Blakeson - Writer

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

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Orange / Gulp / Wicker Man

I had very low expectations as I trudged along to see the preview of Alan Harris’ play Orange, at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre last night, in which two thugs (one motivated and relatively articulate, one weak-minded and lonely) kidnap a middle-aged Asian man as a protest against the kidnapping of an aid worker in Iraq. It was an excellent production, though – kinetic direction, clever lighting, good performances. Some nice writing as well, although what should have been a major plot point (involving a camcorder) was abandoned with barely a word, and whatever politics it contained was hopelessly simplistic (kidnappers as Blair and Bush? Saleem as Muslims in general? No Saddam/Bin Laden?), and there was no debate whatsoever, since only one character made any political comments (anti-Bob Marley, anti-Russian immigrant bus-drivers, anti-middle-class peace protestors). Perhaps it’s symptomatic of a political atmosphere where nihilism is the only response to the Left’s cosying up to Islamic extremism, although I get the impression that this wasn’t the author’s intention.

A more satisfying experience was a reading of Roger Williams’ Gulp, at Chapter on Sunday, another chance to see Wales’ first overtly “gay” play first produced, and a big hit, in 1997 (a year before my Giant Steps, Wales first overtly “Black” play, which failed to put bums on seats). Not a very large audience – maybe much of the target audience for this Queer Cymru event was at the screening of the Village People movie elsewhere in the building – but the laughs, surprises and nuances came across well, I thought. I’d forgotten how much of the plot revolved around HIV; I’m guessing this is less of a hot issue these days.

So, for academic reasons, since Neil LaBute is one of the writers I’ve been studying for my PhD, I went to see his re-interpretation of The Wicker Man, my head full of the dismissive reviews that have appeared over the past few days, in response to the lack of press showings. It was perfectly fine, very creepy, with the Celtic paganism of the original replaced by Wicca-oriented Mother Earth feminism, and Nicolas Cage reliably breathless. Critics seem to have taken offence at the absence of Britt Ekland’s nude body-double, and the lack of blood-letting. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a fan of visceral horror, nor do I have any particular emotional investment in the original, but I found the LaBute version highly effective.


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