Blakeson - Writer

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"Jamais Vu" / "R.A.T.S." / "Flowers" / "The Tempest"

A remarkably mixed bag of theatrical experiences in the last couple of weeks.

Up first was the frankly, barking mad, but promising “Jamais Vu (Brexit Means Brexit)”, an angry, experimental music theatre piece from Weeping Tudor, performed in front of a very small audience in a function room at the Wales Millennium Centre. I returned to that venue a few days laters (on Champions League Final night) to see a showing of Kyle Legall’s long-gestating “RATS – Rose Against The System” in the roof-space; a lively, colourful metaphorical reflection on the tension between old and new Cardiff Bay.

A few days later, at Chapter, young company Big Loop presented “Flowers”, ostensibly featuring two immature young men messing around in a florist’s, but developing into something more profound – a suitably multi-layered diversion for Election Night. And, most recently, the latest outdoor Shakespeare production from inclusive company Taking Flight – “The Tempest” in Thompson’s Park; highly accomplished and accessible (in at least two senses of the word).


 
Steph Back in "The Tempest" (photo: Jorge Lizalde)

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

"How My Light Is Spent" / "Last Days Of Judas Iscariot" / "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol, 2"

A recent reviewing assignment was “How My Light Is Spent” the latest play by Alan Harris, and one of the winners of the Bruntwood Prize in 2015. It is the Newport-set tale of the developing relationship between a recently unemployed man, played by Rhodri Meilir, who feels that he is literally disappearing, and Alexandria Riley’s phone-sex worker, who is also floundering. Both actors also take on the roles of other, equally lost supporting characters, in this funny and poignant piece. Another co-producing triumph for the Sherman Theatre.

"How My Light Is Spent" (photo: Jonathan Keenan)

Most recently, I had the chance to review one of the end-of-year productions from the Richard Burton Company at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – “Last Days Of Judas Iscariot” by New York playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis. Given the size of the cast, and the combination of a serious religious theme and a profanely comic tone, it hasn’t been professionally produced as often as it might have, so I was grateful for the opportunity to see it. Doubtless amongst the excellent company there were actors I will one day boast about having in the same room as.


I only went to see the first “Guardians Of The Galaxy” film some weeks into its cinema release, struck by its surprise success, and found it charming, if nonsensical. The second film in James Gunn’s series makes even less sense, involving as it does, Kurt Russell turning up as Chris Pratt’s alien father, who is actually a planet (or something), and Pratt’s gang of misfits being chased across the universe by a gold-painted Elisabeth Debicki after stealing some batteries. It was good to see a beefed up role for Karen Gillan, however, as Zoe Saldana’s understandably bitter sister; and the whole thing is colourfully entertaining, and full of Python-esque self-undercutting humour.



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Thursday, May 04, 2017

"twenty16" / "My Country; a work in progress"

By some strange coincidence, the last two plays I’ve been to review are both self-proclaimed “state of the nation” pieces.

First, there was “twenty-16”, at Chapter, in which a number of young people from Ystradgynlais, guided by professional theatre-makers, presented a performance which looked at how they saw both their lives and the world as a whole, from the vantage-point of being sixteen years old. Very entertaining and moving, and quite heartening.

At the other end of the scale, in terms of international prestige, was the touring production of “My Country; a work in progress”, at the Sherman; the National Theatre’s response to the U.K.’s vote to leave the E.U., developed by listening to voters and asking Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy to shape their interview responses into a narrative. Not nearly as dry as one might have expected, and full of celebratory moments, but every bit as incoherent (perhaps intentionally) as the actual public debate involving actual politicians.


 
"My Country..." (Photo: Sarah Lee)

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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

"Moonlight"

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.
"Moonlight"
Heartening, inspirational and unexpectedly optimistic, “Moonlight” is fully deserving of all the acclaim it has received.


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