First Ever Plymouth Fringe Festival Launches

The largest ever celebration of theatre and live performance in Plymouth launched this morning, preluding a week jam-packed with shows taking place in venues across the city.  From 9am, nationally acclaimed companies and local artists alike began to put together sets and rig lights in preparation for their performances.

First to the boards will be local performer, and Plymouth University graduate, Alix Harris with Mixed Up Me, a comedic and touching look at identity and life being mixed race at Plymouth University’s The House performing arts centre.  Capping off the first two days of the festival at the Barbican Theatre will be Joseph Wilde’s acclaimed new play Cuddles, which comes to Plymouth prior to a three week run off-Broadway in New York.

With over one hundred performances through the week, there’s a veritable feast of work on offer for those in Plymouth during the festival with something to suit all.  Performances will be taking place at Theatre Royal Plymouth, The Barbican Theatre, The House, Radiant as well as a number of unusual spaces including pubs and woodlands.  Tickets start at £8 with discounts for every extra ticket purchased.

More information about what’s on can be found at plymouthfringe.com and you can follow the festival at Twitter at @PlymouthFringe

Plymouth Fringe Festival is presented in partnership with Barbican Theatre Plymouth, Theatre Royal Plymouth & The House with Plymouth University, and is supported by Arts Council England & Plymouth Culture.

The Palace Theatre

On Saturday, the Palace Theatre on Union Street was open to the public, courtesy of the Palace Theatre Project and GO! (Greater Opportunities) Palace, a volunteer-led charity.

The ornately tiled and decorated frontage of the Palace Theatre
The ornately tiled and decorated frontage of the Palace Theatre

A Brief History

Union Street was once an iconic and hugely prosperous thoroughfare which linked the two towns of Devonport and Plymouth, and the Palace Theatre must have been it’s centrepiece.  The building is huge, a sturdy and stately presence with an ornately tiled frontage that features some glorious art nouveau touches.

One of the centrepiece painted murals depicting the "defeat" of the Spanish Armada
One of the centrepiece painted murals depicting the “defeat” of the Spanish Armada

Built in 1898, the building sadly never had a stable life.  Three months after it opened, a fire destroyed the rear of the building – although it was rebuilt, many of the unique fixtures and paintings were lost, replaced with inferior work.  A succession of owners ran the popular venue, it was hit by incendiary bombs in the blitz, was converting into a bingo hall in the 1960s before being turned back into a theatre in the late 1970s, and was finally altered into The Academy Disco 1983.  The Palace Theatre remained a nightclub until 2006 when a police operation uncovered the selling of class-A drugs and the Dance Academy (as it was then known) was closed down.  After being left derelict and decaying, Go! Palace (a project as part of the Go! Together charity) has taken over the lease of the building and is working hard to begin the long journey of restoration, starting with the undertaking of major and urgent structural repairs.

Looking from the stage into the main auditorium space
Looking from the stage into the main auditorium space
The entrance to the lower auditorium
The entrance to the lower auditorium

The Building Now

Everyone in Plymouth associates with the sad demise of this once great venue – whether you’re a raver or a theatre purist, everyone has fond feelings for the charismatic and visually striking Palace Theatre.  Thanks to efforts from David Welsh, the building has been cured of flooding and has been largely saved from the worst of the wind and rain.  Inside however, the signs of neglect, abuse and decay are obvious.  But it’s incredibly interesting to look around and peel back the history of this amazing building.

The view from the upper circle.  Note the box seats to the right of the stage, decorated to look like a ship's transom
The view from the upper circle. Note the box seats to the right of the stage, decorated to look like a ship’s transom
The wings to the right of the main stage area
The wings to the right of the main stage area

The auditorium, despite the evidence of many changes over the years, is still a huge and stunning room.  The multi-story box seats that flank the stage are built in the style of a ship’s transom (the rear of a boat) and the whole theatre was originally decked out in a nautical theme.  There are intricate maritime and naval details hidden on every surface.  The auditorium generally didn’t seem to be in too bad structural condition, apart from the boxes on the left where the elements have obviously found their way in.  It’s an amazing place to stand in, and the whole auditorium was cleverly constructed without pillars to ensure everyone had an uninterrupted view of the stage.

