Friday at the Festival
It’s been wet all day, but it does really feel like the Festival now …
My first event, though, was not at the Festival site, but at The Poetry Bookshop, where Owen Sheers, John Retallack and Dan Krikler were doing a free event, meeting the creators of the play UNICORNS, ALMOST, which has started its run at The Swan.
Sadly, Owen Sheers couldn’t be there – struck down with a migraine, he was tucked up in bed, so he couldn’t tell us himself about how much the poet Keith Douglas meant to him. John Retallack, the director of the play, said that Owen first discovered the poetry when he was 24 – which was the age that Keith Douglas had died in the Second World War. He also talked a lot about Owen Sheers other play, Pink Mist, about three Bristol lads joining the army and being sent to Afghanistan. Pink Mist is an extended poem, originally written for radio – which caused a few problems when trying to stage it, according to Dan Krikler, who also starred in that play. On stage, you can just pick up a cup of coffee – for radio, the text actually says “I picked up my cup of coffee”, so they had an interesting time getting that to work. However, Pink Mist ended up being a very physical play, and when John Retallack directed it at the Bristol Old Vic he wanted to work with someone else who had a particular type of theatrical training, to get the right physicality (I forget the name of the place that did the training) and the Old Vic had just taken on someone who had exactly that training.
So Dan performed the beginning of Pink Mist – first asking if there were any Bristolians in the audience, because his accent was a bit rusty!
He also performed some of Keith Douglas’s poetry, which was quite different, complex and beautiful. Dan mentioned some criticism that Keith Douglas had from poets back in London during the War, complaining that his later poems had lost some of their musicality, to which Keith Douglas replied that he was in the middle of people being blown up in the Western Desert, so of course he’d lost some musicality! At the same time, though, he had access to the big luxurious hotels of Alexandria, which is why there’s a chandelier hanging from the roof of the tent in the set of the play. Dan was wearing a flying jacket with a polo neck sweater – with the small moustache he has, he reminded me of Douglas Fairbanks!
When questions were taken from the audience (nobody left when Melanie announced that Owen Sheers couldn’t be there) one man said that he had been stopped by four people already who all told him he had to go and see the play, because it was so good.
Another lady, who had been unaware the play was on, asked where she could go and see it, because what she’d heard so far had been so interesting (tickets are available at The Poetry Bookshop). Another question was whether the play would be shown to children with no experience of war – and children from Fairfield School locally are being brought to see it.