Blakeson - Writer

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

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Shutter Island" / Radio Drama

Shutter Island”, the latest film from Martin Scorsese, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a haunted detective investigating a mysterious disappearance at a hospital for the criminally insane in 1950s Boston. It’s clear from the off that this is one of those films where things aren’t as they seem, but the way it plays circuitously out, with Hitchcockian artificial back-projections, powerful cameos (Patricia Clarkson, Ted Levine, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley), and numerous cinematic references (“Shock Corridor” being the most obvious) is constantly gripping. Aside from DiCaprio’s convincing raggedness, the performances are all just on the right side of self-parody, Mark Ruffalo’s warm-eyed solidity proving, in retrospect, especially affecting. Some critics have suggested that the use of the Holocaust as a background element of the story is somehow misguided, but it’s done with respect, and is appropriate given the historical context, and the director’s venerable record when it comes to showing us souls in torment. Ultimately, there’s nothing new here, but since no-one manipulates the elements in the Hollywood toolbox with as much flair as Scorsese, that’s immaterial.

Re BBC Radio Drama: Am I the only person who’s often been enticed by a juicy blurb in the Radio Times, only to be ultimately disappointed by the quality of the writing? Having gained an insight into the current decision-making process at a Writers’ Guild meeting with a top producer/director, followed up by studying the latest Commissioning Guidelines, it appears that projects are increasingly being selected for production on the basis of whether “they” think a 50-word synopsis will appeal to the core audience (middle-aged Daily Telegraph readers, according to research), rather than whether the script is any good. Because the script, generally, won’t exist until well after the play has been commissioned. Which is fair enough, from the W.G.G.B. point of view, since the point of being a professional writer is to get paid for doing it, rather than writing first and hoping for the best. One simply worries, however, that the Cult Of The Synopsis, which is responsible for a myriad of poor films and television series (particularly sit-coms), will eventually kill off the radio drama as it has developed over the past eighty years. Or maybe this is just sour grapes from a multiple rejectee. And in any case, there’s always the WritersRoom.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gryfhead / A Kind Of Alaska

I attended the Chapter performance of the latest in the On The Edge “Deadlier Than The Male” season of work by female playwrights :- “Gryfhead” by Lucy Gough, an everyday story of boy meets girl, girl’s brother kills boy, girl digs up boy’s body and keeps his head in the fridge. Based on a story from Boccaccio, via Keats, it starred Katy Owen as the feisty heroine, James Ashton as the unfortunate lover, Robert Harper as the unhinged, thuggish brother, and Alastair Sill as the Poet who alternates between observing, devising and participating in events, ultimately losing control of his creations, as Ella inconveniently refuses to fade prettily away. Less densely poetic than previous Lucy Gough plays that I’ve seen, “Gryfhead” is a grippingly gruesome tale of female empowerment set in a sink-estate/Grimm fairytale landscape (although it could probably have worked without the lupine trimmings). Despite the inevitable, distracting moments of awkwardness involving the juggling of scripts and props, this being a semi-staged reading, director Sita Calvert-Ennals kept things moving, striking a good balance between tragedy and absurdism. I went expecting edification, and ended up being thoroughly entertained.

A few days later I was back at Chapter for the last night of Be:Spoken Theatre’s production of “A Kind Of Alaska”, the Harold Pinter one-acter inspired by the work of neurologist Oliver Sacks, which premiered in 1982, with Judi Dench in the lead role of a woman who awakens after 29 years in a coma. Caroline Bunce played the central role of Deborah, the bright but naive schoolgirl in the body of a middle-aged woman; Claire Cage was Pauline, the kid sister suddenly transformed into a long-lost aunt; and Nathan Sussex (made-up to look like Sacks) was Hornby, the doctor, who has devoted his life to Deborah’s care, to the detriment of his marriage to Pauline. Director Julie Barclay went for an emotionally neutral tone, echoed in Steve Denton’s minimal all-white design, one element of which – a wall of newspaper clippings - clearly situates the piece in the ‘80s, as do the costumes, and Deborah’s now-dated Rank Charm School bearing and vocabulary. For a play lasting less than an hour, the production had more than its fair share of breathtaking moments – Deborah’s first steps out of bed, Pauline’s arrival, a brief relapse, Deborah’s casual announcement that she won’t bother looking in the mirror; but perhaps making Pauline and Hornby a little more overtly reactive wouldn’t have hurt. A highly satisfying experience, though, probably because Pinter is the kind of writer who gives audiences a lot of work to do, but since it’s on an emotional level rather than an intellectual one, it tends to linger. Only a four-day run with, by all accounts, pretty good houses, so one hopes more audiences will have the chance to see it.