Sadly, the elements have destroyed some of the boxes to the left of the stage
Sadly, the elements have destroyed some of the boxes to the left of the stage
Peeling paint in one of the staircases - though I love the font used for the 'no entry' sign!
Peeling paint in one of the staircases – though I love the font used for the ‘no entry’ sign!

The area which was the Great Western Hotel looks like most dilapidated part of the building – there’s evidence of water having got inside, and everything has a decaying smell and feel.  There are some lovely original features (such as fireplaces) that survive.

The upstairs foyer
The upstairs foyer

The Future?

Who knows?  Hopefully, with Go! Palace taking over the running of the Palace Theatre, and with owner Manoucehr Bahmanzadeh seemingly on board, the theatre will once again be eligible for restoration grants – although exactly to what use the theatre and attached buildings could be used for is a debate for the future.  At the moment, the priorities lie simply with making the building structurally sound.  Go! Theatre have set up a Just Giving campaign to fund urgent repair work, and are looking for volunteers, helpers and donations to secure this magnificent building.

Delamore Arts 2015

Every year, Delamore hosts a great arts exhibition in it’s stunning house and grounds.  Around a 20 minute drive away from Plymouth, it’s a good morning/afternoon excursion and it’s a chance not only to soak up the beautiful location, but sample the work of some talented local artists too.

Delamore Arts website

The main paintings exhibition
The main paintings exhibition
Delamore House
Delamore House

Each year brings a new show with many local and national artists vying to get their work selected for the exhibition.  There’s a huge range of styles and practices involved, from traditional painting and sculpture to ceramics, jewellery and crafts.  All of the work is extremely high standard and it’s great to wander through the huge exhibition, taking in the lovely setting and the interesting work on view.

DSC_0053
The Cromlech
DSC_0049
Inside the main house

Delamore Arts also features a “sculpture trail” which allows you to explore the restored landscaped gardens and lake.  The show has been running since 2003 and raises money for charity – Erme Valley Riding for the Disabled are the deserved benefactors this year.

DSC_0061DSC_0063DSC_0056Admission to the exhibition costs £7.50, and under-17s can attend for free.

iOrchestra

We are extremely lucky and fortunate to have the Philharmonia Orchestra’s free interactive exhibition, iOrchestra, in Plymouth until May 9th.  Although classical music may not have the following or the opportunities to experience it so often in Plymouth, the Philharmonia is something special.  More familiarly heard in the sweeping cinematic scores of blockbusters such as Thor: The Dark World and Hercules, we are already more acquainted with them than we might imagine.

The iOrchestra marquee in the piazza
The iOrchestra marquee in the piazza

iOrchestra, parked in a huge marquee on the piazza, is simply a stunning and remarkable thing to experience.  Based around Gustav Holst’s The Planets, iOrchestra gives the viewer a full experience into what it’s like to be part of the Philharmonia.  Luckily for me, no musical talent is necessary to be involved!

The percussion area, where you can try out the instruments
The percussion area, where you can try out the instruments

The aim of iOrchestra is to get people experiencing live music – no matter which genre.  In Plymouth the local music scene is buzzing, with plenty of local acts on offer all over the city on any night of the week.  Alongside larger venues like the Pavilions, Plymouth has a good musical offer but it’s events like iOrchestra which provide the icing, as well as boosting engagement with people who perhaps might never consider seeing an orchestra perform.

The string section
The string section

Walking into the dark iOrchestra tent is a suspenseful feeling.  As I headed inside, I could feel the rhythmic chords of Jupiter coursing though the air.  The way the experience is assembled grants us a full breakdown of the musicians and sections of the Philharmonia.  You can sit with the string section and watch the terrific double-bassists and cellists bowing, or perhaps you might like to watch the trumpet section at work.  As you walk through the marquee, you are guided through each section of the Philharmonia as they perform the same piece of music.  It’s endlessly fascinating to watch each part of the orchestra playing – you really hear the music in more detail because you can see each musician performing their individual parts.

The flautists
The flautists

The central orchestra space was my favourite experience.  You stand in the middle of the room and projected in a ring above you are musicians from different sections of the orchestra.  You can see the conductor bringing the musicians and the music together, and the experience is truly electrifying, raising hairs on the back of my neck.

