Dirty, Gifted and Welsh 2016 / "Meet Fred" / "St. Nicholas" / "Hail Caesar"
I attended the latest “Dirty, Gifted and Welsh” event, a festival of new writing put on by Dirty Protest Theatre Company, in collaboration with National Theatre Wales at Cardiff’s Angel Hotel. There were plenty of scratch performances, but I focussed on the panel sessions: one involving the BBC’s Helen Perry on breaking into radio drama; another in which writers Alan Harris, Kath Chandler and Matt Hartley discussed building relationships with theatre companies and the value of play-writing competitions; and visiting dramatist Bryony Lavery discussing her varied career and writing process. All very thought-provoking. Later on, there was a presentation of nine short plays by writers established and new – there was a wide variation in quality, and some editing would not have gone amiss, but it was enjoyable all in all, and it was good to see familiar TV faces like Keiron Self and Siwan Morris involved. There was also a reading of Mark Williams’ “A New Hope”, a family drama based around the set of a “Star Wars” movie, which sounded promising.
My first reviewing assignment of the week was “Meet Fred” from Hijinx at Chapter – a very clever take on disability, using a foul-mouthed puppet to discuss the issue without mentioning the issue. And then there was the latest from The Other Room – “St. Nicholas”, Conor McPherson’s droll take on theatre criticism and vampirism starring the versatile Christian Patterson.
And then there is the small matter of the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen. “Hail Caesar” tells the story of a day or so in the busy life of fictionalised Hollywood production executive Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin), whose job it is to clean up the various messes into which his stars get themselves. Set in the early 1950s, at the same studio at which their “Barton Fink” was situated, the plot focusses on the kidnapping of George Clooney’s pompous leading man by a gang of Communist screenwriters; but the unwelcome pregnancy of Scarlett Johanssen’s baby-faced aquatic starlet, and the dubious acting skills of Alden Ehrenreich’s not-quite-as-dumb-as-he-appears singing cowboy (the “Would that it were” scene will always be funny) also figure. Looking magnificent (courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins), scripted and assembled with the Coens’ customary meticulousness, and with a wonderful cast (Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum are especially impressive), there are moments at which the film looks as though it will turn out to be nothing more than a sequence of witty set-pieces; the plot does knit together cleverly towards the end, however. Consistently amusing, “Hail Caesar” is an only slightly satirical love-letter to classical Hollywood story-telling.