Top Banana Circus: ‘Float’

Top Banana Circus is a Community Interest Company that runs circus skill workshops in and around Portsmouth, UK. Originally founded in 2010 they have built up a core of performers that have made appearances in the local area, attending larger events and running workshops for adults and children alike.

‘Float’ is their first full show.

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A show of two parts, ‘Float’ takes the audience out to sea with a display of ground-based and aerial skills. The venue was St Luke’s Church in the centre of Portsmouth.

We start with an aerial Mermaid, swimming gracefully amongst the silks, twisting and turning, rejoicing in the freedom of the ocean.

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The Top Banana Circus Kids then take us to the Deep Blue Sea. Down in the depths we find seaweed, juggling silk jellyfish, crabs and other crawling creatures. As the music changes to the sinister theme from Jaws we see a uni-cycling fish chased by three peddle racer sharks.

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She escapes, to cheers from the audience.

Some staff and diablo work transition to some acrobatics; where one of the children takes to the static trapeze. Two young ladies follow him, showing grace and skill in the air.

The Top Banana Kids take a bow and leave the arena to the adults, who are having a day at the beach.

A bit more involved, there is some scene setting and character work as the players arrive on the beach.

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A sunny day at the beach sees our cast settle down for a relaxing time. After a display of sock poi (yes you read that correctly) the weather changes to wind, rain and thunder. The bright sunlight is lost to blue, overcast skies and lightning flashes across the scene. A man walking with a crutch gets blown about, the crutch spinning, flying through the air and around his body in a display of staff work. The crutch hits the floor and is picked up with two sticks. It is sent bouncing and spinning again.

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This is followed by some club juggling.

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Finishing with some strength and acrobatics our players decide to leave the cold wet and windswept beach.

Part one ends and the audience are ushered out to a hall where the trapeze acts and the circus kids encourage everyone to have a go. Also wine and popcorn!

Part two is ‘Float’ itself, a self contained performance piece where the venue itself becomes integral to the performance.

We are led back into the space through the main doors, passing the performers juggling as we move down the aisle. There are projections of sea and ships on one wall and the sound of waves and creaking timbers fills the air. While the audience is still standing the performers start clambering over the pews. Suddenly from above come the acapella voices of The Powder Monkeys singing ‘Shallow Brown’.

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As this finishes the music track kicks in the a regular beat, harsh and mechanical. The cast begin to follow the beat. Finding balls, clubs, hoop and staff they fall into repetitive movements with these items. With straight forward routines they become the machine, stoic faced, thumping and grinding through life.

Somewhere in this a revelation passes through them. They become more energetic, less formulaic. The routines become more complex and the faces relax, smile even, as they realise there is more to life.

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Finally they reach the front pews and the audience can now sit as the performance takes to the air. After the breakthrough comes a calm reflective phase. Three routines on the static trapeze, each skilful and graceful, give way to a routine on a single rope. Our performer twisting and tying herself in knots to achieve elegance in the air, before  taking a breath taking, gasp inducing, drop head first towards the ground.

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As the Powder Monkeys take up the refrain of ‘Shanty Man’ the cast reform and exit along the aisle, clambering over the pews to disappear behind a covering of smoke and light.

The whole performance was atmospheric and skilfully produced and left me wanting more.

Cirque de Banane Performance Troupe are:

Danielle, Harriet, Jack, Jade, Katie, Lale, Laura, Luke, Siobhan and Xavier

With:

Top Banana Circus Kids

The performance was funded by The Arts Council

Songs performed by The Powder Monkeys

Music and Projection by Clare Jefferson-Jones and Paul Jones of Splodge Designs

‘Float’ was directed by Graham Shackell

Top Banana Circus in association with

Portsmouth Cultural Trust

The Wedgewood Rooms

St Luke’s Church

All photos courtesy of Phelim Rowland

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Commedia dell’Arte

27460058_10155326336094352_466983872366468262_nI recently had the pleasure of joining a masterclass in this amazing, historic performance type. Thank you to class leader Graham Shackell and organisers Top Banana for allowing me make my legs ache so intensely.

