Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Living Literature: Frankenstein

Last Friday Mr Robot and I went to an event being run as part of the Bath Festival. The Bath International Music Festival began in 1948, and the city has various other ones throughout the year - Literature, Children's Literature, Film, Jane Austen - but the music one has been rolled in with the literature one to create one mammoth multi-arts festival. The event we attended was a Living Literature one on Frankenstein. Mary Shelley polished the draft for Frankenstein in the city, and the book's 200th anniversary of publication is this year, so it was a good fit.

The venue was the city's original theatre. It became a Roman Catholic church, and has been a Masonic Hall since the mid-1800s (presumably around the time the Catholics got a proper swanky church with an impressive spire built nearby). I'd always wanted to see inside. And what I was hoping for from an 'immersive' literature event was something akin to Secret Cinema.

Er, what do I say? The event and I were not a good fit.

I think I'd expected more to see, do and touch. The lovely people from 4160 Tuesdays were there with a perfume recreated from a Georgian recipe. It's got lots of rose and geranium in, and is jolly pleasant. (Mr Robot bought me a bottle.) We got given a free cocktail when we got in, though I'm pretty sure that wasn't an authentic recipe. (I say free; the tickets were £40 a head so this wasn't a cheap event.) There were readings from a play about Shelley's life and writing, and several academic talks.

The highlight for me was Sir Christopher Frayling's* talk. I've been a massive fan of his work for years; he's incredibly scholarly yet always managed to convey a sense of fun in what he does, and can cover everything from popular culture to the highest of highbrow arts with the same engaging tone. Professor Nick Groom also spoke entertainingly; he's a gothic specialist and really knows his stuff. I can't remember the name of the person who gave the talk on vampires and Frankenstein, but that's for the best as it was awful. Really poor. 'Worst paper at a postgraduate conference'-level poor. I appreciate I'm possibly not typical of the audience for this event - I'm not an academic, but I have been a specialist SF/horror/fantasy book reviewer for 20 years, and know my stuff - but in addition to being shallow it wasn't delivered with any verve or confidence.
Those people queuing off to the left are in
the WRONG place. Or perhaps the RIGHT place. Who
knows? I never did find the RIGHT place.

Now to the thing that really annoyed me. The write up for the event promised 'You'll be encouraged to walk among tableaux, readings, recreations and musical performances,' and they didn't really deliver on that. What they did have was biometric testing in a side room - but there was no organised queuing system for it, or even decent instructions on where to queue, so in the first interval we spent 10 minutes in a queue only to be told we were all queueing in the wrong place, then the next time I went to the new place only to be told we were supposed to be in the first place. I got quite annoyed and went to queue at the doors of the room because it was as likely to be the right place as anywhere else - at least we could see the equipment - and, frankly, we might as well have been invisible. No, "We'll be with you in five minutes," (to be honest, I'd have waited 20), no "Can you come back at the next interval." At this point I said in a rather loud voice to Mr Robot, "I've had enough of this badly-organised f***ing bollocks!" and stamped out. (Don't give me cocktails then expect me to sit through a godawful talk on vampires; my patience wears thin.)

Anyway, as I said, I'm probably the wrong audience for this event. It's probably a whole lot of fun for people who know nothing about the book. The venue was beautiful. The volunteers doing the chair-wrangling and so on were friendly and welcoming. I wish it had been billed more as a series of academic talks interspersed with fragments from a play, because that would have been honest. Immersive it wasn't. Like the creature, the aim was to merge parts into a beautiful whole, but the result was a monster.

*When he got his knighthood, he chose a motto that boils down to 'Go ahead, punk, make my day.' How can you not appreciate that?

14 comments :

  1. I AM the right audience for that and would have been annoyed as well. Danny is reading Frankenstein currently and enjoying it. I'm trying to help him understand the context.

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    1. I did over-react rather. Really shouldn't have had all the booze (because of when it started, we killed time in the pub before going in). But it wasn't anywhere near as good as I'd expected, I'd rather just have gone to an evening of lectures by Nick Groom and Christopher Frayling and cut out most of the other stuff.

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  2. Sounds like it was a great idea that was poorly organized- and for 40 pound a head it SHOULD have been organized. Anywho, sounds like 4160 Tuesdays would have been the highlight if the evening for me!

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    1. It's a really interesting scent, very heavy on the rose and geranium.

      I wish they'd either ramped up the supposed immersive element, or done away with it completely and just focussed on delivering excellent lectures (and got the worst one out of the way early so people would leave with a memory of the good ones, not the worst one - to make things worse, they'd tell you to go and explore at the end of each segment, but no-one announced when the next one would be starting, so we actually missed the beginning of Frayling's).

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  3. Such a shame the event was poorly organized and didn't live up to expectations. € 40 a head seems like a lot, so I hope you at least got more than one cocktail :-) At least you got to see inside that Masonic Hall. And I'm intrigued by the scent, as I love anything based on geranium! xxx

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    1. Just the one cocktail. There were a lot of speakers, and not a lot of attendees, so I guess the price was high because of that.

      The scent is nice, though starts very strong and fades a lot, so it's not something I'd put onto work and expect to be lingering at the end of the day.

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  4. I think these events often have all the good intentions but go at it half cocked and you get a big old mess. I HEART Sir Christopher Frayling so i would have been very happy to see him too.

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    1. He was ace. Definitely the star of the event.

      It did feel a bit 'academics play at Secret Cinema' to be honest...

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  5. What a shame that event didn't live up to expectations and you were right to expect better organisation after forking out £40 for a ticket. xxx

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    1. Eeeh, these things happen. Pete bought me a Thai meal when we legged it, so the evening wasn't a complete loss!

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  6. I went to a sort of interactive Shakespeare play once in Leicester where the audience sat on the stage and told we were part of the performance. All I remember was that they hearded us onto the stage like it was a school trip, the seating was uncomfortable and I think most of the audience felt uncomfortable. In the second half we were told to sit usual audience seats. I can't remember what the play was, just that the so called interaction didn't work!

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    1. Yeah, interaction's got to be done right. That's where I think Secret Cinema does it well, getting people to dress up, making sure all the food stalls are themed, etc. It goes for total immersion.

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  7. Oh dear what a shame! And at 40.00 per head I'd have been pretty miffed, too!

    I would have been very interested in the Masonic Hall looking for signs and symbols... anyway you got a bottle of perfume so that was a bonus.

    Hope your weekend is going well.

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    1. I had a good weekend. Ditched social media for the weekend and it was very relaxing.

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