In luvvie-land, television is forever accused of ripping off the theatre; its writers, its actors and, occasionally its stories. Real drama occurs on stage, runs the argument, while television remains a flat, two-dimensional distraction only interested in entertainment. lt's an apples-and-pears comparison, of course, but one that inevitably springs to mind during the Performance (BBCZ, Saturdays), which translates theatre hits to TV.
The main argument in favour of this season is that it opens up London’s West End to a wider audience; the argument against is pretty much the same. The fact the Performance season is dominated by plays which have already been successful in London reflects a rather obvious metropolitan bias which theatre's decentralised structure is better placed than televiSion to overcome.
But enough, already. Last week’s contribution was called My Night With Reg, a screen adaptation of Kevrn Elyot's play of the same name. It won the Olivier Award for best comedy, which suggests not a lot of people in the theatre are laughing these days, or perhaps audiences have a rather different sense of humour.
This was a play about AIDS, failed relationships and an advertising copywriter who knitted draft excluders for relaxation. It's structure was based On that theatrical favourite, the reunion party, in this case a house- warming for Guy, a gay man whose friends buy him cooking-for-one books as a present. Played by David 8amber, currently hamming it up as the deputy head in Chalk, Guy was a caricature of the lonely, pinny-wearing homosexual. It was hard to believe he had any friends With which to warm a flat.
But friends he had, and they were all, er, straight out the book of gay stereotypes: bitchy couple hanging together out of habit; rough diamond manual worker who filled out his 5015 in all the right places; flop-fringed
My Night With Reg: theatre takes on TV
public school chap who put the bugger into rugger. If this was intended as a comedy, the only evidence came from John Sessions’s turn as Daniel, a camp Tigger of a man who took Wildean delight in recounting his nocturnal eprOits on Hampstead Heath.
Apart from a few flashbacks, the action was confined to Guy's living room with an adjoining conservatory which conveniently allowed the characters to moon off into the garden when not required. Theatre gets away with these kind of artificial devices; us literal-minded television viewers want to know where they have been and what they were talking about.
What was interesting about My Night With Reg, was the way the writer seamlessly altered the time-frame. The location remained the same, but characters simply disappeared as they died of AIDS, leavmg the surVivors to remember them by rec0unting their over-lapping life stories. It took a while to catch on but the infuriating slow conversations were a blind, as the play crept up and sand-bagged you with its unexpected emotional punch.
Also purporting to be a comedy, but equally unfunny was Loved By You (Scottish, Tuesdays) which is another kind of adaptation. Coming out with its hands up, ITV has Simply bought in a script from America, changed words like 'sidewalk’ to ’pavement’, and cast John Gordon Sinclair in the hope no one will notice that this wasn’t another home-grown sitcom about newly-weds. Instead the couple looked like what they were; a young British couple pretending to be in a US comedy.
Shorn of the New York Wise- Cracking Wit of the original, Mad About You (Sky 1, Thursdays), Sinclair is left to carry the show With that endearing puppy-dog look he has perfected in numerous no-mark comedies. He is a funny actor hitching lifts on creaking comic vehicles which are sweeping him towards middle- aged cosiness. Someone should rev his engine before it’s too late. (Eddie Gibb)
Network First: Blind School Scottish, 25 Mar, 11.30pm.
Any fly-on-the-wall documentary inevitably prompts questions about consent. Did the subjects give their permission to be filmed — almost always, unless there is some 'public interest’ justification — and did they understand the implications? The second one is a tougher call, but the number of people who are made to look mad, bad or just plain sad in so- called verite’ documentaries suggest they haven't always thought it through.
Without for one minute suggesting it is exploitative, these are questions which come to mind when watching Alan Macmillan's sensitive film about Edinburgh’s blind school. By definition, the subjects of the film are unfamiliar with the visual language of teleVision and it was unclear at certain points whether they were aware that a camera was present.
Macmillan says concerns were expressed by pupils during filming, and the crew announced itself whenever it entered a room. But he concedes that a couple of sequences were shot Without the knowledge of the subject. For instance, a young man is filmed through a half-open door as he struggles to find the
armholes of his jacket, plainly unaware of the camera. It was uncomfortable to watch, but
Macmillan believes usmg the scene was justified by the insight it offered into the world of blind people.
'It was a situation where you could take advantage of the fact they didn’t know they were being filmed,' says Macmillan, whose previous work
Blind School: an eye-opener for the sighted
includes a documentary about the Sick Children's Hospital in Edinburgh. ‘We
didn’t use anythiiiq that was embarrassing and I hope he didn't mind.’
Blind School is an attempt to illustrate the hurdles visually impaired iliildren have to overcome. But through intenswe teaching and the
development of other senses to compensate, blindness need not he an insurmountable handicap ’I use my hands and my ears to see,’ says a twelve-year-Old girl. ’I haven't got any idea what it’s like to see at all '
In the end, the eVident iesponsihility Of the filmmaker overcomes any concerns about consent - even if they won’t be able to see the end result (Eddie Gibb)
Sensationalist storylines bring drama to the street, but stretch credibility in the Close.
The recent, more hard-edged storylines in Coronation Street (Scottish) have had some fans moaning that realism is creeping into the nation’s favourite comfortable viewing. I don't get this, myself. Wasn't what made the Street great in the 60s exactly the fact that it brought the gritty kitchen sink drama of films like Saturday Night And Sunday Morning and plays like Look Back In Anger into the previously genteel world of television?
I was gripped by the qangster gunman drama, over-the-top though it was. Didn’t you love the way that the awful McDonalds all stayed true to type, bickering amongst themselves even while a nasty Villain waved a shotgun at them? While Liz pouted, macho Jim rushed in to disarm the baddie, who believes, rightly, that she shopped his partner- in-crime. As the hapless Andy quivered in the background, showing once again why he’s never had the gumption to leave, Liz rushed in and clocked the gunman With her stiletto heel. The cheery Cadbury’s logo at the end of the programme has never seemed so inapprOpriate.
There is something a little distasteful
though abcitit the ioiitiniial humiliation heaped on l.l/', :iiade woise by her character's obvious stupidity Corrie's famous diva: have always suffered, true, but the traumas meted out to EISie, Bet and Racqui'él were tempered by their dry Wit and feisty style. Poor LIZ is a jJ<illitfllf ‘-.’lf_llm teetering on the brink of disaster in those too-thin heels, constantly talled a slag by her family and iieigl'iboui's
Elsie would have told them Where to
go. Brookside (Channel 4;, though,
seems to have lost touch With reality
this fortnight. The ludicrous 'lost i'offiii’
plot completely undermined Little '
Jimmy's funeral, turning the stenes into bathos —- the (lOdS of turf tliey nearly buried gave the performance. (Andrea lvlullaney)
Brookside’s Little Jimmy RIP ‘
Pl Man? Apr 1997THEL|ST75