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Plays

Random (Hillbilly Films for C4, 2011)

Nadine Marshall in Random, Channel 4

Nadine Marshall in Random, Channel 4

Screen Plays is primarily concerned as a research project with the history of theatre plays on British television, but our interests certainly embrace contemporary stage adaptations as well. Television today, however, makes strikingly few such productions, so Random, screened this week on Channel 4 (and free on 4oD for a further 26 days), is a rarity. Developed as a film and directed by Debbie Tucker Green from her one-person drama first seen at the Royal Court Theatre in 2008, it is a richly distinctive and largely successful screen version, graced by a striking central performance by Nadine Marshall.

On stage Nadine Marshall played all of the characters in a grim tale of the impact across a single day of the stabbing of somebody’s brother, somebody’s son. The hour-long film extends the treatment, running together two dramatic forms and complementing these with montages of animated stills, on-screen captions and other occasional elements of visual trickery. The dominant drama is a naturalistic presentation of the story, with other actors taking the roles of ‘Sister’s’ mother, brother, father and work colleagues. Nadine Marshall is Sister, and at times she also voices the others, but as the film develops they increasingly speak in their own voices.

Cut against this are scenes with Nadine Marshall, out of costume, playing the drama in a stripped-back film studio. These shots echo the minimal setting of the original drama, but the possibilities of post-production have tempted the director at times to have two, and sometimes even three, Nadine Marshalls on screen at the same time. Yet the most moving moments are those that rely simply and directly on her intense performance. (BBC News online has an interview with the actress about her role in Random.)

The various elements are stylishly shot (Stephen Pehrsonn) and edited rapidly (Victoria Boydell), but the range and mix of Black voices were, for me, sometimes hard to draw sense from. Yet mainstream television now is so concerned with immediate intelligibility, to be set such a challenge was intriguing. The allusive language, looping and echoing, has a poetic quality that complements the fractured time framework of the drama’s events.

How good to see Channel 4 once again committed to its founding principle of ‘innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes’.

For more background on the production, see Paul Hoggart’s interesting Guardian blog. Screen Daily has a news piece on the forty or so ‘pop-up’ community screenings of the film organised by Channel 4. For The Independent Tom Sutcliffe reviewed Random here.

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