Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Blink / Hitting Funny

A couple of fascinating theatrical experiences in the past week or so, both at Cardiff’s Chapter Theatre, both dealing, in their different ways, with the micro-politics of masculinity.

The first was a reading of Ian Rowlands’ “Blink”, inspired by the scandal of a drama teacher who sexually abused huge numbers of youths in the South Wales Valleys over a number of years, and committed suicide before finally being sentenced (the same events which have led to a review of policy which recently resulted in moronic newspaper headlines about GCSE drama students being “banned” from kissing one another during productions “Romeo and Juliet”). Very perceptive in terms of the parental neglect which can lead to vulnerable young people being driven into the arms of potential abusers, and also in respect of the destructive long-term emotional impact of such abuse. Rowlands often shuns naturalism, so it was instructive to see him applying a poetic sensibility to such distressing events. A beautiful, disturbing piece of work.

The second was “Hitting Funny”, Phil Ralph’s one-man play, ostensibly about a stand-up comic, but really about the politics of entertainment in an age where audiences are (supposedly) unshockable. Inspired by Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, its centrepiece is a riff on coprophilia, which has led to walkouts in more conservative venues. Having had an Edinburgh Festival run in 2005, the show runs slickly, and is very ably performed, but I was slightly worried that it seemed to fall into the category of works reflecting “confused liberal guilt in crisis”; if only because of my concern that confused liberalism might lead to apathetic post-liberalism, which might give way to utter illiberalism as happened in the late 1970s. Having had the chance the discuss the piece with him, though, along with other writers, he was gloriously unrepentant, having heard all the criticisms a million times before. Definitely worth seeing, anyway.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Managed to catch the repeat yesterday on Radio 4 of  “A Nice Little Trip To Spain”, one of the last plays by one of the great radio dramatists, Don Taylor; about two Englishmen tracing a relative who died whilst fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Ultimately about socialism shooting itself in the foot, revolutionaries letting one another down, etc. More of a series of discussions than a drama, it was still deeply moving – if only as a reminder of the days when the Left thought it was a good idea to take up arms against Fascism rather than apparently allying themselves with it (in its pseudo-Islamic guise). Again, a reminder that political drama works best when it addresses the complexity of the world rather than merely adopting a stance and hoping for the best; cf. Ken Loach, who for all his one-dimensional rhetoric off-screen, manages to create works which tend not to over-simplify the issues addressed - see “Land And Freedom”, which also deals with the leftist in-fighting which obstructed the struggle against Franco. Even the great Harold Pinter, in his painful Nobel Prize acceptance speech - which will be forever remembered for his struggling to find a definition of “mass-murderer” which implicates Bush and Blair whilst exonerating Saddam and Milosevic – spoke of the need for dramatists to dramatise rather than propagandise. A high-ranking official in the arts in Wales recently wondered out loud why it was that so few Welsh playwrights deal with political issues, suggesting that this has something to do with self-censorship in a nation whose creative sector is largely dependent on government money. I failed to counter this with the obvious point – apart from the scarcity of theatre companies, the ridiculous expense of staging a piece oneself, the difficulty of finding paying audiences for any new work, the possibility of the political landscape changing utterly in the 2 years between having a play accepted and seeing it produced – the fact that true dramatists don’t write plays about issues; they write plays about human beings, and the issues simply provide a context for discussion of the universals.

Another cheque arrived today – a few hundred quid for foreign broadcasts of “Tracy Beaker”. At this rate, I might actually have to pay some tax this year – last year, the Inland Revenue had to pay me, which was amusing.

It was good to hear former M.P. Oona King (admirable in so many ways) on Radio 5 Live today, talking about life following the indignity of being defeated by Galloway, and stoutly defending her position on Iraq in terms of her opposition to a genocidal Fascist dictatorship, rather than irrelevancies such as WMD or George W. Bush’s intellectual capacity. I guess this is what distinguishes those leftists who supported the war from those who didn’t – one side had the moral courage to face up to the necessarily unpleasant contradictions and compromises, and the other sought refuge from reality in shallow and surreally repetitive sloganeering.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Beaker

Yesterday was a historic one in the annals of British TV history – the final episode of “The Story Of Tracy Beaker” went out on BBC1. As the script-writer of 8 of the 122 episodes made - 6.557% of a regularly chart-topping series - I am proud to be an aside in a parenthesis in a footnote in the history of children’s television. Here’s to many, many prime-time repeats. With near-simultaneity, it was announced that author of the original novel, Jacqueline Wilson, was once more the most borrowed writer in UK libraries. I met her once – the nicest millionaire I’ve ever chatted to whilst holding a paper plate of cold nibbles.

The more contact I have with TV people, the more convinced I am that a far greater degree of wit, effort and integrity goes into the making of “children’s” entertainment than into shows ostensibly aimed at adults. Further evidence for this is the fact that the most dramatically satisfying programme on TV at the moment is not a drama at all, but “Deal Or No Deal” with Noel Edmonds – hopes, fears, laughter, tears, conflict, solidarity, tension, despair – all human life is there. Exhibit 2: “Wallace And Gromit – The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit” – best British film in years (not counting “Shaun Of The Dead”).

Friday, February 03, 2006


Met the probable student producer of my final PhD film this week. Looks good. At the very least, it’ll be a relief not to have to do absolutely everything myself.

As an occasional author, part of me is slightly disappointed at the watering-down of the Government’s proposed Incitement to Religious Hatred legislation. Free speech is all well and good, but imagine the ££££ worth of publicity for any playwright, novelist or comedian taken to court and inevitably found Not Guilty. I mean, if a jury finds it impossible to convict the leader of an openly racist political party of racism, Rowan “Ron” Atkinson’s really got nothing to worry about.

The real problem, of course, is faux-liberal self-censorship. I was present when a theatre director who was planning a reading of a play about Arab slave-traders semi-seriously expressed the fear that it could be subject to prosecution as insulting to Islam. Would a play about “Christian” slavers be perceived as insulting to Christianity? Are we really so wanting for excitement in this country that we’re desperate to bring repression upon ourselves, just so we can stoutly oppose it? The phrase “tilting at windmills” inevitably comes to mind.

Schlepped down to Cardiff Barfly last night, for the first time in months  - a rare opportunity to see a band from my home town of Stoke-on-Trent – Agent Blue, the latest in a proud line of Potteries punk legends, following on from The Veins, Discharge and Venus Beads. Except their van broke down, so they couldn’t make it. Stuck around for two local bands, though – From Within (angsty Valleys rock in the Funeral For A Friend mould) and The Gar (jaunty/melancholic strumming). A pleasant evening - it was good to be out and about amongst the young people.