Reviews Good and Bad

Earlier this week I tweeted that I had enjoyed writer Lucy Gannon’s new drama ‘Frankie’ about a district nurse ¬†seen on BBC1 on Tuesday evening. Out of interest, later I had a look at the reviews in the papers and online, and realised that I was not in the majority. Almost all the reviewers were less than complimentary about the script writing, and even the acting, by the first-rate Eve Myles. The accusations included that it had been ‘over-egging’ the problems of the NHS (though how one can do that I’m not sure) and that the fiesty Frankie looked ‘deranged’ when she was dancing (don’t most of us?). Anyway I was much cheered when I went to see the response of viewers on the Radio Times website, to see that they shared my feelings and that most of them said they would like to watch the next episode, and thought it was a good start to a series. So, the professionals versus the amateur critics, strikes again in my life, and though supposedly I sit among the professionals, as a reviewing journalist of some years experience, I frequently end up on the side of the amateurs. Another case of this occurred some weeks back when my editor, Sue and I were invited to make a judgement between two plays performed for us by our local amateur dramatic company in Cardigan. The play, chosen by us, would go to the next round of a competition run by the Drama Association of Wales. It would be fair to say we were impressed by the standard of acting in the first, but blown away by the second which was the one we chose. ‘Recidivists’ is a hard-hitting, piece of writing where two prisoners face one another with violence and abusive language in a process of overcoming their suspicion of one another in order to be able to share a cell. Marc Owen and Jonathan Preese were brilliant in the parts, and in spite of the vile language, and the aggression, both myself and Sue beside me were transported; forgot where we were; and were deeply moved by it. We were surprised to be honest. The daring quality of the work, and the effort involved in attempting something so new and not relying on something ‘safe’ to take to the competition, affected and impressed us.

We looked forward to hearing that they had been the toast of the night at the Torch where they performed in the next round, but it was not to be. The professional adjudicator profoundly disagreed with our choice, saw no merit in the play whatever, and had only negative things to say about it.

Does all this mean that there can never be a totally objective review or critique, of anything? I sometimes think so. If so why do we do it, and who can we listen to? The guys and their director and producer came back genuinely puzzled and disappointed, and we their first judges felt exactly the same. But that’s the way it goes.

So, if you want to find out what you think of ‘Frankie’ and whose side you are on, the second episode is on next Tuesday. I think there’s a lot of love in it somewhere, love in the writing and in the making of it, but maybe that’s just my rose-coloured contacts. Try it.¬†

Euphoria of cheerful happenings

When a number of issues come to a conclusion together, it leads to a euphoria that is close to feeling like flying. Finally after weeks of filling in application forms for the ACW, finishing with it, and sending it off, and publication of ‘The Bardic Monk’ at the same time. A great pleasure to move with relief from a chore to a pure pleasure of a new book out!

The Bardic Monk, out in the world, going its own way without me holding its hand. What a weird thing it is, my thoughts will make new thoughts in the heads of readers, creating a world which, as Ken Follett said on BBC’s Great Welsh Writers last night, the reader for a brief moment, prefers to his own world. He’s right of course, otherwise no-one would get past the first few pages, but once they do, they are living two lives simultaneously. I’m more pleased with this book than anything I have written. I’m tempted to talk about analepsis again, but I need to think more about it before writing about it. Certainly, Walter Map has become a living person. I have him in my mind’s eye and will write about him again I think.

Will we really get to do a community musical drama on the castle? Will it be possible to get all sorts of people from the town to come and act, sing, perform poetry, build sets, create a wardrobe…if the Arts Council looks favourably on this phase one application we will at least have a script to work to, and more or less, the go-ahead to try for the rest of the money to take us to production. The restored castle with its entirely new stage in the round, will be a challenge to us all to make something wonderful to grace the space.To tell the story of the town’s history in an entertaining and accessible way, without losing the genuinely serious undercurrents will not be easy. To perform it with a cast of townspeople led by a small group of professionals and regular amateur actors, who know their way around a stage could be genuinely exciting. So now we wait. There could be six weeks before we know if this is a possibility.Cardigan Theatre are up for it, they have developed noticeable skills and I look forward to working with them. In fact I look forward to working with everyone who has signed up so far. So daily focus on the positive is not a bad way forward.