Constantine Cornwall

Music and theatre at the Tolmen Centre: a 10 year retrospective

With the Tolmen Centre closed for events for the foreseeable future, rather than sound gloomy this seems a good time to reflect on some of the highlights of the past ten years.

Peggy Seeger

2011 saw Peggy Seeger, doyenne of the folk world, play with grace and humour to a full house; the international guitar festival ended with Martin Carthy, another folk colossus; while Steve Sogo and his band from Zimbabwe had everyone dancing. On the theatre stage, ‘Bound’ was a claustrophobic tale set in the cabin of a lurching trawler; and ‘The Animals and the Children Took to the Streets’ by company 1927 dazzled and delighted, with its shadow puppetry, projections and haunting music.

2012 opened with the incomparable Guy Masterson delivering his one-man show, ‘Shylock’, and
ended with John Welch and Pipeline Theatre’s unforgettable play, ‘Transports’, which explored memories of the Holocaust against a background of contemporary rural Britain; in the middle came ‘Mayday’, Tristan Sturrock’s thrilling and highly personal account of his near-fatal spinal injury and recovery. On the music front the two extremes of the Celtic fringe were on display: our local Cornish band Dalla led us in dancing in 5/4 time; and Rua MacMillan’s driving fiddle led his trio in a show of tunes from the Highlands and Islands.

2013 introduced us to Jacqui Oates, one of the finest voices in English folk; and the founders of Bellowhead, Spiers and Boden, entertained a sold-out auditorium. We had our first visit from performance poet Luke Wright with the first of his trilogy of political commentary, ‘Freddie Dare’; and Guy Masterson returned with another one-man show, the searing ‘Soldier’s Song’ based on the real experiences of a paratrooper in the Falklands War.

2014: for me, the standout theatre show of the year was ‘Major Tom’, a hilarious exposure of the world of beauty shows and dog shows, presented by Victoria Melody and, of course, her dog Major Tom; equally striking was Pipeline’s premiere of Jon Welch’s new play, ‘Streaming’, focussing on webcam sex and its human costs. The big name in folk was Chris Wood, while the female trio Lady Maisery sang beautifully and also ran a well- attended singing workshop the following morning.

2015 was another good year for music, from Devon’s Steve Knightley, through fingerpicking master Stephan Grossman and kora virtuoso Modou Cisshoko to the gritty Dublin band, Lynched. Pentabus’ play ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ about depression somehow managed to be uplifting; and yet again Jon Welch and Pipeline came up with another innovative play, ‘Spillikin’, where dementia and artificial intelligence met in a powerful, moving piece.

The Gabby Young Duo

2016 saw more diverse music, including the Gabby Young Duo, the Moulettes, the strings section of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and Will Kauffman’s fascinating audiovisual show about Woody Guthrie. On the theatre stage the Kernow King was Trevithik; our own Kerry Vincent produced her play ‘How Long Will I Love You’, and Luke Wright returned, this time as Jonny Bevan.

2017 had Ad Infinitum’s musical drama ‘Bucket List’ about a Mexican woman’s fight for justice, and Bea Roberts’ extraordinary retelling of Madame Bovary, in ‘Infinity Pool’. Wizz Jones and Ralph McTell entranced us old folkies from the 60s, Barb Jungr sang Dylan like no one has ever done before, John Etheridge and singer Vimala Rowe, fresh from Ronnie Scott’s, graced us with their limitless talents, and the Rough Island Band gave us a great show of self-penned songs and tunes inspired by the Isles of Scilly.

2018 gave us a sell-out courtesy of local singer-songwriter Martha Tilston, as well as modern music from the Kevos ensemble, and great entertainment from two of our favourite regulars, the Budapest Cafe Orchestra, and the Moscow Drug Club (from Haringey and Bristol respectively). On stage Ad Infinitum reprised the heartbreakingly tender ‘Translunar Paradise’, leaving many of us in tears; and Lost Dog filled the house with ‘Juliet and Romeo’, an irreverent retelling of another well-known play.

2019 was a bumper year for drama, led by Pipe- line’s ‘Drip, Drip, Drip’, an exploration of racism in the NHS, and more from Rhum and Clay with‘Mistero Buffo’, Owdyado with ‘Twisted Tales’, and 1927 with ‘Roots’, a weird blend of paper animation, storytelling and live music. Scottish trio Talisk nearly brought the house down, duo Twelfth Day produced a unique sound with full size harp and violin and two distinctive voices, and the great Martin Simpson showed his mastery of folk and blues guitar.

2020 was, as we know, cut short, but not before Squashbox Theatre had entertained our young- est audience with Tales from the Trees, and Luke Wright had brought us yet another incarnation, this time as Logan Dankworth. Our musical offerings were the effervescent Cornish bluegrass boys, Flats and Sharps, and the equally energetic but very different Edd Bateman’s West African Love Affair, whose infectious rhythms had the downstairs audience on their feet from the very start.

I hope this retrospective will bring back some happy memories to our regulars, and entice others to sample the amazing range of musical and theatrical talent on show on our doorstep. To stay in touch, if you haven’t already done so drop us an email to get onto the mailing list: