And this one's for you Dennis....!
82 years ago today Dennis Potter was born, at Brick House, Joyford, just down the lane form Berry Hill in the Forest of Dean. Who would have known he would go on to have such an influence on the mass culture in the Uk (and wider world) in the latter half of the twentieth century? With a massive impact on television - drama in particular - he was also a journalist, commentator and novelist. So, over twenty years after his untimely death is the memory of the man and his work fading away? Well, not quite. There seems to be very much a flurry of activity - imminent (yes Ken) but promising to bear fruit very very soon...A new theatre production is in development that promises to bring a whole new audience to Potter, his work, and ideas. With a team that includes people behind some of the biggest West End adaptations of recent years it seems set for success. Meanwhile, Project Adorno's 'Dennis Potter in the Present Tense' will be performed at the Forest of Dean literary week 'Coleford Festival of Words' in June this year. After a last minute cancelation (not Adorno's fault) their mixed media show is eagerly awaited. Other projects in the Forest of Dean should see at last a permanent recognition of DP through a piece of public art as new project Reading the Forest is working with a local mural artist hoping to paint Potter large in Coleford, the nearest town to Berry Hill. And only today, that same project has launched it's Forest authors page with who else, but Dennis Potter.
And this one's for you Dennis....!
Writing and performance duo Project Adorno bring their "electro-pop, ambient, audio-visual celebration" of Dennis Potter to the Forest of Dean this January. DENNIS POTTER IN THE PRESENT TENSE was first performed at the Buxton Fringe Festival in July 2016 following extensive research by Praveen Manghani and Russell Thompson. This included a visit to the Forest of Dean to see the exhibition and archive at The Dean Heritage Centre, and to meet local people associated with DP and his work. They have performed several times at the Edinburgh Fringe Festical, and previous projects have included firms, somgs and performances such as Jarman in Pieces. DENNIS POTTER IN THE PRESENT TENSE comes to Coleford's Main Place (the library) on Frdiay 27th January at 7pm. Tickets cost only £3 - more details here.
The Dean Heritage Centre in Soudley, the Forest of Dean, is hosting a new exhibition about one of Potter's most controversial early plays. Find out more on our Events page.
Things move pretty fast in Potterland, 'Am I right or am I right?' It took long-time pottermatters friend Professor John Cook to remind us that it's the 30th anniversary of the iconic The Singing Detective (1986) serial. Now one of the world's most significant Potter experts John interviewed Dennis Potter whilst still a research student. His rare, one-to-one, interview formed the basis of John's PhD thesis, leading to his publication Dennis Potter: A Life On Screen (1995). John was an instrumental member of the team that secured Potter's papers for the nation, and in setting up of the Dennis Potter Archive and permanent exhibition in the Forest of Dean. On The Conversation website this week John reminds us that 30 yrs on, The Singing Detective continues to be considered one of the best ever pieces of television. With much of our viewing dominated today by US-originated 'box sets' John makes the case that the innovative interweaving of narrative strands has rarely since been matched. Read John's piece online here.
Meanwhile in the Forest of Dean plans have been announced for a new 'Potter Trail' around the Forest villages where Dennis was born and grew up. The local West Dean Parish Council, backing the idea, also intends to take over the Five Acres Theatre renaming it the Potter Theatre with the trail starting there. News of the plans were announced in The Forester newspaper this week here.
Before that there will be yet another opportunity for locals and visitors to the area to indulge their passion for Potter with a new temporary exhibition at the Dean Heritage Centre's Gallery 41. For those who missed last year's A Beast with Two Backs...is back! event in Lydbrook, much of that exhibition will be restaged at the home of the permanent Dennis Potter Exhibition and Archive in Soudley. Added to the display will be new information about the production gathered by researchers on the day. The exhibition opens on the 16th of December and runs until 12th of March.
