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The Daphne du Maurier Festival 2007
[Submitted by Sam Rimington : 1 June 2007]
So here I am, a year older and probably little wiser, back at home again, I've been here for a week now, and life is getting back to what for me passes as 'normal'. It's been a week of catching up, doing chores, putting away; the last most significantly, my case!
I took almost a week reaching Fowey this year, a couple of nights in Weston super Mare (where I saw Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce, and Painted Veil, about a marriage in trouble set against a 1925 cholera epidemic in rural China), two splendid films apparently deemed too clever for our local multiplex! And then four happy days with friends at Somerton, together with their venerable moggie called Sophie. Somerton is a small town off the M5 in Somerset; while with Rob and Rachel we visited Cheddar, it was a very stormy day, and I was eager to leave after a while, as some rock climbers were giving me palpitations! Another day we visited Lytes Carey Manor, a small, very old, beautiful house near by, both house and gardens were lovely and atmospheric.
I had a unique experience while with Rob and Rachel, we walked on Saturday evening up a quiet country road leading only to woodland; through masses of creamy white may blossom and cow parsley we saw a stationary hot air balloon near by. The peace and silence was only broken by the sweet song of a skylark; Rob whispered "look over there". In a green field not too far away were two hares, and they were boxing! I knew such a thing happened, but the reality was surreal, almost frightening, but quite wonderful.
Then on Wednesday morning I had a wet drive along the M5 and A30 to be in place for Thursday morning. The Daphne du Maurier Festival of Art and Literature 2007 has been a good vintage; especially so as it has been the Centenary of Daphne's birth. I sometimes wonder if I am not being over familiar, calling the great lady 'Daphne', I guess she would reject such familiarity out of hand. I mean no disrespect though, for me it's just that my affection, and sense of connection is so strong. Back to the Festival.
The organisers apparently thought that some special event needed to be invested to commemorate the special nature of this year's celebration, and that is why, in addition to all the usual delights and formats associated with the festival (walks, talks, boat trips, music, free events on the town quay), a Conference has been added, a conference to investigate the nature and appeal of Daphne's work for it's international audience. Here I must declare that I assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the event would be too academic for an old romantic like me, so I confined myself to the other events around town, talks, music, gardens, and to the quiet delight of being in Fowey again.
The weather was mixed as has been said, but the sunshine seemed to outweigh the rain, and I came away as sun kissed as a wrinkled apple (a not inappropriate analogy actually!) so my visit was not spoiled by the occasional downpour, even though speakers voices were at times challenged by the hammering of rain upon the marquee.
I greatly enjoyed Lucinda Hawksley's talk about Katey, the artist daughter of Charles Dickens, an emancipated lady 'before her time', (Dickens was the speaker's great great great grandfather); I feared that Ms Hawksley's breakneck delivery must flag, that it didn't is surely a tribute to her enthusiasm for her subject, so much so that I was scarcely distracted at all by her short skirt and 'wellies', which were at least appropriate to the monsoon occurring outside!
Monday was possibly my best day! Before lunch I enjoyed listening to Peter Sallis speaking about 'Wallace and Gromit', and about 'Last of the Summer Wine', and too about his life and work. One of those delightfully unpredictable moments occurred when, during questions, an elderly lady made herself known to him from the audience, as having been a fellow drama student with him when the world was younger, and was able to correct him on a matter upon which he apparently erred! Their beaming delight at the reunion left many members of the audience with supportive smiles. I believe the two may have continued the exchange at Peter Sallis's book signing later; I would certainly like to think so.
I spent lunchtime with friends on the sunny patio outside the refreshment marquee, being 'helped' by an assortment of birds, including an extremely territorial robin, who certainly knew how to 'work the tourists'.
Then in the afternoon back inside to listen to Michael Portillo, who was amusing, modest, and informative about his time in the government of Margaret Thatcher, and after. He spoke too, humorously, about his 'public humiliation' when the election results were declared in 1997, and which led eventually to his current career in the media, which he seems to relish. I found his talk, and question and answers after, most agreeable.
Afterwards Rosie and Rob and I went to Par to look round the Marsh Villa Gardens where 'House on the Strand' was staged last year by Tywardreath Players; it's an area which was under the sea in the time of Daphne's book, but now a lovely garden, bordered on one side by the Paddington to Penzance mainline railway. Anyone who has read the book will know the significance of the railway! A year ago we only saw the gardens at dusk, arriving for the performance, so this time it was delightful to see them in full sunlight. We also met the very pleasant proprietors, parents and son, whose 'labour of love' it all is!. It has to be said that the Aga upon which the scones were to be prepared for the following day's cream teas, had 'died' earlier, so romance was at a low ebb when were were there! We then returned to Fowey to meet Beverley and to have dinner at Rosie and Rob's rented house. I had been talking about the film of 'Brokeback Mountain' for some time, an adaptation of Annie Proulx's wonderful short story, which I greatly appreciated, and was eager to have my friends see it too; I had taken my DVD with me for the express purpose. They said they enjoyed it, but I think only Bev really 'got it'. That's what the festival is all about really, sharing diverse interests and opinions and hoping to reach a consensus. All in all a busy day!.
Nina Auerback talked to us about Daphne and her work, and the influence exerted upon Daphne by her father and grandfather, both illustrious artistes in their own right. The speaker was humorous and informed and I greatly enjoyed her talk, although she might not be pleased when I confess how I greatly enjoyed her New York accent, possibly from Brooklyn; I thought of James Cagney on film, referring to enemies as 'You dirty rat!! No one, I think, can accuse the festival of being stuffy.
My most favourite event was on Saturday afternoon, when Daphne's three children Tessa, Flavia, and Christian (Kits) were on stage together to talk to Dr Helen Taylor from Exeter University, about their lives as children with their mother and father. The event, originally planned for the smaller studio had to be moved to the larger as demand for tickets was so great! I guess that the organisers underestimated the public's admiration for Daphne, and fascination with her 'real' life. As a Daphne anorak myself, I can only speculate on my wish to 'know' all I can about her, thinking maybe that by knowing about her, I somehow am nearer to her. Nonsense possibly, maybe others will have a clearer perception. I hear through the 'grapevine', that numerous younger members of the family were present, and I guess that their presence may have helped to maintain a good 'family' atmosphere. The conversation between the three siblings and Dr Taylor, was relaxed and informative and very helpful for those of us so interested in their interaction within the family. their conversation was, I thought a powerful rebuttal for those who have attempted to dissect Daphne as though she was a 'specimen' rather than a real person, a loved and loving wife and mother, and indeed, grandmother. For those who would question this I would recommend too that they read (and hopefully understand), in the 'Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories', Daphne's essay upon Death and Widowhood; I 'hear' her speaking, and her unfeigned emotion moves me so much. Daphne's fame, thank heaven, will long outlive those who seek to categorise her! Kit's suggestion that TV viewers might prefer to watch the Eurovision Song Contest after Rick Stein's programme on the celebratory night on TV was very telling, and highlights the downside of celebrity!. I remember too Kit's remarks about his father, Sir Frederick Browning ('Boy', and later 'Tommy'), a remarkable gentleman in his own right, with personal traits and an exceptional career that no feminists, I feel, should be allowed to denigrate. World War Two affected many people in many diverse ways, and to underestimate it's effect is as abominable as it would be unfair, by allowing Daphne's deserved fame to overshadow Tommy's exceptional qualities. Rant over!.
I had bought tickets for talks by Stuart Millson ("The Rolling English Road"), and Libby Purves, both of which I had to miss, only because of conflicting itineraries, I regret both but perhaps it illustrates just how much there is to do in the ten day festival.
I went to Barry Norman's film talk, and found the event enjoyable, if rather perfunctory somehow; I'd had the highest of expectations, being a cinema lover since childhood, maybe I'd 'peaked too early' for I heard little to surprise me, a pity really as most which I heard was known to me already.
On Friday evening, after tea with Ann and David "over the bookshop", (bless 'em both for being SUCH good friends - we go back to the third festival I think, before they had moved to Fowey), I wandered across the road and into St Fimbarrus Church for a musical treat by the St Petersburg Blagovest Ensemble, a group of six young professional musicians singing Russian Church music, and Russian folk songs. The group were incredibly good, a delight to the ear, individually and collectively. I particularly enjoyed the contributions by the mezzo soprano, Anastasia Bogacheva, whose beautiful voice, and equally attractive (not to say exotic) appearance was for me the pièce de resistance in a wonderful event.
I've left 'Rebecca' until last, although I saw it on the first Saturday. Tywardreath Players, a local amateur group of considerable professionalism, staged Daphne's story in a marquee, in a farmer's field, at Menabilly Barton Farm, high on the cliffs above the cove where much of the drama was centred. An amazing set had been constructed at one end, in the form of a 'grand' staircase, three levels high, and which facilitated numerous incidents within the plot; the acting was word perfect and uniformly good, although I thought Mrs Danvers and the young wife (mother and daughter in reality), and also Favell were particularly affecting. The two ladies underplayed their parts, Mrs Danvers with just the right degree of menace, and the young Mrs de Winter with a minimum of pathos. Jack Favell, I liked the acting very much; where George Sanders in the film made him slimy, even poisonous, here he was very angry, frighteningly so on occasion. A truly splendid production, and a nice touch was on leaving at the end, all the cast flanked the exit route to bid farewell to the audience (and take comments too no doubt!) The only downside, not the players fault, I found upon my return to Fowey and the light, I was muddied to the knees (after the monsoon!). As an afterthought, I chauffered two nice ladies to the event later in the week, and as the road to Menabilly Barton is long and very narrow, the traffic marshall suggested I park in a corner until all those attending that night were in place, a kind offer, especially as she brought me a coffee to while away the time. In the event a member of the cast assisting with the parking, stayed with me and we had a long informative chat about the vicissitudes of 'amdrams', most interesting and enlightening! I must compliment Tywardreath Players most sincerely for the quality of their customer care.
So that's my festival, I missed as many events as I attended, so I cannot comment upon them, I am told by friends who saw them that they were very good, and there is regret, that I could not see everything! I think particularly of the Ken Russell conversation with Humphrey Burton, and the talk at Angela's church (Daphne's sister), and Dan Cruickshank talk, and the Ukulele Orchestra.
Never enough time,never enough time.
I love the festival, and am delighted to hear that there WILL be another one next year; I'm already booked in at Safe Harbour, which is a considerable relief after the uncertainties of the last year! I hope against hope that we'll all be around to enjoy it, so 'fingers crossed everyone'.
Best Wishes everybody. Sam