Review: Off the Page – Microplays 1-3 from the Royal Court and the Guardian

“I smoke fish…all the time”

The Guardian have partnered with the Royal Court to create a series of what they are calling microplays (short films by any other name, and I assume they’re trying to differentiate this from the short films that are being done in collaboration with the Young Vic…) on a range of six subjects. Each one – food, fashion, music, sport, education and politics – has seen a Guardian journalist work with a playwright to gain inspiration to create a minutes-long microplay which is then rapidly brought to life by some high-class directors and actors and hosted on the Guardian’s website.

The most recent of these is Death of England, written by Roy Williams and directed by Clint Dyer after a discussion with the Guardian’s Barney Ronay. It features Rafe Spall in scintillating form as a grieving working-class son at his father’s funeral who makes an ill-advised attempt at a eulogy which quickly degenerates into a rant about football and race, conflicted ideas about English identity and the state of the national team and notions of what loyalty really means. It couldn’t be a more hot-button topic if it tried (due to the efforts of my hometown team) but it is Spall’s captivating performance of Williams’ insightful script that really grips.

The first film to emerge was Britain isn’t Eating, Laura Wade and Carrie Cracknell collaborating with food writer Jack Monroe to delve into the politically contentious world of food banks and food poverty in the UK. Playing with the predilection of modern politics to be seen to be getting stuck in, Katherine Parkinson’s dismissive MP is challenged to a live mystery cooking test, the catch being that these are items from the back of the cupboard, the very things she said “these people” are being wasteful of. Wade nails the condescension that characterises so much dialogue around food banks and the alleged doubt about whether they’re needed, a point Parkinson and Cracknell reinforce in the sucker punch of the closing image.

And last but by no means least, in this first trio of microfilms, is Groove is in the Heart, probably my favourite as its particular focus has a special resonance with me and indeed will do for many others of a similar age. Robin French’s writing, from John Harris’ inspiration and Bijan Sheibani’s direction, centres on the beautiful – and lost – art of making a mixtape, and the memories that it can evoke even after many years have passed. From Ruby Ashbourne Serkis in the 80s to present-day Tobias Menzies, the connecting tissue of Neneh Cherry’s ‘Buffalo Stance’ creates something just beautiful. (But it’s still a short film and not a microplay.)

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