Tag Archives: The Discovery Centre

Peta Lily: The transformative power of Imperfection

Interview by Winchester Guide editor Donald Hutera
Peta LilyPeta Lily is one of my favourite performers, but also one whom I’ve known personally as both colleague and friend for thirty years. I’ve happily presented several of her self-written solo shows, including Invocation and her Macbeth-inspired The Porter’s Daughter, as part of the various GOlive Dance & Performance Festival programmes I’ve been curating since 2013. Her work is funny, serious and wise, and it has a smart physical edge. 
Peta is not just a fine writer and actor but also an experienced teacher, mentor and director. Her good-natured directness and honesty as a performer and a person have always appealed to me. Much to Peta’s credit, she’d probably be the first to admit that she’s full of Imperfection.
Yup, I’ve used that last word in the singular, and with good reason. It happens to be the title of a book of Peta’s poetry which, in turn, is also the major source material for her solo show of the same name. 
ImperfectionAudiences in the Winchester area can drink in Peta Lily’s Imperfection in all its intimate glory at the Discovery Centre, where it’s being presented under the auspices of the Theatre Royal Winchester on February 11 at 7.45pm. 
I threw a few questions in Peta’s direction, via email, about herself and the show. With any luck her answers will whet your appetite enough to go see the woman in action.  
An image-inspired writer…
Donald: Did writing the poems come first and then the idea to perform them, or…?
Peta: A couple of things happened but I’m not sure in which order. 
I’ve been capturing images of ‘lost corners’ using my iPhone – images of damaged or drear (or bright) things that have a strange, compelling vibrancy and an almost totemic quality, or so I felt. And the people I’ve shared them with seemed to find them interesting too.
I’m a big believer in the accidental. If I look back on my career path, there were pivotal points that were completely random but had huge repercussions and yielded large gains. So ‘following the accidents’ intuitively became the backbone of my photography practice. A friend suggested I write about it, and from that came the titular poem Imperfection, which begins: ‘the broken, the chipped, the darkly lit…’
Also I love my local library. I go there sometimes in search of particular things and sometimes just walk to the shelves and see what jumps out at me. I picked up a copy of CharlesBukowski’s New Poems Book 4 that way. I just loved his honest, muscular voice and relentless recording of whatever was to hand. Waiting, uncertainty, resentment…he even makes depression looks like a thing of spiritual beauty. Plus he was writing poems about the process of writing poems himself, and the process of calibrating one’s own success. (Actually that’s not true, because he always has his own unquenchable value of his work and his practice.) 
I also went to my library to read about Stevie Smith. After a youth where I wanted to taste a wider life as lived by the Bloomsbury Group, or Anais Nin, I now live a quiet life. Happily so. At moments lonely, but the Saturday and Sunday supplements tell me that loneliness is endemic now so at least I’m not alone…in feeling alone. 
I’d been writing a poem a week on various fractured corners of life for a while, and collected a bunch together to offer my director/dramaturg Di Sherlock (who directed Linda Marlowe in Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife). Di edited them, putting put in poems I wouldn’t have included and dropping others. ‘This is the art, death and alcohol show,’ she said. I’m no Bukowski, but I enjoy a glass of wine and at a certain point the Dionysus poem (‘Each night I meet with Dionysus/but I don’t meet him as I should…’) turned up – a nice follow-on from previous show Chastity Belt where I explored Diana/Artemis. There was a scratch showing at the Lost Theatre in Vauxhall, London of what was to become Imperfection, and an exhibition of the photographic images I’d been producing. People said they thought the images should be included in the show, and I made a short film of the images which now happens inside the show.
Opening up to risk… 
Donald: How is it for you to take an audience on this trip into your sensibility – what are the challenges and rewards?
Peta: I trust Di, having worked with her a number of times over the years. Also, since making my first autobiographic show Topless in 1999 I realised that risk can pay off. That if I open up and speak about awkward or strange things I’ve noticed, done or felt (things I may not say socially), then other people step forward after the show and tell me, or tell otheraudience members about things that have happened to them. 
It’s important when working with personal material to make sure you’ve ramped it to a universal perspective by going to the essence of the thing. By going to the most honest place, you can get the ludicrousness of something. By putting your hand up to your own faults there can be a strange pathos released (or so they tell me). One of the poems in this show is still quite a risk for me to perform – I didn’t really want it to go in. I was uneasy how people would ‘read’ it. But others have endorsed it. It seems they resonate with the sentiments, the predicaments. We are all imperfect. People get it.
Biographical obsessions…
Donald: Tell me about you…
Peta: Actress turned physical theatre performer. Occasional playwright. Mime-trained (in good company with the late Mr. David Bowie). Physical theatre and clown teacher, director, creative mentor and, um, poet? Photographer? A friend once used the word polymath – very nice of them. Someone quite close to me once called me a dilettante. Hey, I’m a suburban Aussie-born girl actually living in London – and making stuff!! Creativity! There’s a YouTube interview where the late Mr. Alan Rickman says ‘Theatre is (sort of) my religion’. Yeah. And then there’s magic, the way that Grayson Perry talks about it. You have to have your own magic, talismans, obsessions.
Not perfect…
Donald: Have you been writing all your life, essentially, and why do you do it? Is there a need involved, or…?
Peta: As a small girl I wanted to and tried to and did write. But felt a failure. There was no model for me apart from fairy stories – it wasn’t a literary household. Later a high school teacher included creative writing in the syllabus. And he made us read, too. When I first discovered Nin’s autobiographical writing I was really impacted by her showing what was under the skin – the actual stuff, not the presented self of formal memoirs by heroic men and women. Nin had secrets, flaws, obsessions, shortfalls. Not perfect.
Coda: a (mysterious) compulsion…
Donald: What about the images you capture – how’d you characterise that work in a nutshell?
Peta: I have a website for my photography, thank you for asking (www.petalilyphotography.com). People can follow me on Facebook too  ( as Peta Lily) where I post images that strike me as a record of the day, or as a kind of communication or gift to others (if that doesn’t sound too grandiose). On Instagram I am petalily and my by-line is ‘to the mysterious’. Ultimately everything is mysterious, even the banal – don’t you think? I’ve been trying to write about what my compulsion to photograph is about recently, and found myself writing about how in my solitary childhood, often in boring or unsatisfactory surroundings, I would go off into a kind of blank trance trying to find some meaning in what my surroundings were presenting me with… There may be no meaning, but if there was one wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was magical somehow? What is a compulsion anyway – when something grabs you, gets your attention, is ‘talking’ to you? It’s rude not to pay attention, no? 
I had a French boyfriend when I was seventeen and he got me to read Jean Genet. You couldn’t get much less suburban Australian than that, could you? Genet’s philosophy was to take things that were vilified (including himself) and elevate them. Something there, perhaps, in my wanting to honour the humble and transform the mundane.