The masks shown in this blog are part of Graham’s amazing collection.

Commedia dell’Arte is a form of Italian theatre dating to the 16th century. Distinctive, with it’s masked characters who represent various archetypes and stereotypes, it spread across Europe over the next two centuries.

Graham learned his craft in Venice, on a course involving ten hour days and a live performance on day one!. Impossible to distil into three hours, those of us in the class were introduced to some of the characters of Commedia and some of it’s history.

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First came the ‘Zanni’, a servant character. The ‘Zanni’ stem from the peasant workers from outside of the big cities who came to find work. They are oppressed both physically and mentally and, to be honest, not very bright. To represent this the performer places his or her weight on one leg, bent at the knee. The other leg is stretched out to one side, barely touching the floor. The arms hang down, lightly curved outwards with the back of the hand and arms facing forward. Just keeping this shape is, after a while, a bit tiring. When you add in a walk which raises one leg up, knee pointing out, while the opposite arm swings forward to mirror the leg. There was also a crying run, a laughing run and a thinking run.

We also ran through the ‘Pantalone’, the ‘Brighella’ and ‘Il Capitano’, each with their unique stance and walk to distinguish their status and character.

Each one caused it’s own level of hilarity within the group, and possibly a little hysteria too.

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As a writer the characters and their history are wonderful to delve into. As a people watcher you will recognise them all in everyday life today.

The history Commedia dell’Arte is incredibly interesting and far too involved for this blog, but it did  lead us on to such things as pantomime, Punch and Judy and the Harlequin. Even Fawlty Towers shows a strong influence of Commedia.

Check out the obligatory Wikipedia page and delve into this fascinating world.

Space Explorers of the Imagination

Yesterday morning (Saturday 19 November) found me, in the company of my two youngest daughters, sat on the floor of Waterstone’s in Portsmouth.

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Wedged into a corner of the children’s section, my back against a giraffe height chart, surrounded by excited and expectant children, we had the pleasure of experiencing Neal Layton reading and drawing from his latest book,’The Invincible Tony Spears’.

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In just half an hour we met Tony Spears,

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found a spaceship in the most unlikeliest of places,

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blasted in to space with Tony

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and met a Squggle! (Pronunciation guide in the book).

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A gently spoken man, Neal quietly engaged his audience, young and old, with questions on their knowledge of space, making them giggle with his gentle humour and ensuring they all felt involved.

We came away with a signed copy of the book.

As an aside, the book is dedicated to Tim Peake and Major Tom.

Marvellous!

 

Neal is a hard working writer and artist who has illustrated books for Cressida Cowell, John Hegley and Michael Rosen, amongst others.

You can find him at http://www.neallayton.co.uk

 

 

Maybe tomorrow…

Recently I’ve been struggling to find any motivation to do anything even remotely creative.

My one advantage at times like this is that I continue to read and continue to look at others work. This means I’m still absorbing influences and, in turn, the ideas keep coming. But, when it comes to actually doing something about it?

Well, MEH!

Maybe tomorrow….

Or the next day, or the next….

And so it goes.

Part of me, sitting inside my head, looking out from behind my eyes, finds this infuriating.

“Just pick up a pen and get on with it!” “Write something!” “Draw something!” “Doodle for fucks sake!”

Maybe tomorrow….

I’ve been here before. Tiredness plays a part, but that can stem from depression anyway. Not having the time is another factor. But if I didn’t vegetate in front of QI repeats on Dave I’d have the time.

Maybe tomorrow….

I’ve read about how other people deal with this, whether they call it a creative block, writers block or a creative drought. What works for them won’t necessarily work for anyone else.

Eventually the voice in my head, the one pushing me to do something, drives me to pick up some implement of creation and make something. Usually this first push doesn’t last long, but it’s a stepping stone that enables me to move forward, and once I’ve taken that first step other stepping stones appear out of the fog that’s been surrounding me.  Now the problem is; which path to pick?

But it’s a choice I can make.

Definitely today.

