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The Daphne du Maurier Festival 2009
[Submitted by Sam Rimington : 5 June 2009]
I'm back recently from Cornwall, where I've been again to my Daphne du Maurier Festival of Art and Literature; it's truly my favourite ten days of the year and I loved it as ever; the sense of anticipation on first entering the festival village is palpable. The environment is extremely welcoming, the stewards are friendly and very helpful, the posies of wild flowers in the loos were a pleasantly amusing touch, and even the noisy crows nesting as ever in the surrounding pine trees seemed agreeable somehow. Between events I even spent a few hours in the Hospitality marquee reading and relaxing when the weather out was too wild.
Now for the Festival, I really thought there were some good events. Looking through my ticket stubs(!), I thought "The Kings General", put on by the splendid Tywardreath Players, was atmospheric and genuinely gripping, set, costumes, acting was very "professional". I did think the male lead was cast wrongly , it needed someone younger and with more charisma, to match the leading lady. I thought, too, the young actor playing Grenville's ill fated son acquitted himself very well. Indeed the acting was uniformly good (given that the lead was cast wrongly!), and all the circular motion of the characters (in the 'round' like at London's Shakespeare Globe) was terrifically involving; and too I thought THAT moment at the end, where the circular staging suddenly swiveled around to show the lad, trapped, was inspired, and shocking, even though I knew the story and regard it as one of Daphne's best!
I went to Sir Roy Strong's talk, and can't remember a word about it!. And, too, I expected Sir Richard Rodney Bennett to talk about the film music he has written, so was disappointed to find it a 'cabaret' musical event, with Claire Martin, which had no appeal for me.
I thought Emma Darwin's talk about her new book "A Secret Alchemy" very good, so interesting indeed that I did what I rarely do, I BOUGHT the book, in the on-site bookshop, and read it in Fowey at breakneck speed (for me). It was about the little Princes in the Tower, and more than that, she mentioned Anthony Woodville, the princes' Uncle who raised one of the boys, and who Emma made sound interesting and intriguing. I wasn't disappointed in that, he was a renaissance man, in the best sense, a soldier and a thinker, (He translated from the Greek, and if I remember correctly, Emma said that translation became Caxton's first printed book!). Whether our modern term 'gay' really applied in those times I don't know, the author gave him a very discreet 'gay' relationship, even though history places him as wed and a family man, (not that THAT proves anything!). The author also wrote a modern story into the book, set around a moribund printing works, and which allowed her to really speculate upon HOW historical writers try, more or less successfully, to really invade their characters minds, but as that character would be, IN HIS OR HER OWN TIME! Emma's readings also suggested a really graceful writer, I loved her thought provoking talk, and her book, and I do recommend it!
Sam North's talk on "Hitchcock and Du Maurier, A Love Affair", was followed by Gyles Brandreth, "Elementary My Dear Oscar", a splendid, witty, humorous talk about Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle, and which was was a favourite of mine.
"Jan Ravens, A Funny Look at Impressions", an evening entertainment, left me cold really, although I think Lady B enjoyed it. "Breaking Point", a talk to discuss Daphne's short stories, and hosted by Helen Taylor was very interesting, I know from my own experience how powerful even the shortest of stories may be, thinking of Daphne's "The Old Man" particularly, and of stories by Annie Proulx, (Brokeback Mountain especially of course!), who, more than Daphne, injected much dark humour into her stories about the American Mid West.
Another talk by Morag Joss and Jules Hardy was followed by an evening visit to the Town Hall for a performance by the local amateur drama group, Troy Players. Their play, "Sylvia" by AR Gurney (WHY do I seem to know HIS name?), was terrific. A husband brings home a stray dog (described somewhere as a labrapoodle) to his home in New York. The husband becomes besotted with the dog, and the dog reciprocated (as dogs do!). His wife is not keen at all, and the drama explores how the situation is resolved to everyone's satisfaction. The trick in the play, and why the show was stopped repeatedly for delighted applause, was in that the dog was played by the leading lady, in enthusiastic doggie guise! I don't mean a dog suit, just mannerisms and body language A delightful evening from an ensemble cast!
The next day Piers Dudgeon gave a talk about "Daphne du Maurier's Houses", but I thought calling it that was a fraud, as he spent much of his talk dredging through his previous sensational claims about Daphne. I maybe missed the 'new' bits, for, having lunched rather well, I drowsed! I was sitting just behind Kits Browning, so hope I did not snore into his ear!
