Blakeson - Writer

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

Sunday, July 08, 2018

"War Horse" / Theatre Uncut

The National Theatre’s 10th anniversary tour of their massively successful adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s World War 1 novel “War Horse” has just arrived for a month-long residency at the Wales Millennium Centre, and I was glad to get to review it. Not entirely flawless, narrative-wise, but it is a technical marvel – and, of course, the horse puppetry is every bit as remarkable as advertised.
"War Horse" (pic: Wales Millennium Centre)
Every year, London company Theatre Uncut commissions a number of short, politically-oriented plays to be put on, worldwide, rights-free, as part of fundraising and consciousness-raising events. The 2018 batch, entitled “Power Plays”, are all written by women, and were performed for two nights at The Other Room in Cardiff. I went along purely out of curiosity, but the experience prompted me to suggest a short piece for the Wales Arts Review, which, fortunately, they saw fit to publish.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Elvis Costello / "Macbeth" / "Good Time Girl" / "The Wolf Tattoo"

I was delighted to get a late call to review the gig by Elvis Costello and the Imposters, which was the final show of the Festival of Voice at the Wales Millennium Centre, having been a fan for many years, but unable to afford a ticket. In the event, the show was a triumph – both epic and intimate, with Elvis on excellent form, and well aware of the esteem in which he is held. A rousing and emotional start to my birthday week.
This culminated in a trip to London to catch the final matinee performance of “Macbeth” at the National Theatre, on a Travelex deal. Due to bus troubles, I only made it to the South Bank with half an hour to spare, but managed to relax in time to take in Rufus Norris’ spectacle, featuring powerful performances from Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff. The tone was frenzied, and the look grimy, but the universality of the narrative shone through, and the large, diverse cast delivered the poetry with naturalistic potency.
Other theatrical experiences of the past few weeks were Georgia Coles-Riley’s “Good Time Girl”, part of the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival, a very involving one-woman play themed around Body Dysmorphic Disorder; and Lucy Gough’s “The Wolf Tattoo” from Company of Sirens at Chapter, a surreal and intriguing piece using lycanthropy myths to explore the journey into responsible adulthood.
The Wolf Tattoo (pic: J. H. Andersen)

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Lovecraft" / "Five Green Bottles"

It’s a busy couple of weeks in Cardiff, for those interested in performance. The biennial Festival of Voice, produced by the Wales Millennium Centre is attracting stars of the magnitude of Elvis Costello, Patti Smith and Laura Marling, but there’s also a lot going on in terms of smaller scale, theatrical events. Thus I went to see “Lovecraft (Not The Sex Shop In Cardiff)”, a poppy musical take on the science of relationships written and performed by Carys Eleri. Great fun, and, one would hope, sure to attract attention when it plays in Edinburgh, come Festival time.


Then, as well as the brilliant Young Artists’ Festival at The Other Room (to which I paid a highly enjoyable visit as a punter this year, having participated as a director last year), there is the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival, in which a lot of small companies take over non-traditional venues. So, it was downstairs at the Little Man Coffee bar that I saw “Five Green Bottles”, a new play which started out as a dark take on the 1960s sexual revolution and got still darker; it’s a piece which certainly deserves to be seen again.

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Thursday, May 31, 2018

"Solo" / "Mydidae" / "Peacekeeping"

Recent reviewing assignments included a double-bill of new short operas in the Ffresh Restaurant at the Wales Millennium Centre, “Peacekeeping” / “The Filmmaker And The Organ Trader”, which made up in musical inventiveness for what they lacked in narrative subtlety. Rather more involving was “Mydidae”, Jack Thorne’s intense drama about a troubled relationship, set entirely in a bathroom, presented by OtherLife, a company working out of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, at The Other Room – traumatic and compelling.

"Mydidae" (photo: Jack Willingham)

Being only a lukewarm follower of the “Star Wars” franchise, I went to see “Solo – A Star Wars Story” as a fan of sci-fi cinema generally. It’s the relatively straightforward tale of how Alden Ehrenreich’s young Han Solo develops from low-level thief to a slightly-higher-grade space pirate, picking up a surname, a furry friend, and some romantic cynicism along the way. Director Ron Howard (who replaced the “Lego Movie” team of Lord and Miller) reliably provides high-tech action and humour, and the story benefits from the absence of the mysticism and mythology of the series proper, although the shadow of The Empire is ever-present. As ever, the inevitable shoot-em-up sequences test the attention-span; but the film as a whole is more than entertaining enough.

