Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Verbatim Theatre

Paul Allen has a fascinating post in the Guardian media blog (June 29):

"... In their search for must-do (and therefore must-see) drama, theatres everywhere are turning to local factual plays in the wake of the success of Black Watch and Deep Cut.

Hull Truck's Every Time It Rains tells the story of the floods that killed one young man and devastated the lives of thousands two years ago this month. Docudrama veteran Rupert Creed – co-author of the legendary The Northern Trawl – made use of an oral history website to reach more than 150 people with memories to share. They included Michael Barnett, father of the young man of the same name who was trapped in a culvert as the water flooded in, and Richard Clark, the policeman who was the first person on the scene from the emergency services and was traumatised because he couldn't save him. Every Time It Rains is being met with tears nightly at Hull Truck.

Last week saw the first preview of You Really Couldn't Make It Up at Live theatre in Newcastle. Father and son writers Mike and Tom Chaplin in Newcastle talked to a number of "football insiders" but came up with the idea of having four fans tell the story of Newcastle United's relegation from the Premiership. The play uses these four fans to tell us what they think the likes of Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer might have said.

Elsewhere, West Yorkshire Playhouse is to premiere June Hancock – a Fight Against Asbestos at a venue described as "rear of Pet and Garden World", before staging it in the theatre. June was already terminally ill with cancer in 1997 when she won a legal battle against the owners of a factory where she and her friends had played as children, making "snowballs" out of asbestos dust.

David Thacker's first season in Bolton this autumn includes the latest piece by Robin Soans, the sometime actor who researched and wrote Talking to Terrorists. A co-production with Out of Joint and directed by Max Stafford-Clark, Soans's Mixed Up North tackles the racial disturbances in Burnley through the eyes of a youth theatre group trying to bridge the differences so easily exploited by the BNP. Purportedly based on real events, it allows the stories of the young actors and community workers to unfold during the group's rehearsals.
What does factual drama do that factual journalism or fictitious plays can't? Well, it can make you feel a personal tragedy or social injustice rather than simply understanding it. Whether it changes anything is hard to say, but as you leave the theatre you may certainly feel it should do."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Gillian Reynolds previews Journey into Space

Jet Morgan, BBC radio’s own spaceman, first appeared in the 1950s, long before Star Trek. His creator was Charles Chilton, 93 this month, who wrote and produced Journey into Space in a hugely industrious and successful BBC career which had already encompassed classy features (I Hear America Singing), jazz (Radio Rhythm Club) and variety (Riders of the Range) before sending Jet and his crew into our mysterious universe. David Jacobs, from the original cast, does the opening announcement today and plays The Host in this second of two new adventures by Julian Simpson (Spooks, Hustle). Starry Toby Stephens plays Jet. Sound design and music are by David Chilton, son of Charles. And you’ll hear Chilton himself doing the closing credits.
Happy Birthday, Mr C.

And well done Nick Russell-Pavier of independents Goldhawk, for balancing past and present so well.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Jet? Seriously? Were your parents drunk?"

The BBC would have us believe that this week's Lost in Space adventure, Host, is an adaptation. But it isn't. It is an entirely new episode, so far as I know the first not written by Charles Chilton himself, and is thus a significant milestone in the series' 50-odd year history. The writer, then, is Julian Simpson, who brings weighty credits including Spooks.

He should perhaps have brought a script editor from Kudos. The episode was like a first draft, with the signature narration from Doc used to skate over gaping holes in the plot.

The idea was good, the concept radiogenic. The Host turned out to be "sentient information" - a computer programme that had become a virtual lifeform. Great idea for the invisible, intangible medium of sound. It began well: the Ares, heading home at long last, picks up a red flag distress signal from inside Saturn's orbit. It comes from Jet's friend-cum-sparring partner J J Andreyev - who's been dead for 8 years. Naturally our heroes investigate. Andreyev welcomes them - invisible, intangible, for he has become a personality construct in the computer system.

So far so good, but then it all goes off-kilter as Jet and JJ get embroiled in some guff about Saturnian microbes in an underfunded research station being reprogrammed by the Host. What's at stake? Forty-seven cryogenically-frozen scientists we haven't met. Big deal. Hence my comment about slack plotting. This becomes even more apparent as Lemmie and Mitch are packed off to create the mother of all computer viruses to destroy the Host. Yes, exactly like Independence Day, only in Independence Day we saw how it was done and it was exciting.

There were, however, many good points. The wisecracking Edie (the author's wife, Jana Carpenter, in a rare example of successful nepotism) who came out with the zinger quoted above. The legendary David Jacobs, who played Jet last year, this year as announcer and voice of the Host. Toby Stephens, perfectly cast as the kill-em-first-decide-why-later swashbuckling Jet. Basher Savage, whose work I don't know, brilliant as JJ. David Chilton's sound design - and father Charles himself, reading the credits at the age of only 92. "Created by me" - it doesn't get much better than that.

See also: Frozen in Time - the ageless Journey into Space, April 12 2008

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guardian tips 4 promising new women playwrights

Last year, Rebecca ­Lenkiewicz's Her Naked Skin became the first play by a ­living female playwright ever to be staged in the National's ­largest auditorium, the Olivier – a fact that, understandably, caused a stir. This year, the number of twenty­something ­British female writers coming up through the ranks suggests the venerable theatre could soon be hosting a slew of exciting new plays by women.

At the head of the queue is 22-year-old Polly Stenham, whose second play, Tusk Tusk,
completed a sold-out two-month run at the Royal Court in London last month. Director Rupert Goold's company Headlong, meanwhile, is about to tour Enron, a new play about the defunct US energy corporation by 28-year-old Lucy Prebble. A former secretary at the National, Prebble was also behind the TV dramatisation of Belle de Jour's salacious blog, The Secret Diary of a Call Girl.

Snapping at their heels is Ella Hickson, 24, who has become the youngest writer ever to be taken on by drama publishers Nick Hern for her first show, Eight. A series of eight monologues charting the state of Britain today, the play won Hickson a Fringe First award at Edinburgh last year, and will transfer to the Trafalgar Studios in London's West End
next month, following a successful run off-Broadway. Finally, 20-year-old Atiha Sen Gupta's first full-length offering, What Fatima Did . . ., about a Muslim schoolgirl, will form the centrepiece of Hampstead Theatre's autumn season of new writing. Here come the women – and about time, too.

[Female playwrights set to take the West End by storm, Laura Barnett, Guardian 17.6.09]

The headline is a horrendous gaffe, though. What remains of the West End is terra incognita for serious living playwrights irrespective of gender. Unless these women are prepared to challenge Ben Elton for the privilege of knocking out crap narratives to wrap round the back catalogues of pensionable pop groups, or inferior stage versions of so-so movies, then I'm afraid it's strictly the subsidized sector for 'em.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Trailing Digital Britain

On the eve of publication of the Carter Report, Broadcast have posted four video interviews. These are the two more relevant to me, on-line piracy and licence fee: