The One Eyed Man Project
The Arts Council of Wales Creative Wales Award is a grant designed to allow established artists to explore new aspects of their practice. Philip Ralph has used his to create “The One-Eyed Man Project”, in which he attempts to integrate his work as a writer (e.g. of the celebrated verbatim drama Deep Cut) and performer (not to mention researcher and polemicist) in order to try and create a new form of theatre. Thus he’s staging a number of performances in small, non-theatrical spaces, and depending on audience input for the bulk of his material – the one I attended was on the second night of three at the Plan Café in Cardiff’s Morgan Arcade. I had been anticipating a kind of dramatic version of comedy improv, based on the current news/media agenda; what transpired was something more intimate, as Ralph used his mid-life crisis, recent illness and declared misanthropy as starting-points for a dialogue with the audience (around a dozen of us) about their pet hates - generally petty annoyances on this occasion, such as neighbours’ failure to recycle, or other people’s bad driving habits (I’d kind of expected a mention of the arrest of Serb warlord Ratko Mladic, which had occurred that day, but was obviously in the wrong crowd for that). Assisted by rabble-rouser and occasional (perhaps too occasional) musical accompanist Gareth Clarke, Ralph managed to riff amusingly on these and his own bêtes noires, eventually challenging the audience to collaborate in his therapy by giving him a task to perform, out there in the real world, in order to enhance his personal growth. He’s a magnetic performer, and a genial one, despite his proclaimed distaste for his fellow humans; I was both vaguely disappointed (speaking as a writer) and mightily relieved (speaking as a coward) that his approach wasn’t more confrontational (cf the deconstructive alt-comedy of Hitting Funny), but that would have been inappropriate given that everyone in attendance was on his side from the beginning. One suspects that if this were a more long-term project, he might grow bored with the supportive, liberal, arty audience and seek a more challenging performance environment (A young offenders’ institution? The offices of the Daily Mail? A working men’s club crowd expecting a comedian?) which might enable the piece to grow from what is a refreshingly frank, thought-provoking entertainment into something which constitutes a more complete synthesis between the populist, the personal, and the experimental.