Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

"Escape The Scaffold" / Gillian Ayres

My most recent theatre reviewing assignment was Titas Halder’s “Escape The Scaffold”, at Cardiff’s The Other Room, fresh from a run at co-producing venue Theatre 503 in London. A slick three-hander set in a vaguely spooky house, it plays like a West End-style middle-class love triangle drama/thriller, but with clear political undertones, and is darkly entertaining.

"Escape The Scaffold" (pic: Aenne Pallasca)

Currently showing at the National Museum of Wales is an exhibition of work by Gillian Ayres, one of Britain’s most renowned abstract painters, and based around some of the work she did whilst resident in Wales in the 1980s. The large-scale canvasses are very striking, with refreshingly bold use of colour; some of the smaller drawings, however, do look off-puttingly childlike. I also took in the gallery full of Chinese bird and flower paintings dating from between the 16th and 20th centuries; fascinating to see how whilst working within a very standardised form, artists still manage to display stylistic quirks and express their individual obsessions.

"Cumuli" by Gillian Ayres

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Friday, March 31, 2017

BBC Writers Festival 2017 / "Killology"

Last week, I was one of the many hopefuls who attended the first Welsh Writers Festival, at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre. It was the official launch of the BBC Writersroom in Wales, and as well as free food and drink, there were sessions aimed at writers who are interesting in working in areas such as childrens’ TV, radio, and comedy-drama. For me, though, the highlight was the appearance of Cardiff-born Andrew Davies, author of many notable TV adaptations (“Pride and Prejudice”, “War And Peace”, “House Of Cards” etc), who provided several useful tips, quips and snippets. I was fortunate enough to be asked to blog about it on the BBC website, where I provided a fuller summary of the event, but I think it’s fair to say it was an enjoyable day, with optimism in the air.

My latest reviewing assignment for the British Theatre Guide was Gary Owen’s “Killology”, playing at the Sherman Theatre, prior to moving on to the co-producing venue, London’s Royal Court Theatre. Given an ominously bleak staging, it takes as its starting point the idea of violent video games influencing behaviour, and turns into an emotionally resonant mediation on fatherhood. Possibly his best yet.

"Killology" (photo: Mark Douet)

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Monday, March 20, 2017

"World Domination" / "Seanmhair" / "The Nether"

In a strange coincidence, the latest raft of plays I’ve reviewed for the British Theatre Guide all seem to tackle the dark side of sexuality. 

World Domination”, the most recent A Play, A Pie and A Pint production to be co-produced by the Sherman, is about an Aberdeen housewife who sets up a bondage dungeon in her cellar; an enterprise which is disrupted by the arrival of her estranged younger sister. “Seanmhair” at The Other Room, another play which boasts a strong, all female cast, is the tale of an obsessive love which imprisons a woman from childhood onwards. Jennifer Haley’s “The Nether” at Chapter, examines the ramifications of “virtual” paedophilia. This last play in particular, an American piece which has been much produced over the past few years, raises some interesting and disturbing questions; a relatively rare example, in theatre, anyway, of science-fiction used to explore ethical and philosophical issues.

Louise Ludgate in "World Domination" (photo: Leslie Black)

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Thursday, March 16, 2017


Given the somewhat hackneyed premise, I found it hard to believe that Barry Jenkins’ multi-Oscar-winning “Moonlight” could be as special as it has been painted. The story of a young African-American man growing to an uneasy maturity amidst drugs and crime in the ghetto has oft been told, although the fact that this hero is gay was a notable first, and the idea of the narrative unfolding in three distinct chapters, with different actors assuming the central role of Chiron also intrigued.