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Friday, May 04, 2018

ScriptDawg / "The Effect" / "The Play That Goes Wrong" / Finch & Keita

My big event of the past few weeks was my short play, “Nerd”, being presented by the good people of ScriptDawg at AJ’s Coffee Bar in Cardiff, alongside the amusing and aptly named “Chitterlings” by Leah Byrne, as part of “An Evening With Pigs”. My play, a monologue inspired by the on-going sexual abuse/exploitation scandal which has hit Hollywood and elsewhere and inspired the #metoo movement, was given a pitch-perfect performance by Chris Pegler-Lambert, as a British film producer reflecting on his own behaviour. One hopes the story will continue.
The director, Allan Neve, is also working as assistant director on “The Effect” at The Other Room, Lucy Prebble’s play set in a lab where anti-depression medication is being tested, and two subjects struggle to ascertain whether their mutual attraction is natural or chemically induced; a powerful production of a piece which manages to both ridiculously clever and emotionally involving. Also very clever, but largely in terms of stage mechanics, was another review assignment - the touring production of worldwide success “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the New Theatre; taking the form of a disastrous amateur theatre production of a 1920s murder mystery, it’s very funny - a masterpiece of comic timing and set design.
"The Effect" (photo: Kieran Cudlip)
Most recently, there was my brother’s gift of a rare visit to St David’s Hall, to see the inspired pairing of legendary Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora-player Seckou Keita. The melding of two apparently disparate folk traditions was almost seamless, although, stylistically, it largely seemed to favour the Celtic side of the equation, although with more rhythmic colour. Their take on Bach’s Goldberg Variations was particularly breath-taking. Finch, wearing an extravagantly punky black wig, since she is currently undergoing medical treatment, seemed in high spirits and her playing was flawless, as was Keita’s – his brief lesson in kora technique was fascinating. They were briefly joined by another huge name in roots music circles – support act Gwyneth Glyn, whose more traditional take on folk (her own band including veteran musician and producer Dylan Fowler) was also very affecting. And it was a pleasure to be reminded once more of the marvellous acoustics in that venue. A magical couple of hours.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Ghost Stories" / "Sirens" / "Tremor"

I didn’t get to see the acclaimed stage production of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s “Ghost Stories”, but reports were that it combined elements of their excellent other work (“The League Of Gentlemen”, Derren Brown) to satisfyingly chilling effect. The film adaptation is perhaps less successful, since the kind of scares which are thrillingly rare on-stage are commonplace in the cinema. The plot sees Nyman’s professional debunker of psychic phenomena challenged to investigate three inexplicable spooky events, giving it a “Dead Of Night”-style portmanteau structure. The acting (Nyman, Marin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther) is impeccable, and the visuals are highly atmospheric; but the whole thing is rather slow, and the thinness of the individual plot-lines sets us up for a denouement which is somewhat predictable. Still, it’s more than scary enough to deter night-time viewings.
I attended “Sirens”, one of the events in the Performances For The Curious season at the Wales Millennium Centre. This was a presentation, by Leeway Productions, of new songs developed with participants in their “10-Minute Musicals” scheme, as well as through a recent song-writing workshop with Amy Wadge. Working with a broadly female-positive theme, the songwriters, most of whom also performed, were a varied bunch (e.g. actor Huw Blainey, hip-hop performance poet Rufus Mufasa, 14 year-old Myah Freeman, Elis Walker from the band Mellt), the material ranging from the heartfelt to the humorous; an entertaining and heartening 90 minutes or so.
"Tremor" (photo: Mark Douet)

My latest theatre reviewing assignment was Brad Birch’s “Tremor” at the Sherman – about a former couple interrogating the implications of a traumatic incident in their shared past. Well performed, but perhaps not entirely successful in its attempts to drag contemporary politics into a relationship drama.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2018

"Ready Player One" / "Inheriting Gods" / "All But Gone"

Not being a video-games aficionado I initially had no interest in seeing “Ready Player One”. However, given the good reviews, and the proven story-telling acumen of Steven Spielberg, I figured, correctly as it turned out, that it would at least be a visually stimulating experience. The story involves the inter-connectedness between a hellish real world of high-rise trailer-park slums, and a CGI realm of 3D gaming with real-life consequences. There is a quest, involving a group of “virtual” friends, led by Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke, seeking a set of keys which will allow them to take control of their universe and impeded by the villainous Ben Mendelsohn. It’s all very entertaining, with echoes of “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory”, plentiful positive undertones (inclusivity, little people rising up against The Man, the rise of the geeks), too many clever 1980s movie references to take in, and some good jokes. I suspect it won’t live long in the memory, however.

"Ready Player One" (Warner Bros)

My most recent theatre-reviewing assignments were Carmen Stephens’ likeable “Inheriting Gods” at Chapter, a two-hander about a Welsh girl on holiday in America making friends with a native American youth, and both of them reconnecting with their ancestors’ legacies; and the latest at The Other Room: Matthew Trevannions’s “All But Gone”, all about small-town relationships and life-long regrets – very emotional.

"Inheriting Gods" (photo: Kirsten McTernan)
"All But Gone" (photo: Kieran Cudlip)

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