Inside the 'orchestra' space - you have have a go at conducting the orchestra, but keep them in time!
Inside the ‘orchestra’ space – you have have a go at conducting the orchestra, but keep them in time!

There are often incredibly interesting ways to interact with the orchestra as they play – you can be the conductor, keeping the musicians in time (the music plays faster or slower if you get your conducting wrong) and controlling the volume of the piece, or perhaps you might prefer to head to the percussion section and have a go on the timpani.

Watching a harpist play - a mesmerising thing to watch
Watching a harpist play – a mesmerising thing to watch

Gustav Holst’s The Planets are an incredible suite of music.  My personal favourites are Mars and Jupiter, two emotional, thumping pieces that make the ground resonate beneath your feet.  There’s so much information on offer as you explore iOrchestra that you really learn all about the orchestra, and it’s great to read all the music that the different instruments are performing too.

The trombone score for Jupiter
The trombone score for Jupiter

If you are in the city centre, you must simply head along to the iOrchestra tent.  It’s a stunning and inspiring experience and will be open 10am-6pm every day until May 9th.  The Philharmonia Orchestra are also performing in Plymouth on Saturday 9th May at 5pm – you can find tickets while they last for only £5 here.

Soil Culture: Dig It

Soil Culture is Peninsula Arts’ innovative new show, running until May 30th.  Not only is the exhibition a fascinating look into soil and the cross-over between art and science, there’s also the chance to talk with artists who are working directly in the gallery space.

DSC_0011
Looking through the exhibition space

Soil, despite how seldom we may think of it, it perhaps the most essential ingredient to our life on earth.  Since around 8,000 years ago, humans have predominantly been farmers.  It’s a part of our genetic make up, and we’ve evolved as a species around the rigours and produce of farming.  Soil Culture is a fascinating look into our relationship with the earth beneath our feet, and includes a number of artists who are working directly with soil as a medium.

DSC_0026
Robert Donnelly and Jane Akerman invite you to use microscopes to investigate bugs
Soil map of Plymouth and the surrounding area
Soil map of Plymouth and the surrounding area

The gallery at Peninsula Arts has been turned into a “laboratory”, with a constantly evolving exhibition created by the artists working and experimenting in the space.  The show investigates our relationship with soil through a creative range of work.  Esme Stewart is crafting paints and pigments from soil, and Robert Donnelly & Jane Akerman are investigating the microscopic bugs and creatures who live within the earth.  Lisa Hirmer of Dodolabs is analysing peat, and Emma Saffy Wilson is looking at creating imagery and sculpture from soil.  There’s also the chance to participate in workshops and experiments – for full details please see the Peninsula Arts website.

DSC_0020

Emma Saffy Wilson
Emma Saffy Wilson

I had the chance to talk with Esme Stewart, a third year fine art undergraduate from Plymouth University who is currently working in the gallery space.  Esme creates paints from soil – a very direct relationship between the natural landscape and painting.  Carefully selecting suitable mud from sites around the South West, she brings it back to her studio to dry.  Repeatedly subjecting the dried earth to pestle and mortar and sieving, she eventually ends up with a very fine powdered pigment.  When mixed with a binding agent like egg tempera, Esme can turn the powdered soil into a useable paint, echoing the colours of the land from where the soil was taken.  Although she has created more traditional landscape paintings using her soil-based paints, she prefers to create what look like paint charts, exploring the actual colours and characteristics of the soil and land itself.  Esme prefers viewers to “visualise the colours of that place”, rather than to judge the quality and interpretation of a painted landscape.  She has created oil paints, watercolours, acrylic and gesso from soil, proving it’s versatility as a medium.

Esme Stewart at work in the gallery
Esme Stewart at work in the gallery
Grinding soil into a fine powder
Grinding soil into a fine powder
Esme Stewart's soil-based paint
Esme Stewart’s soil-based paint

Soil Culture is a really innovative, enticing and hands-on exhibition.  It’s great to step into a show which evolves around you and it’s fascinating to watch artists at work, creating clever and informative artworks exploring this wonderful subject.

DSC_0029

In The Frame – Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery

By Helen Tope

In the Frame is a new exhibition at Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery, featuring portraits from the museum’s permanent collection.

In The Frame includes work by local artists such as John Opie and James Northcote, as well as a newly-acquired self-portrait by Joshua Reynolds which is being displayed for the first time. I was asked by Plymouth Culture to review the exhibition. Here are a few of my highlights.

In The Frame

Henry Collinsplatt (George Spencer Watson, c.1903)

This is a beautifully rendered Edwardian portrait of a little boy, posing with all the bravura and steady confidence of a grown man.
The enthusiasm for celebrating children as individuals is a relatively modern concept: 17th century portraits showed the child as an heir, continuing the family lineage. But as artists such as Reynolds and Gainsborough began to paint informal family portraits, the popularity of children’s pictures soared.

‘Henry Collinsplatt’ is interesting, not least because of how Watson treats his subject. The young boy, who cannot be more than 4 or 5, is seated with such dignity; this is no formalised portrait – Henry’s personality and charm fill the frame. His innocence and vulnerability are what make this such an endearing picture. I predict ‘Henry’ will become a firm favourite.

Self-Portrait (Joshua Reynolds, c.1746)

The star of the exhibition, of course, is the newly-acquired ‘Self-Portrait’ by Joshua Reynolds. The portrait shows the artist aged 23, at the very start of his professional career. Reynolds would become President of the Royal Academy in 1768, painting over 2,000 portraits during his lifetime. This painting was displayed in the window of Reynolds’ Devonport studio with the hope of enticing wealthy patrons through the doors.

Reynolds paints himself as a fresh-faced newcomer, but his ambition comes shining through. The portrait is a virtuoso performance: “here I am, it says”. “Here’s what I can do.”

As with all self-portraits, it reveals more with a second glance. Reynolds knows the value of his own talent but at this point the Royal Academy, acceptance and triumph are 20 years away. There is a question mark poised above this portrait and it is this element of self-doubt that makes this painting so richly layered. Designed to advertise Reynolds’ skill, this uniquely revealing portrait communicates so much more.

Captain Edward Hawkins (James Northcote, c.1814)

Painted by Plymouth-born artist James Northcote, ‘Captain Edward Hawkins’ is a great example of Northcote’s strengths as a painter. Unfavourably compared to his starry contemporaries, Northcote built a career on creating portraits that showed off his eye for composition.

Northcote presented his subjects simply, intimately; proving that maritime painting doesn’t have to be epic to make an impact. ‘Captain Edward Hawkins’ is not just showing us a man at the peak of his career. Look a while longer, and you see a man who, according to contemporary accounts, was a “considerate and benevolent officer.” (Hawkins was the Superintendent of the Hamoaze prison ships in the early years of the 19th century). It would be easy to paint a blustering, boastful portrait of a successful man, but Northcote digs deeper, and finds the individual.

I think that is what I loved most about the exhibition – whether it’s a quietly observed Gainsborough gem, or a Holbein-inspired exercise in dramatic tension, the best paintings of this collection reach out in a way that’s intensely personal. You will come away, having chosen your favourite.

In the Frame puts Plymouth into focus, with a bold, wide-ranging collection not only showcasing our local history, but a rich vein of creativity that continues to thrive today. Creating a collection that rests on former glories would have been very simple. But what we have instead is an exhibition that invites you to take a fresh look at the portrait. By turns dazzling, moving and compelling, this collection wants to tell you a story of a city whose past is as vividly drawn as its future.

Carl Slater – Open Studio

By Ellie Richardson

PAC Home supports a network of Plymouth’s emerging artists, curators and writers to showcase their work around the South-West. Carl Slater, a member of PAC Home and a director of the KARST gallery (located in Stonehouse), is the most recent PAC Home member to showcase his work at Plymouth Arts Centre’s Batter Street Studio.

Slater, a Plymouth local, used the loft space of the Batter Street location to showcase his most recent work inspired by Plymouth’s early nineties rave culture.

After climbing up several flights of stairs, visitors arrived to the open studio: a quirky attic with an arrangement of mismatched furniture.  People wandered in and out, pausing to observe moments of Slater’s latest work in progress from his Crowd Control / Hyper.Crucible project.