For any of you who have a Google Alert set for "Dennis Potter" you'll know that the most regular Potter story is about a new stage production of Blue Remembered Hills. First seen on TV in 1979 the play featured adult actors playing children. As Potter explained, this device was employed to prevent the audience engaging sentimentally with the children, allowing us instead to see the impact - the cruelty - of the events unfolding. The power of the script, the challenge for actors, and the continuing 'bankability' of this play are perhaps the reasons why there seems to always be a production - amateur and professional - on stage somewhere in the UK. Over twenty years after his death so much of Potter's work - this play included - continues to have currency.
This latest production is by The Southwick Players at The Barn Theatre 12th - 15th October. More details here.
And still the memories keep coming! At a recent talk another fascinating fragment of production memory came to light. In a new "Digital Story" Dr Cherry Lewis remembers when she was an aspiring young actress...
Professor John Cook shows how Dennis Potter's dramas continue to speak to us today, in a wonderfully illuminating piece for The Conversation.
John demonstrates how Potter's analysis of politics in 1965, with Vote, Vote, Vote For Nigel Barton, captured the beginning of a process that would lead to the message driven, highly managed political process we have today
From the rarely-repeated single plays to the popular serials, 16 of Potter's works are now available to buy as downloads from the newly launched BBC Store. Amongst the rarer gems are A Beast With Two Backs, Only Make Believe, and Schmoedipus. Each listing on the store is accompanied by a succint write up that includes the context of the play and connections to Potter's other works. This for example on Blackeyes : [extract] The violent and shamelessly ignorant attack on Potter that ensued corrupted his public image for years to come. Blackeyes is not an easy watch, and the circumstances of its creation inform it even more dangerously than those that fed into Double Dare, but now the tabloid hysteria has quelled, watch it again as a flawed but earnest work, ugly, tortured and raging against the hopelessness of its aims, and decide for yourself about it.
An exciting edition to the legally available means of viewing DP's work!
Saturday 18th July was a sunny day in Lydbrook, the long thin village that stretches down either side of a Forest of Dean valley and terminating at the banks of the River Wye. At the height of the mid-afternoon sunshine over 50 local people were sat in darkness, the only light provided by the projector showing a black and white play from nearly 40 years ago. They were watching A Beast With Two Backs, Dennis Potter's BBC Wednesday Play from 1968 - a play filmed almost entirely on location in and around Lydbrook. Amongst the audience were people who remembered it being filmed, watching it on TV, and some who as school children had taken part.
The screening formed the highlight of a day-long exhibition about the play's production, controversy and critical reception, as well as the notorious real-life local event that was Potter's inspiration for the plot. There were a series of talks and discussions led by longtime Potter-studies collaborators Jo Garde-Hansen of University Warwick, Jason Griffiths and Hannah Grist of University Gloucestershire. There were some insightful interventions from Phillippa Turner archivist in charge of the Dennis Potter archive & exhibition at the local Dean Heritage Centre, at one point clarifying the level of detail in Potter's script (having the original manuscript there for all to see). Discussions ranged from if and how Potter should be commemorated locally (a blue plaque?), to what the play tells us about trolling on social media today.
As well as Potter enthusiasts from far and wide, organisers were very pleased to also be in the company of Australian born actor Rosalie Horner who played the barmaid in the play. Now a successful film & television journalist Rosalie travelled to the Forest especially for the event.
The event brought new detail to the history of the production, aided by the remarkable archive of Lydbrook Historical Society's Lyn Walker that included photographs of the child extras of Lydbrook School pictured in full Victorian costume.
Not only were names put to faces, local residents also helped to identify exactly where scenes were filmed. This included local resident Paul Hayler (pictured) who even replicated the camera angle to compare how his house now had stood in then for the mocked-up pub exterior. Although dozens of interviews were completed on the day there are still lots of new leads to be followed up in the coming weeks.
The engagement in this event shows that Potter's work - especially 'Potter in Place' - continues to generate an enthusiastic and often impassioned following.