at Warwick Arts Centre, Friday 16th November 2012
*The performance watched was a work in progress*
There’s something incredibly vapid about the countless teen-sports movies which come out of America. They perpetuate the myth that winning is everything and that fate will always be on your side to make you happy in the end. They reinforce the myth that love conquers all and that the best looking people will end up on top whilst subjecting viewers to countless montages and awful music. Taken with a pinch of ironic salt, however, they’re also bloody hilarious.
This is the premise behind Action Hero’s Hoke’s Bluff, which takes all the tropes and clichés behind the American ‘underdog’ movie and creates a show which both pastiches and – to an extent – idolizes this particular genre. Set in the small town of Hoke’s Bluff, we follow Tyler, who is a baseball/football/basketball player (it doesn’t really matter which; the point is that they’re interchangeable), and his cheerleader girlfriend Connie, as the big match of the season comes up and they have to aid one another in their attempts at winning whilst simultaneously having to put up with the trials and tribulations of being a teenager.
I understand that description sounds fairly dull, but what makes Hoke’s Bluff so gorgeously charming is the way in which this story is told. Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse perform all the roles themselves (taking it in turns to play Tyler, Connie, and everyone around them) with a deadpan monotone and sturdy English accents. On one level, this choice means the countless “Oh hey”s and “Wow”s of American teens become almost lyrical in their humour, whilst also ensuring we focus on the story itself rather than simply laughing at silly Americanisms.
They are supported by Laura Dannequin who stands at one end of the stage as referee, blowing her whistle between scenes to punctuate the action and ensure a constant rhythm and occasionally spurting unintelligible sporting jargon in a tone which is even more nonplussed than the two leads.
The audience sits on sort of makeshift bleachers on either side of the set and are engaged constantly. We are the rest of the team, the home crowd, or just voyeurs in the local milkshake bar. During one of the most memorable scenes, which sends up the montage scene (complete with aspirational soundtrack), there’s something glorious about watching the other half of the audience strain their necks left and right as Stenhouse runs up and down the playing area.
As a work-in-progress, this piece is likely to change a lot over the coming months (not least the presence of scripts, which, surprisingly, actually seemed to add something to the production here), but even as it stands it’s an incredibly witty, heartwarming and even anarchic interrogation of one of the most recognisable of movie genres. If there’s one thing which comes through loud and clear, too, its that in Britain this style of movie would just not be possible to the same extent; we are (for better or for worse) too bound to our own cynicism, and can’t bear to see beautiful people achieving wonderful things. Hoke’s Bluff may be slightly too sickly sweet for comfort were it not for the hilarious addition to the end in which *Spoiler alert* Dannequin tells us how none of the characters ended up actually doing anything in their lives or doing anything extraordinary. It’s a joyously bitter end to a bitterly joyous eighty minutes.