After being instructed to take a seat, a small cluster of guests settled into the environment that was made complete by the bottles of beer, and bags of crisps left around the room.  The highly informal scene setting was in keeping with the short film about to be shown.
The work Slater presented was very clearly divided into two: The film opened with a woman describing how she found revelation through god, whilst footage of a 90’s rave was projected onto one of the loft walls. This thought-provoking audio-visual relationship examined the links between 90’s dance euphoria and devout religious experiences.

To juxtapose this exploration into spirituality, harsh flashing neon lights, grainy snow screen and an uncomfortably loud white noise abruptly shifted the film into its second half.

Gospel choirs in evangelical celebration were then projected onto the loft wall, and hardcore techno filled the room. This was almost a reversal on what we had seen prior to the white noise disruption, and further emphasised the parallels between these two very contrasting means of enlightenment.

The result, which sits well in Plymouth Art Centre’s hidden back studios, is an in-your-face explosion of Slater’s investigation into both religion and ecstasy. It’s charmingly witty and yet abrasively simple – providing an aggression that is somehow still inviting to the viewer. With Slater’s work being so relevant to Plymouth and on a personal level also, it will be interesting to see what’s next for Crowd Control / Hyper.Crucible.

Carl is developing the work for a solo show at Plymouth Arts Centre 1 August – 12 September, titled Crowd.Control

Plymouth Arts Centre

PAC Home

Carl Slater

KARST

What Is Culture?

Made In Plymouth (a free, cultural magazine for the city), has been out for a couple of weeks now.  We’re pleased to say that it’s doing very well!  Out of the huge pile of 3,000 copies that landed on my desk, I’ve only got 400 left to give out.  I’ll have to order more copies for our next issue…  But why are we making this magazine?

3000 copies of Made In Plymouth
3000 copies!

Plymouth is an incredibly creative city, but is sometimes very poor at voicing this.  There’s a huge wealth of interesting projects on offer that I feel sometimes don’t get spoken about – events that should and would be oversubscribed in other cities are only half-full in Plymouth.  This could be down to a number of reasons, including poor marketing, people being unsure about where to find events listings, or even a feeling that these projects “aren’t for me”.

“Culture” remains a difficult word.  For a lot of people it means ‘the theatre’, or ‘an art gallery’, or ‘the museum’.  Often, it is a word that has no relevance to people’s lives – 49% of Plymouthians feel that they do not participate in cultural activities.  Yet whatever you watch on tv, listen to on the radio or do in your spare time is your culture.  “Culture” is whatever you do.  You own it, it’s yours and there’s no escaping it!  Watching Argyle or going to the cinema is just as much a part of someone’s culture as going to the pub to watch a band is for someone else.

This is half the reason that we started Made In Plymouth – we wanted to show that there’s lots of projects happening in Plymouth, and that there’s a huge variety in the types of events that are on offer.  I hope that we’re showing that culture is a very broad topic, and if we don’t do this I think we’ve failed.  Also, I think a printed magazine is very effective tool for getting people talking.  It’s permanent, shareable, leave-able, visible and generally sparks conversations.  I hope you can find a copy (see the map below), but here’s our e-version in case you can’t:

https://readymag.com/MadeInPlymouth/Issue1April2015/

I’d like to say a huge thank you for everyone who has helped us greatly by stocking the magazine – there’s a map of everywhere you can find one here:

https://madeinplymouth.wordpress.com/pick-up-a-copy/

Arts Council England’s Sir Peter Bazalgette and Phil Gibby Visit Plymouth

We were very pleased to welcome Sir Peter Bazalgette (Chair of Arts Council England) and Phil Gibby (Area Director, South-West, of ACE) to Plymouth yesterday.  Although it was a whistle-stop afternoon tour for the both of them, we endeavoured to introduce them to a cross-section of Plymouth’s cultural scene.

