Talking Movies

July 9, 2016

Tender Napalm

Good Buzz fill the Boys School of Smock Alley with clay for an energetic performance of Philip Ridley’s acclaimed two-hander.

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A red line separates the audience from the players, nestled on an artificial grassy mound rising out of real clay. A man (Stephen Tadgh) and a woman (Ashleigh Dorrell), his attempts at tenderness shook off as irritants. And then the play begins with speculations of imaginative acts of violence as poetry. Tension between the couple is obvious, her attempts at a romantic flashback to her preparations for a party are scuppered by his flights of fancy about ruling a desert island. She joins his desert island fantasy to undercut his bagatelles and claim it for herself. And then as their monologues continue it becomes clear that the party both are preparing for in their flashbacks is where they first met, and began down the slippery slope of love that has led them to their current impasse of resentment and boredom.

Tender Napalm is a hard old slog. Director Sarah Finlay stages the material well with nice use of lighting to pinpoint emotion within these conjured mindscapes, and Tadgh is boundlessly energetic and winning in his portrayal of the optimistic romantic man, but Philip Ridley’s script is a 45 minute lunchtime show unfeasibly elongated to 85 minutes. The revelatory end is obvious from a mile, there is even a hint of (500) Days of Summer about how it informs the desert island, and the originality of the game of loving descriptions of violence disappears once you realise it was contemporaneously used in Sarah Polley’s film Take This Waltz. Exactly how Ridley’s script came to be held up as a masterpiece of new British writing about passionate love is a puzzle given its clumsy handling of a couple grieving their young daughter.

Boys School in Smock Alley is an infuriating theatrical space, permitting no entrances or exits with any subtlety unless one builds a staircase as part of the set. Such claustrophobia focuses attention on the script to an unhealthy degree. And it became noticeable, as an overwhelmingly female crowd whooped up everything the woman said, that Ridley attempts to create a ‘female voice’ in his play by indulging in unapologetic misandry. The man’s descriptions of imaginary violence all end in ecstatic death, whereas the woman explicitly talks of horrifically maiming him, and leaving him alive, blinded and castrated. The man is bombastic and friendly, the woman is, at their first meeting, bossy, and in the present accusatory and petulant. That a female audience lapped this up without thinking it at all problematic was more interesting and revealing than anything Ridley wrote.

Tender Napalm features good performances and assured sound and lighting design, but its script is flabby, lacking in real insight, and, ultimately, disturbingly sexist.

2.5/5

Tender Napalm continues its run at Smock Alley Theatre until the 9th of July.

August 20, 2014

What If

Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan star in a rom-com in which their characters shy away from being more than friends.

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Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party thrown by his old college roommate Allan (Adam Driver). They spark off each other, and Chantry turns out to be Allan’s cousin, and to have a boyfriend… Wallace promptly ‘loses’ her number, but when they run into each other again because their shared interests are farcically obvious he decides to endure copyright lawyer Ben (Rafe Spall) for the sake of Chantry; and an email correspondence begins with discussing Elvis’ fatal cuisine. Wallace lives with his sister Ellie (Jemima Rooper), after a scarring break-up with an uncredited Sarah Gadon; which led to him dropping out of med school. When Allan moves to Dublin for a conference on international copyright, working alongside the attractive Julianne (Oona Chaplin), Allan and his new girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis) decide to make Wallace stop asking ‘What if?’

I enjoyed What If but quite often its ribald dialogue seemed to me to be trying too hard. Now that may sound odd after recent encomiums on Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, but their ribaldry cannot be detached from the warm-heartedness of their absurdist riffs; it’s intrinsic to their comedy. The salty dialogue of What If feels extrinsic to the comedy because of its superfluity, which is odd because director Michael Dowse worked with Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel on Goon, so perhaps it’s TJ Dawe and Michael Rinaldi’s play that’s to blame. Having said which it is that almost mythical creature – the romantic comedy that’s actually funny, a speech on Bruce Willis’ manliness is peerless. It’s also very interesting. The hero who’s crippled romantically by his traumatised desire to act ethically gives a lot of substance to the comedy.

Daniel Radcliffe is sensational. A Young Doctor’s Notebook served notice of his comedy chops, but this is one of 2014’s best performances, combining uncomprehending deadpan and dramatic sharpness. Driver and Davis, despite lifting a Seth Rogen/Michelle Williams routine from Take This Waltz, are highly amusing in their matchmaking antics. Davis’ wild child is oddly reminiscent of Katy Perry, and strikingly different from her bookworm in We Gotta Get Out Of This Place. There’s also the joy of seeing Irish financing cause proceedings to up sticks from a major North American city (see if you can guess which one before the postcard scene) for a sequence in the tiny Irish metropolis. Tiny. A city, extending from Mick Wallace’s Italian Quarter, over the bridge, thru Temple Bar, and up to College Green; which somehow houses Ballsbridge residences. And so to Zoe Kazan…

Kazan does nothing to win me over after Ruby Sparks and Orson Welles & Me. Chantry’s willingness to string Wallace along isn’t loveable, but What If is a strong enough movie to carry her.

4/5

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