attended for some media exposure, but so welcomed I left with sensation of making real friends. I imagine life for these newfound friends without Arts Together, and shudder.

 
Without Arts Together members return to a solitary, empty week, consequently effecting their health and wellbeing. Wellbeing was a word passed around a lot today, the charity take pride in their achievement, help them maintain it.

 

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There’s a coffee morning at Rick Stein’s on the High Street in Marlborough, on 1st March. Admission by £5 minimum donation, includes coffee tea and cake.

 

I’d like to thank the members I met today, it truly was fun and an inspiration to meet you, and the team behind it. I was enlightened, and think Devizine should stage a fundraising event too, as soon as possible. Anyone interested in helping with me on that please get in touch.

 
Until then, you can donate on the website; please, please, if you can, do. If you’re an artist consider volunteering some time. Any donation from you will help around 80 very frail older people to rediscover their zest for life. Arts Together enables them to rebuild their confidence, self-esteem and resilience and remain living independently in the community for as long as possible.

 

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Wharf Theatre Brings Local Playwriter’s “Broken Wing” to Life

Zara is therapist to a sixteen year old refugee, trying to come to terms with the brutal horrors of war. Her own adopted daughter of the same age is dealing with her ‘inner’ conflict. As the characters of the two girls, Layee and Thea, emerge, they tell not only their own stories but each other’s, to a world which they often feel doesn’t listen or understand.

 
Showing the deep anguish, feelings of loss of identity and abandonment which can link both adoption and asylum, it’s the intriguing plot of Broken Wing, the world premier play of Devizes author Annie L Cooper. Annie was prompted to write it after her personal experiences as a therapist working in Bosnia with the victims of concentration camps, and having witnessed the complex issues involved in adoption. It’s being staged by director Lewis Cowen at The Wharf Theatre in Devizes for Tuesday 19th to Saturday 23rd June.

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Not set in any specific time or place, because sadly these issues still occur in all corners of the world, it’s a powerful production with strong language and disturbing themes, hence its over sixteen guideline.

 
What an inspiring move for our local theatre, adapting a local author’s work and staging an exclusive play which hopefully will be taken up elsewhere.

 
Catch Broken Wing at The Wharf Theatre, Devizes: Tuesday 19th – Saturday 23rd June 2018 @ 7.30pm Tickets £12/£10; concessions can be purchased from the website: wharftheatre.co.uk or at the Devizes Community Hub and Library on Sheep Street, Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm or by ringing 03336 663 366 For further information contact Karen Ellis www.publicity@wharftheatre.co.uk  

Ticket Source here

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Daniella Faircloth in a Shoebox; Unbinding Halloween Chills

It’s been about a year since the editor of Index:Wiltshire sent me to Swindon for the press screening of a new, homemade film. Slightly anxious at the prospect of being among “real” journalists, thought I was in over my head. Instead, I was welcomed by a family atmosphere, with more cakes than journalists (turned out it was the producer’s birthday too.)

 

Immediately I threw off those fears, this isn’t a pretentious Hollywood charade, this is Swindon for crying out loud; only provoking a new concern, how good could a locally made movie really be, would I need to humour wild Swindonian thespians?

 

Turned out I was pleasantly surprised, the film, Follow the Crows, was superb, but my bag of nerves not through yet. An unidentified apocalyptic event threw an oddball bunch of survivors into a baron wilderness, each with their own vicious agenda; the plot of the film unnerving when surreally, you’re sitting amidst the actors playing these fruitcakes.

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At the movie’s close I stumbled up in awe, cake crumbs scattered the floor; this was an awesome film and I felt honoured, as if I was initiated into a secret gang with this exclusive preview. But meeting the actors and one actress, Danielle Faircloth, who I’d just seen at daggers with each other on the screen, I had to acknowledge it was just an act; that’s what these guys do, and very realistically too. This exceptionally talented bunch weren’t about to carve me up over a tin of spam. No, we just shook hands and chatted amicably.

 

I have maximum respect for those who can so convincingly act, my personal performing career peaked when my Shakin’ Stevens impression gained me first place at the Cub Scout pack holiday talent show, the rest has been downhill since (I probably didn’t need to mention that.)

 

The Producer of Follow the Crows, Marcus Starr, explained a lot more work was needed to perfect the sound, and as I write this I’m pleased to announce the team claim a release date is imminent. More on this news as and when, but today I wanted to make a point, and introduce Swindon’s cosy, Shoebox Theatre.

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The Shoebox Theatre is a space in Theatre Square for talented performers, writers, musicians and directors to develop, train, and showcase their work, in hope of bringing something different and exciting to audiences of Swindon. And with the talents of Danielle heading a mature themed horror play, by resident theatre company, the Wrong Shoes, called The Unbinding, I’m rest assured this will be a supreme Halloween indulgence.

 

With a local component, The Unbinding devised from historical accounts of witches from Wiltshire; the play explores mob-mentality and our insatiable need to punish those who are different. Accused of witchcraft, four women are locked together, to await their sentence in the shadows. Scared and hungry they don’t know who they can trust, or who will survive.

 

It promises to be an intense performance, featuring stark realism, horror, physical theatre, strobe lights, and containing scenes of a sexual nature, with violence, and strong language some viewers may find disturbing; has to be scarier than wandering the streets collecting Haribo.

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Book your tickets for The Unbinding, opening on Halloween (31st Oct) and running until 4th November at the Shoebox Theatre via www.theunbinding.co.uk

 

The only thing not scary is the price; tickets at a tenner. Plus, you’ll be supporting the Wrong Shoes at the Shoebox Theatre, who, as well as creating theatre, the registered charity since 2015, also provides educational opportunities for people in Swindon and the surrounding areas to engage in original, contemporary theatre, both as performance makers and as audiences.

 

Look out for ingeniously titled, Much Ado About Puffin too, a performance for the children. Using skilful puppetry, beautiful music, and good old fashioned storytelling, Much Ado About Puffin is about old habits, new friendships and stepping out into the unknown, and runs this Saturday, 14th October.

 

For more information and other performances by the Shoebox Theatre: https://www.shoeboxtheatre.org.uk/

 

But don’t take my word for it; listen to Billie!