Firstly, a meeting with Plymouth City Council.  Sir Peter Bazalgette (“call me Baz”) and Phil were impressed by the local government’s commitment to cultural development in Plymouth – a very positive outlook when so many councils over the UK are cutting their arts and culture budgets completely.  Plymouth Culture is currently working with the council to integrate cultural development into the city’s Plymouth Plan, ensuring it remains a major aspect of Plymouth’s future development.  Baz was taken in by the passion of Council Leader Tudor Evans to incorporate culture as a key driver for the city’s growth – and he got a signed copy of the Plymouth Book of Wonder from Tudor too.

Baz was impressed by Plymouth City Council's commitment to cultural development in Plymouth
Baz was impressed by Plymouth City Council’s commitment to cultural development in Plymouth

After this was a tour around the city’s Museum and Art Gallery to discuss the up-coming History Centre – a major development which will revolutionise Plymouth’s heritage and artistic offer (due to open in 2020), and a tour of Plymouth University and Peninsula Arts.  Plymouth University have recently opened a stunning new performance venue, “The House”, on North Hill.

Baz and Phil were then taken to a ‘high-tea’ event at Rumpuscosy where they got the chance to meet some of the city’s new and exciting artistic enterprises, including the River Tamar Project, Effervescent, Plymouth Fringe Festival, New Model Theatre, Changing Face, Artory, KARST and PAC Home, Literature Works and Ocean Studios.  It was a good opportunity for these groups to have a frank conversation with ACE, questioning Baz and Phil over their funding commitments, where ACE could provide extra support and what the best methods are for inspiring cultural development in cities.

It was great to meet Baz and Phil – they are incredibly supportive and interesting people, with arts and cultural development at the heart of everything they do.  They were very impressed by the scale and innovation of Plymouth’s cultural scene.  New projects such as Artory are at the cutting-edge of cultural development, the ‘Plymouth Fringe’ performance festival will be an exciting addition to our calendars, and KARST produces incredibly high quality new exhibitions.  The really exciting aspect is that none of the projects around the table existed three or four years ago – Plymouth is really booming in terms of it’s cultural scene.

Phil Gibby Tweet
Arts Council England’s Area Director for the South-West, Phil Gibby, was very impressed by the grass-roots cultural scene in Plymouth

However, there is still work to do, and Baz and Phil pointed out areas where we could be performing better as a city.  We currently create a lower-than-average number of Grants For The Arts applications to ACE, which means we are attracting less grass-roots funding than other cities.  80% of ACE investment in Plymouth goes to major organisations and ventures, and we need to do more to support and develop smaller arts projects.  Artory’s groundbreaking analytics will help all venues to learns how audiences feel about their events, and will give venues the power to create frameworks to deliver consistently successful productions – a huge boost in helping to secure future funding.

After much too short a time, Baz and Phil were whizzed off to the Theatre Royal for the last leg of their visit.  Birmingham Royal ballet were in town and Baz enjoyed the show greatly!

Baz enjoyed seeing Birmingham Royal Ballet perform at the Theatre Royal
Baz enjoyed seeing Birmingham Royal Ballet perform at the Theatre Royal

Made In Plymouth Magazine

We are very pleased to announce that “Made In Plymouth”, a new cultural magazine for the city, will be launched in April.  This magazine will be showcasing the local people and organisations who are doing great things for culture in Plymouth, it will be a quarterly magazine, and it will be completely free.

Some of the features in the first issue include:
– the Grand Fondo cycling event
– tribe magazine
– Plymouth City Roller Girls
– KARST
– the Barbican Theatre
– Plymouth History Festival
– PAC Home

We’re very keen that Made In Plymouth is taken by and owned by the people of Plymouth.  If you are interested in having your work or organisation featured, or if you’d like to write an article or have your work showcased, please email joe.meldrum@plymouth.ac.uk for more information.  Rather than being a “what’s on” magazine, Made In Plymouth will offer in-depth features and articles on the work and productions of Plymouth’s cultural scene, promoting an insightful view of our city’s creative development.

We will also be showcasing the work of local artists and creatives, both on the front and back cover and also with a pull-out poster.  If you’d like the chance to have your own artwork featured, email images of your work to joe.meldrum@plymouth.ac.uk

We hope that you will find this magazine useful, creative, informative and inspiring.  With some of the fantastic work being made in Plymouth, what else could this magazine be?

Promoting Plymouth's cultural scene