BRISTOL EVENT, with the Festival of Ideas.
The Pictures: Outside St. George’s; rehearsal practice bow with actors; the wonderful Barefoot Collective at rehearsal; Ali Orbaum, brilliant arranger and choral director; actual performance, vegetable decorations onstage; excellent Sara Davies, who did the onstage interview, relaxing in the green room.
PODCAST: http://www.ideasfestival.co.uk/wp-content/themes/ad-clerum-10/audio/2009/interview_atwood.mp3 This is a radio interview done backstage.
Bristol! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Not one bare foot did you put wrong – and what a stupendous final UK Event you put on!
St. George’s is a former church converted to an event venue, with raised stage at the front. A variety of performances take place in it, under the direction of Suzanne Rolt, who was a great help with the Year of the Flood event. When we arrived, there were many large vegetables assembled onstage, with garden tools – followed shortly by the Barefoot Collective and Ali Orbaum, the meticulous arranger and director who”d drawn them together from three choirs she’s worked with. As soon as they began to sing I knew we were in for a superlative treat, and so it proved to be. On the night itself the stand-up microphones were wreathed in vines – a Dionysian effect – and the singers, in shades of sage green, were indeed barefoot.
Ali had done some new arranging – “The Holy Weeds” was sung as a madrigal, the “Bright Wings” St. Rachel’s and All Birds hymn began with a solo voice joined by a recorder, then another voice, then the choir, and the melody soared up into the clouds. The Predator Day began with some ominous body-thumping-and-breath percussion, and then built into something both menacing and awe-inspiring. And “When Adam First” was sung “straight” at its first appearance, then finished the performance with a roof-raising full-gospel shout-out. All mouths in the sell-out crowd were open. Brilliant!
The three actors –under the direction of Sheila Hannon — were entirely up to the level set by the music. Simon Cook was a muscular Adam One with a street-preacher edge; Ros Steele was an appealing, worried Ren; and Suzannah Hampton was a case-hardened but ultimately compassionate Toby.
To add to this already overflowing cornucopia, there was a post-performance food break –vegetarian delights! – during which Blackwell’s sold books and CDs, and all kinds of other things went on at the booths and display areas in the cellar – I didn’t see them all as I went off to do a podcast, but the RSPB were there, adding to their donation-envelope-on-the-street presence (www.rspb.org.uk), and Sustrans (www.sustrans.org.uk.), and Forum for the Future, committed to sustainable development (www.forumforthefuture.org), and Triodos Bank (www.triodos.co.uk) , and Alastair Sawdy Publishing, who do very special special-escape guidebooks (http://www.sawdays.co.uk/.) Then Sara Davies did an onstage interview, and then we staggered off happily into the night, back to our B&B at 9 Princes Buildings, where our kindly Fuller hosts poured us – I am happy to say – a shot of Organic Single Malt Scotch. (Well, it would be organic, wouldn’t it? All those casks and special water, and peat and moss, or whatever they put into it. That’s my story. )