My doubts were quickly assuaged – “Moonlight” is a beautiful piece of work. It’s largely down to James Laxton’s cinematography which cleverly reflects the moods of the characters – fear, paranoia, druggy befuddlement and, most significantly, isolation. The music also plays a huge role, Nicholas’ Britell’s dreamily minimalistic orchestral score alternating with the more typical rap and vintage r&b tunes. The screenplay – by Jenkins and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney – is a masterpiece of subtlety; and the performances are excellent – Mahershala Ali particularly powerful as a conflicted, paternalistic drug-dealer; not to mention Naomie Harris’s beautiful turn (unbelievably shot in only a few days) as the mother whose love for Chiron is profoundly compromised by her substance addiction.
Heartening, inspirational and unexpectedly optimistic, “Moonlight” is fully deserving of all the acclaim it has received.

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Friday, March 03, 2017

Wales Theatre Awards 2017 / Video Portfolio

I attended the Wales Theatre Awards last weekend - held, for the first time, at the Taliesin Theatre on the campus of Swansea University - and wrote it up for the British Theatre Guide. As ever, it was a lively and well-attended event with a celebratory mood in the auditorium, and a wide range of work highlighted across all the genres. Personally, I was pleased to see Cardiff's The Other Room get four awards, and Hijinx win Best Ensemble for "Meet Fred". And the Special Achievement Award went to legendary Welsh tenor Dennis O'Neill, who seemed suitably surprised and delighted.

"Meet Fred" (Hijinx)

Prior to that, I took a useful Cult Cymru training workshop in the use of Wordpress, which enabled me to create a video portfolio page to showcase my short films. Jolly fun.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Sinners Club" / "Flash"

My latest theatre-reviewing assignments are both singular, musically-oriented pieces of work. 

First up was “Sinners Club” from Gagglebabble at The Other Room, written and composed by, and starring the ridiculously talented Lucy Rivers. It places the audience in the studio as a concept album on the theme of the sad life of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain (who happened to have been born in Wales) is being recorded – highly innovative and heartfelt.

Lucy Rivers (photo: Kieran Cudlip)
The other was a work-in-progress by Morgan Thomas, staged at the University of South Wales: “Flash” which uses his fan-dom of Freddie Mercury’s Queen to reflect, in an apparently shambolic manner, on mental health issues. A fascinating project, and one which looks likely to develop further in the months to come.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

"T2: Trainspotting"

I was probably too old and non-druggy to identify over-much with Danny Boyle’s original adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting”; I simply recognised it as a powerfully significant cinematic achievement. Obviously, when the sequel was announced, I feared the worst, such ventures seldom going well. I need not have worried, however – the sure hand and visual inventiveness of Danny Boyle, not to mention John Hodge’s gifts as a screenwriter, the narrative richness of the source material and a remarkable cast have ensured that a “Gregory’s Two Girls”-style disappointment is avoided by some distance.

The plot of “T2:Trainspotting” involves the return of Ewan MacGregor’s apparently sorted Renton to his home town of Edinburgh, 20 years after abandoning his friends, having let them down badly. The ensuing events involve the varied reactions of Ewen Bremner’s hapless Spud, Johnny Lee Miller’s scheming Sickboy and the psychopathic Begbie, played by Robert Carlyle, who pretty much steals the film; while Veronika, Sickboy’s East European girlfriend (Anjela Nedyalkova) looks on in bemusement.

The film is about nostalgia, and regret and the pull of home, not to mention the problem of coming to terms with a disappointing middle age. Boyle gives us brief, telling images of the first film (occasionally to confusing effect, not helped by the fact that MacGregor and Miller hardly look older than they did in 1996), as well as making full use of his box of cinematographic tricks. The music of Young Fathers is cleverly threaded throughout the soundtrack, multiculturalism being part of the new subtext.

T2…” is a more than worthy successor to the epoch-making original.

"T2: Trainspotting" (Sony)

My most recent theatre reviewing assignments have been two wildly contrasting one-person shows: Conor Mitchell’s “The Moot Virginity of Catherine of Aragon” – an avant-garde musical meditation on the life of Henry VIII’s first wife; and “A Regular Little Houdini”, written and performed by Daniel Llewelyn-Williams, and set in his home town of Newport in the early part of the 20th century. Each fascinating in its own way, but aimed at entirely different audiences.

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