The Curse of the Butter Cross and other spooky tales

Rebecca JS Nice is your guide on a shivery stroll round Winchester – if you dare!

The Butter Cross, Winchester
The Butter Cross, Winchester

Have you been struck by ‘The Curse of the Butter Cross’?

It may be best to ask this of anyone who’s ever sat upon the cold, raked steps of this local landmark and watched the world go by. I certainly have. But you may want to think twice before doing so.

Situated on modern-day Winchester’s High Street, the Butter Cross was constructed during the reign of Henry VI. As a popular meeting place for centuries it has, inevitably, attracted its share of legends.  One describes a witch in the Middle Ages who, before she was burnt at the stake, somehow converted the Cross into a site that compels you to return to it again and again, never leaving the city.

Perhaps it’s her curse that makes residents of Winchester so loyal to their historic home. Sit there and not only will you possibly never leave, but you might just glimpse a shadowy figure racing to the Cathedral when the Guildhall clock strikes eight and the curfew rings…

Wandering up the High Street and nipping through Royal Oak Passage, listen out for the whispered conversations resonating between the walls. But don’t linger too long, especially if you’re by yourself. You may notice that although you’re all alone, traces of a conversation can still be heard…

Then head past Barclay’s Bank, which was built on the site of a 17th-century stable block where a Royalist was tortured during the Civil War. Rasping and choking sounds were heard back when the building used to be a hotel. Perhaps Master Say – who tried to save his horses from pillagers and was betrayed by his servant – still relives his ordeal on this spot. Hauled up and down by the bridle placed round his neck, and almost-but-not-quite strangled, his body has apparently been heard thudding onto the cobbled floor…

Matthew Feldwick’s  'Haunted Winchester'
Matthew Feldwick’s ‘Haunted Winchester’

Continuing my hunt for a ghostly visitation in Winchester, I head along Jewry Street to the Discovery Centre. The building was once the Corn Exchange, and later a theatre and cinema. Matthew Feldwick’s book Haunted Winchester tells of singing with no clear source heard in the basement. ‘One of the café girls got in a real flap once,’ the manager tells me, ‘and refused to go down there again.’ A real lad’s lad, he adds that upon occasion he’s felt an eerie twinge himself when locking up late at night.

Before I can hear more about this an assistant and I venture down to the library cellar. The brick arches and row upon row of books are silent now, but might they harbour vestiges of other and possibly disturbing stories after dark? The assistant is a real joker, switching off the lights and temporarily plunging us into darkness. Tip-toeing down to the far end of the space, which used to be a public toilet, I sense a definite drop in temperature. That’s when this fellow tells me about a woman who was found dead in the lavatory. He doesn’t say how long ago, nor what she died of, but this unsettling information is enough to bring these subterranean explorations to a halt.