Pip Utton's new play "Chaplin", was a fascinating and imaginative one man dramatization of Chaplin's professional life, I really loved that show, it was just SO inventive. Then there was Susie Boyt talked about what a lifelong inspiration Judy Garland had been in her, (Susie's) own life, a curious talk, if only for it's frank exploration of her own sometimes troubled psyche.
I discovered too late that I wished to attend Patrick Gale's talk, it was a sell-out, with a dozen people waiting for 'returns', so I was disappointed. I've read his 'Notes from an exhibition' since, it's a terrific read. My inability to get a ticket does show though how popular the Festival really is. Not all events live up to expectations, but the over-all mix is splendid. It really is a tribute to the team which Jonathan Aberdeen leads, and their understanding of what is required to please as wide an audience as possible!
"Show of Hands" provided another high spot, a 'folk group' who were just so entertaining and professional; I thought the lyrics pungent and relevant, referring as they did, amongst other topical things, to rural displacement and the march of the second home green wellie brigade, I greatly enjoyed too the musicianship; I thought the electric fiddle player simply - electrifying! The following night was equally good, with Kit and the Widow pulling out all the stops. At times laughter became painful. They only worked the first half, followed by their co-performers, "Fascinating Aida" in the second half. They too, three ladies (The jury is 'out' on one, according to fellow attendees!) were very good indeed, but I found the format awkward, I think I would have preferred both acts to have worked together through the whole show!
On the penultimate morning I attended a fascinating talk by Dr Helen Taylor, on "Literary Tourism in the South West", and I was amazed at how many writers over the years have written about, or from the peninsula. I did suggest later that her talk might be a useful reference tool on the internet, but, sadly, I understand that there are issues preventing this.
A film in the Town Hall was very good, about Q, Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, a Fowey resident, a great English patriot, a Cambridge don and literary advocate, and an early patron of Daphne du Maurier. I learned to appreciate the man, and to try his books which I've not attempted yet! The last event was Gilbert O'Sullivan, and of which I only survived the first half, retreating defeated to the hospitality tent for the second half. I joined a group of refugees there, commiserating that the Festival 2009 was over, but savouring the good time we'd shared. As usual looking again through my program I can see that I've missed as many good events as I've attended.
I walked the Hall Walk a couple of times (the wild flowers are stunning). Local friend John Eardley 'serviced' my stick one morning, bless him; I spent time on the Old Ferry patio, wallowing in the view past Ferryside to the open sea, and I had a couple of brief conversations with Kits in the festival village. His patience and forbearance during what must be a very busy time, is remarkable. I used the library, and idled around the Galleon (lovely pub by the riverside), I had two or three good meals at Safe Harbour, and most of our 'gang' spent the last evening there, which was great, though I wish we could have all been there. I knew friends Ann and David (Bookends of Fowey), were going to the play "September Tide" at St Austell, so was uncertain of their later plans. That's the only real downside with the festival, there's so much to cram in, it's like a pressure cooker, 'so much to do, so little time'!
I was rather preoccupied, for quite a lot of the time, supporting my Festival friend Barbara (literally on occasion!), who wanted to be there again. Barbara feared that she wouldn't make it as she has health problems, sadly, so I was glad to help. We stayed with Lesley McCartney at the Well House; down in the town centre, whose Bed and Breakfast is a listed six hundred year old house, which was quite an experience, especially as, on the way down, I'd stayed in a brand new Travel Lodge in Torquay (bit like motels in the US I gather), so there was quite a contrast. Lesley was very welcoming and helpful, so we were very comfortable.
It was good too that Beverley (a Festival friend who hasn't been this last couple of years), came down again for the long weekend, with her partner, who we hadn't met before, but who seemed to fit into our gang very well!
Oh! and on the last night, quite late, in Safe, I tried skydiving down two steps into the loo, with damaging results! I'm very stiff and painful in my side and shoulder, driving most of the four hundred miles home the following day in driving rain, was interesting to say the least, but it will 'come right 'as they say! And before anyone asks, I was drunk on laughter, but emphatically NOT on alcohol (scouts honour!)
Still not wishing my time away, but roll on next year; Festivals seem to come around faster and faster. Mind you, it doesn't seem that way on a dark, cold November day! On that issue I might just add my voice to those urging the new Cornwall Council to view our festival kindly. Pressures upon funding are urgent in these straightened times, but letting the Du Maurier go would be tragic, not only for the hoards of enthusiastic visitors, but for the economy in Cornwall.
Finally, may I pay my own heartfelt tribute to Jonathan Aberdeen and his small team, for the remarkable work they do, year on year, to put together a wonderful, enriching, programme. Best Wishes, Jonathan, and all 'friends'.