Block

Block is a production that constantly surprises, though not always in ways that are comforting. Admittedly, it sets out its stall from the start, contrasting a villainous tough guy (Sam Sellicks-Chivers) with some gentle cabaret-style piano accompaniment. The former, as we’re told by the well-dressed Keiran Block (a roguish Max Russell), is his father Ray — petty criminal, fraudster and local ne’er-do-well who nevertheless likes to think of himself a modern-day Robin Hood, looking after not just his family but also the wider community in East Bristol.

It’s all remarkably disconcerting; ironically enough, we can no longer rely on the “veracity” of the familiar narratives being presented before us in such a heightened theatrical manner.

That Ray Block is willing to resort to violence to get his way, and considers anyone stupid enough to fall for any of his scams fair game, is explained economically enough in Act One (as announced by pianist Ben Cummings). At first glance, the rest of this criminal family are all-too-clichéd examples of crime fiction stereotypes; the alcoholic wife Hope (Tori West), happy to chat with a guy being beaten up in the basement, and the sexually alluring “apple of his eye” daughter Zoe (Emily Powell, who excels in several of the songs which punctuate the action).

Yet Block Senior’s latest “scheme” is, at least, different: having picked up a legitimate contract from Bristol City Council to build a children’s playground in a local park, he’s furious to discover that the whole scheme was nothing more than a ruse by self-serving local councillor Avril Parsons (a lush Rochelle Oliver) to free up the land for future “gentrification” by profit-seeking property developers. Block decides to build the children’s play park overnight, right under her nose. The local children love their new playground. Justice, community and people-power are confirmed. Block might be a bit of a villain, but he still has a heart.

Except… It’s at this point that writer/director Duncan Ellis very carefully pulls the rug — probably a “stolen magic carpet with dodgy plates,” to be honest — from under our feet. Characters become uncertain about where the plot is going, while the family’s “Case for the Defence” starts being presented in a variety of theatrical styles, from blood-smeared Greek chorus to 1960s alienation, with a somewhat different Avril Parsons played by another member of the cast.

It’s all remarkably disconcerting; ironically enough, we can no longer rely on the “veracity” of the familiar narratives being presented before us in such a heightened theatrical manner. To their credit, the cast keep the show on a roll; Tim Brown, in particular, getting many of the best laughs with his succession of either perving or frantically nervous young men. Block is, like the man himself, a bit a scam, though whether it’s also a wholly satisfying theatrical experience is another matter.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Ladies and gentlemen, for your horrified delectation, we present to you the tale of Ray Block, petty criminal and fraudster, and his roistering nearest and dearest. A Robin Capone, if you will, of the West Country, let his son Kieran, and apple-of-his-eye Zoe, guide you through one of his most cunning contrivances. He calls in a few favours, outwits fiendish councillors, and still comes through smelling of the roses that might gild a kiddies’ playground. A twisted, twisting satire (with songs!) on mediation from the makers of Fat Joe's Chicken Shack. '...a spectacular politically charged imaginarium' **** (EdfringeReview.com).