When I return to the box office area, the manager remembers another night awhile back when the two men were working late. They were alone in the building, the last to leave and locking up each level, when suddenly the lift of its own accord announced that it was ‘going down.’ And down it came, opening its empty doors to the two slightly unnerved fellows who vow they never pressed any button at all…

Hyde Tavern
Hyde Tavern

Spoilt for choice with haunted pubs in Winchester, I opt for the Hyde Tavern. My choice is bolstered by a colleague at The University who almost jumps out of his skin with excitement when told what I’m researching for The Winchester Guide. ‘Come to the Hyde, Rebecca! I live next door, and if there’s anywhere to go and write about strange happenings in Winchester then that’s it. Jan the manager will tell you about the bed sheets that get thrown off the bed and other spooky goings on there.’

I know the tale of the poor woman who was long, long ago refused a room for the night at the Hyde. Her frozen body was found on the steps outside the next morning. Guests of the tavern are said to have experienced unsettling overnight stays thereafter.

So I head to the Hyde, ducking the beams of this simple but vintage bar with its sunken, sloping floors. I make myself at home there, chatting away to a friend and almost forgetting the reason I came. Eventually I speak with Jan, the Hyde’s owner-manager for several years. Although she doesn’t believe there’s anything awry with the place, she does recount a couple of incidents which are more than enough to set imaginations rolling and spines tingling. Mobile phones popping out of hands, for instance, or builders swearing blind that the cupboard they locked every night was open by morning…

Then there was the regular who was sitting at a table by the fire when his pint suddenly burst.  Did heat from the fire on a cold pint cause the glass to crack, or is it perhaps that the spirit of the aforementioned frozen lady has a problem with certain males? Another pint left on the floor by Jan’s daughter also exploded for no apparent reason. The previous owners swore there was something or somebody ‘in residence’ at the Hyde, but since Jan took over everything’s been peaceful – no unexplained nocturnal antics involving stolen bedcovers!

The Eclipse Inn
The Eclipse Inn

The Theatre Royalthe Cathedral and the Eclipse Inn are just a few of the many other places associated with bloody histories, strange activities and so on in Winchester. Maybe some of you reading this have had your own odd or shiver-inducing encounters with the unexplained. People speak highly of the city as a community and a cultural hub, but you can’t help but wonder who – or what – might lurk in its darker corners, or tread in locations perhaps not quite as well-known to either locals or visitors. With Halloween approaching it’s tempting to take a walk through these ordinary and perhaps familiar places. But, as darkness falls and the chill sets in, don’t forget that something extraordinary and inexplicable might be just around the corner…

October Win Guide

Hampshire Harvest Weekend
Hampshire Harvest Weekend

The tractors are twitching.  The pumpkins are plump.  It’s the Hampshire Harvest weekend (4th & 5th October), and Winchester Cathedral is throwing a free weekend of family-oriented events celebrating the County’s food and farming.  Entry into the Cathedral is free all weekend too. Displays and activities include Kidsroam mobile farm,
 horse and carriage rides,
 vintage farming machinery,
 a static falconry display, the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Air Ambulance Pod,
 poultry displays 
and a vintage fairground organ.   The Harvest event is held in partnership with Hampshire Farmers Market, Sparsholt College, The New Forest Show and Hampshire County Council.

Winchester Comedy Festival
Winchester Comedy Festival

To laugh off some of the root vegetables, The Winchester Comedy Festival is running from 2nd – 5th October at the Discovery Centre, The Theatre Royal and The Railway.  There’s a brochure available here, but some of the headline acts are sold out so make sure you have booked in advance.

Speaking of witty folk, the absolutely fabulous Joanna Lumley will be in conversation with John Miller at Winchester Cathedral on 21st October at 7.30pm, followed by a drinks reception.  Tickets are available to book online at £15 or £10 for Friends of the Cathedral. The evening will raise money to save the medieval stained glass windows in the building.

Trench Coach: From Field to Fashion
Trench Coach: From Field to Fashion

The Minster Gallery will be presenting work from The Society of Women Artists (founded in 1857) from 10th October until 10th November.  Celebrating contemporary female talent in oil painting, water colour, sculpture, printing and ceramics, entry is free and it’s a great excuse to pop down to the Square for a post-exhibition drink at The Old Vine. The Discovery Centre will be opening the exhibition Trench Coat: From Field to Fashion on 4th October, which is running until 21st December.  Introduced by Hilary Alexander OBE, the fascinating theme will explore everything and anything trench coat-related, from the more traditional WW1 calvary garb to such filmic connections as Marlene Dietrich in Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair.

Halloween at Winchester City Mill
Halloween at Winchester City Mill

Later in the month you can get in the mood for Halloween by joining Supernatural Tours on a guided tour of Winchester’s ghostly past, 28th October 7.30pm – 8.30pm, starting at the Royal Oak. Alternatively, if you pop into Winchester City Mill on the 31st October you can bake some Halloween-themed biscuits and treats using their own freshly milled stone-ground flour, combined with other local produce.

Happy harvest one and all.