Of Aliens and Munchkins

OK, self promotion first.

‘Attack! of the B-Movie Monsters: Alien Encounters’ is now available on Kindle.

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It’s the second in an ongoing series from Grinning Skull Press of stories themed around 50’s B movies. It’s also the second to feature one of my stories. ‘Red Mist Over East Creek’ takes us back to the mid west town from my first B movie venture ‘Vermin’.

It follows our reluctant heroes and heroine facing an alien invasion. It’s full of tension, drama, iffy plot devices and dodgy 50’s film science. I think you’ll enjoy it.

This volume has produced some wonderful tales, all high quality madness!

UK Kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/ATTACK-B-Movie-Monsters-Alien-Encounters-ebook-x/dp/B01FPYAD48/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465675365&sr=1-1&keywords=attack+of+the+b+movie+monsters

USA Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/ATTACK-B-Movie-Monsters-Alien-Encounters-ebook/dp/B01FPYAD48/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465676259&sr=8-1&keywords=attack+b+movie

It should be available in physical book form soon.

http://www.grinningskullpress.com/

 

 

Now for some promotion of Steve Jackson Games and Munchkin.

I’m a fan of Munchkin and have been since the beginning. My original three sets are uncoloured.

The game has grown a lot since then. and this year sees Steve Jackson Games celebrating 15 years of Munchkin! With this they have produced their Guest Artist Editions, new, limited editions of the various versions available drawn by different artists.

Steve Jackson Games have given away some free copies on various social media platforms over the last couple of months. Each box signed by games designer Steve Jackson himself. I was lucky enough to win one of these. Munchkin Fu, drawn by John Kovalic.

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Those who know Munchkin know John Kovalic is the regular artist for the game, with close to 5500 cards drawn. He wasn’t available for Munchkin Fu and so was given this guest artist set.

The art and production values are exceptional as ever.

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It has been played….

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and, of course, the nine year old won.

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He beats me at most versions of the game, to be honest.

Except Munchkin Cthulhu. The Old God must like me………

 

http://www.sjgames.com/

http://www.worldofmunchkin.com/

 

Still alive….

Yep, still breathing and writing.

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get round to this blog again.

Recently sent back edits for a short story that will appear in a Grinning Skull Press anthology called ‘ATTACK! of the B Movie Monsters: Alien Encounters’. This is the second in a series and is ‘coming soon’.

Carrying on with ‘Legacy’. As I go further in it seems to be getting more complicated (for me at least) and I’ve also made changes to the ending which calls for a major overhaul and re-think.

And the title might be changing too…..

I’ve been reading a lot since Christmas:

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente

The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure by James Dashner

The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi, The Return of the Discontinued Man and The Rise of the Automated Aristicrats by Mark Hodder

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J K Rowling

and I’m part way through ‘Plan for Chaos’ by John Wyndham.

I can recommend them all.

 

Stay safe and be nice to everyone.

Goodbyes are hard

The last couple of months have been full of goodbyes of one sort or another, some personal and some not.

On the not so personal side are the deaths of Christopher Lee, Ron Moody and Patrick Macnee. I never knew them, never met them but they played a large part in my life through their fantastic body of work.

Inspirations, each one. Sadly missed and fondly remembered.

On the personal side of things an uncle and aunt, my mother’s brother and sister, died within eight weeks of each other. A double blow to my mum, now the last of her family.

And a friend in a foreign land, lost far too early to cancer.

We had stayed connected through Facebook, swapping silly Star Wars posts and other geeky stuff.

And then he was gone, without a meaningful word for some time.

The last goodbye was to a wonderful family from the U.S. They stayed a year in the U.K. and on Friday they flew home, leaving happy memories and a space in so many people’s hearts.

There were hugs and tears and fun and laughter at our last meeting. We will stay in touch and with more than just stupid stuff on Facebook.

It’s taken all these goodbyes to remind me that everything we do is so fleeting and fragile and that we need to hold tight to those who mean something to us, to not take our loved ones for granted.

Hug them today, and everyday.