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Arts & Entertainment - Reviews

Juliet Wood: ‘Music Beaches Family’ at The White Horse Bookshop’s gallery - Seeing the familiar...yet not

Juliet Wood: 'Sea Gazers, Cromer' - from her White Horse Bookshop exhibitionJuliet Wood: 'Sea Gazers, Cromer' - from her White Horse Bookshop exhibitionSince the Impressionists left their studios to draw and paint outside, many artists have been preoccupied with the attempt to depict what’s in front of us – what we deem as ‘familiar’ – in a fresh way. To show us someone leaning over a bridge, or families playing on the beach, or a pedestrian looking at their iPhone - as if for the first time. This is an increasingly challenging task.

 

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Ben Cipolla: Busking the High Street to the Royal Albert Hall

Ben Cipolla at last year's Marlborough International Jazz FestivalBen Cipolla at last year's Marlborough International Jazz Festival

Jazz megastar, Clare Teal, is a great discoverer of new talent.

After all, she discovered Jamie Cullum. Just five years ago, she was walking down Marlborough High Street on the way to her gig in the big marquee at the International Jazz Festival when she saw a young lad busking a Michael Jackson song.

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Takes Steps to see this Spanish Court-themed show

A scene from Any Port in a StormA scene from Any Port in a Storm

 

 Marlborough.news was one of the first in the town to catch the latest Gifford Circus show, Any Port in a Storm.


An exuberant, joyous affair, the circus skills are world class, the live band the kind you'd happily pay to see on their own, and comedy appealing to all ages.

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REVIEW: After ‘Summertime’ Vanessa Lafaye's new novel tells a story from the past that resonates with today's America

 

At First Light by Vanessa Lafaye (Published June 2017 by Orion)

If you like a really good story really well told, this is a book for you.  Vanessa Lafaye's second novel - At First Light - tells a fairly discomforting tale, but it tells it with a clarity and a pace that keeps you involved - and guessing.

It is a novel based on a news item from history - from the year the First World War ended.  It was probably just a News in Brief item and the author has woven around it a cast of easily understood and colourful characters inhabiting a place that generally seems somewhat monochrome and certainly bleakly sordid - Florida's Key West settlement.

The time she has chosen is crucial: the Great War is over, men are returning from fighting in France, prohibition is coming, the Ku Klux Klan is gathering strength, the Spanish flu pandemic is bringing its ugly way of death to Key West.  

Into this maelstrom comes Alicia - forced to flee her home in Cuba.  She is 'brown'. She is surprised and shocked to find herself managing a brothel.  She then surprises herself by falling in love with a war-damaged soldier.  He is white.  And their union provides an excuse for the KKK to mobilise.

Alicia Cortez takes over the brothel - which goes under the sly name of The Tea Room - from her aunt who has been killed by the Spanish flu.  Her lover, John Morales, runs a bar called - quaintly enough - The Last Resort.

With a tide of American patriotism running strongly after the war, the bar might have been called the last refuge.

Descriptions of place are sketches rather than street maps, but they still give the reader a clear picture of the frontier town world of Key West.  And what might in another hand become overblown and wordy, the set pieces are treated like the everyday stuff of life they must seem to be to At First Light's cast of characters.

One of Vanessa Lafaye's great skills is to write entirely objectively about the highly ethical and moral themes that surround these events.  She makes no judgment on them - a judgment which might sit uncomfortably with the customs and moral norms of the time she is writing about.  The moral point is made by the story as she reveals it.

This is a novel of retribution.  It is not a thriller, not a novel of simple revenge. It is a tragedy.  It has nothing to do with the traditions of Jacobean revenge tragedy, and a great deal to do with America's continuing and greatest stain - the racism that stretches across the centuries from the genocide against Native Americans to Trump.  Weren't his tweeted attacks on Mayor Sadiq Khan nothing more than pathetic playground racism?  After all they were not part of any normal President's everyday concern or tasks.

In 1918 the Klan are seeking to make America great again by killing or excluding everyone who is not white and protestant.  So they wage war against Jews, Catholics and anyone of colour - sowing the seeds of perpetual hate.

The title At First Light harks back to the executions of allegedly cowardly soldiers during the First World War.  They were shot at first light.  Others went 'over the top' at first light. But I think it also refers obliquely to the light of certainty that enters Alicia's world, late in life, to clear away the horrible and pitiable darkness that surrounded her relationship with John Morales.  

There are other themes threaded carefully and unobtrusively through the book.  Among them: the contrast between Cuba and Key West, Alicia's herbal healing, the acceptance of fairly uncivilised ways of life, and the ordinariness of life in both Tea Room and Last Resort.

Vanessa Lafaye's first novel, the very successful Summertime, featured a public lynching.  At First Light plays light on a wider canvas of racism - a canvas occupied then and now by the extremists of the KKK and their playground full of fellow travellers.  

There is a strong and sobering lesson in the tale of Alicia Cortez and John Morales, but it is a lesson told by Vanessa Lafaye with subtle control and written beautifully - in clear and compelling language.

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St Peter's Church recitals: pianist Ben Schoeman excels with challenging Russian programme

Ben SchoemanBen Schoeman

 

In the latest of this popular series of Brilliant Young Musician recitals at St Peter's Church, we welcomed back the South African pianist, Ben Schoeman (June 24.) He played here in 2014 and earlier this year he played with the Swindon Choral Society when they sang the Puolenc Gloria in Marlborough College chapel - and a spectacular performance that was.  

 

Ben first studied firstly at the University of Pretoria and in 2016 was awarded a doctorate at City University in London. He has already had an impressive international career, playing in a wide range of prestigious concert venues, both recitals and as soloist in the great piano concerti by Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Ravel.

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St Peter's Church recitals: fifth series welcomes a truly brilliant young duo

On a chilly Sunday evening, Yume Fujise (violin) and Maria Tarasewicz (piano) joined the ranks of the brilliant young musicians who have played in Saint Peter’s church (April 30).

Yume Fujise is a Japanese violinist who began to play the violin at the age of three. Aged 10 she was invited to study at the Juilliard School of Music in New York before coming to Britain as a pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School. She is currently studying at the Royal College of Music, has made her debut at the Wigmore Hall and is currently living in London.

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