Blakeson - Writer

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

"The Last Five Years" / "Saturday Night Fever" / "Cheer" / "Frankenstein"

The big cultural news at the moment, locally, is the cancellation, through a bizarre set of circumstances, of the Wales Theatre Awards, about which it would be unwise to pontificate in public. This, added to continuing criticism of National Theatre Wales (I was lucky enough to be one of a group of writers who met with the Arts Council of Wales to discuss this very issue a few weeks ago), seems to paint a picture of a toxic atmosphere. There does seem, however, to be a great deal of solidarity amongst artists, which can only be a good sign in terms of future developments.
In terms of actual theatre-going, I’ve seen two musicals set in New York at the Wales Millennium Centre in the past few weeks: firstly, Leeway Productions’ bold reinvention of Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway doomed-relationship drama “The Last Five Years” as a piece inclusive of deaf performers (and audiences), exploiting the theme of mis-communication; and a lavish touring version of “Saturday Night Fever”, with all the grit of the original film, but the Bee Gees music intact.
"Saturday Night Fever" (photo: Pamela Raith)

My first festive show of the season was “Cheer”, from Big Loop at The Other Room – a clever, Orwellian take on Christmas. Then came Cascade Dance Theatre’s “Frankenstein” at Chapter – an exploration of the themes of Mary Shelley’s original, boasting some startling imagery and an excellent, largely electronic score played live.
"Cheers" (photo: Tess Seymour)

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Thursday, November 08, 2018

October 2018 etc

Again, much theatre-going in the past few weeks – largely themed around female talent, as it happened. There was Alan Harris’ “This Incredible Life” at Chapter, starring Welsh legend Sharon Morgan as a feisty former journalist afflicted by dementia; two touring productions at The Other Room – Isley Lynn’s startlingly frank, vaginismus-oriented “Skin A Cat”, and “Lands”, from Antler Theatre, a friendship-themed comedy-drama with a clever trampoline motif; Street” and “Izzy’s Manifestos a double-bill of monologues by Susan Monkton and Kevin Jones at A.J.’s Coffee House; and, on a somewhat more epic scale, the all-female version Nigel Williams’ adaptation of William Golding’s “Lord Of The Flies” at the Sherman.
"Lord Of The Flies" (photo: Sam Taylor)
Added to this, there was Alun Saunders’ “Tuck”, a musical drama about mental health issues amongst the drag-queen community, which kicked off the latest Performances For The Curious season at the Wales Millennium Centre; plus, again at the The Other Room another Kevin Jones play, the darkly nostalgic (well, 1990s) “Cardiff Boy”, which is turning out to be one of the most-praised productions of the year. Then there was National Dance Company Wales’ “Roots” at the W.M.C.’s Dance House – three short pieces intended to provide a painless introduction to contemporary ballet.
"Cardiff Boy" (photo: Kirsten McTernan)
The biennial Artes Mundi Prize has returned to the National Museum of Wales. This time round, it comprises two video installations (Bouchra Khalili’s take on Jean Genet’s supportive visit to see the Black Panthers in 1970; a fairly static piece by Apichatpong Weerasethakul; two 3D installations (Anna Boghiguian’s reflections on the steel industry; a tapestry twinned with a circular metal construction from Otobong Nkanga), and what I found the most immediately appealing exhibit – Trevor Paglen’s photography which finds ironic beauty in defence/aerospace technology.
The Made in Roath Festival was also taking place – I was lucky enough to be part of a well-attended Roathbud screening of short films, with “The Good Girl”.
There have also been a couple of visits to the cinema. I was impressed and moved by the latest remake of “A Star Is Born”, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut (he also co-wrote the screenplay and some of the songs, and stars, of course). The style is quite cine-verité, and he and Lady Gaga are both highly convincing as Jackson, the alcoholic country-rock star on the skids, and Ally, the struggling, insecure club singer with whom he hooks up. There are some excellent supporting turns, especially from Sam Elliot as Jackson’s much older half-brother. The musical performances are believable as well, with Jackson’s rootsy “authenticity” cleverly contrasted with Ally’s shift from earnestness into choreographed commercial pop. Inevitably, there are few surprises in terms of narrative, but it still hits home, emotionally.

I also went to see Steve McQueen’s “Widows”, his adaptation of the 1980s’ TV series which I never saw) about the wives of slain robbers carrying out a heist. Stylishly done, if a little slow to begin with, with a script which deftly (but unsubtly) links organised crime with urban power politics. Some excellent performances, too, led by powerhouse Viola Davis, but with Elizabeth Debicki luminous as an abused woman finally finding herself, and Daniel Kaluuya as an extremely unpleasant bad guy.

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Sunday, September 30, 2018

"And Suddenly I Disappear" / "35 Times" / "The Awkward Years" / "Vincent River" / "Let's Talk About Death, Baby" / "La Traviata" / NTW Letter

Another amusing month of theatre-reviewing, starting with Kaite O’Reilly’s “And Suddenly I Disappear” at Chapter, a multimedia disquisition on attitudes towards disability, taking in both the U.K and Singapore; a trip to Newport to see the touring revival of Mercury Theatre Wales’ “35 Times”, taking on marital abuse; Matthew Bulgo’s “The Awkward Years” at The Other Room, featuring an excellent solo performance from Lauren O’Leary as a young woman on the verge of self-destruction; the unfamiliar location of Jacobs Antiques Market to catch Philip Ridley’s surprisingly conventional tale of homophobic violence, “Vincent River”; back to Chapter for “Dick Johns – Let’s Talk About Death, Baby”, the sort-of sequel to his “What Mid-Life Crisis” show from 2016; and most spectacularly, the Welsh National Opera’s re-staging of their first ever show at the Wales Millennium Centre, Verdi’s “La Traviata” – a rare chance to see a popular classical opera in a period setting.

"The Awkward Years" (photo: Kirsten McTernan)
Added to this, I was one of the signatories of an open letter to National Theatre Wales, questioning their work-rate and artistic policies, which turned out to be somewhat newsworthy, and may actually have some impact, hopefully positive.

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

"Summer Holiday" / "Let It Be" / "H.O.R.S.E."

I’ve paid two visits to the Wales Millennium Centre in the past couple of weeks, to see and review large-scale touring productions in the Donald Gordon Auditorium. First on the agenda was a revival of the West End adaptation of the Cliff Richard film “Summer Holiday”, with a surprisingly charismatic Ray Quinn in the leading role, and a charmingly ramshackle London bus. The week later came the rebooted Beatles musical, “Let It Be” – not much more than a lavish tribute band performance, but extremely well done, with the songs given due respect.

"Let It Be" (Annerin Productions/Mark Goucher Productions )

In between came “H.O.R.S.E.” at Chapter – a collaboration between performance artist Tim Bromage and magician Joseph Badman, with paranoia and U.S. Government research into paranormal powers as themes – well executed, but falling a little awkwardly between the two disciplines, I felt.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

My Eisteddfod Diary

I managed to pay my first ever visits to a National Eisteddfod this week – being held in Cardiff for the first time since 2008. Unprecedentedly, since this celebration of Welsh language and culture has been taking place at Mermaid Quay in the Bay, there’s no charge to get onto the site itself, and take in the stands, stalls and tents (some cultural, some commercial); although the big events, of course (gigs, contests, plays etc), charge admission.
One of these was Hwn yw fy Mrawd (“This is my Brother”) – a tribute to the legendary African-American singer Paul Robeson, at the Wales Millennium Centre, from the almost as legendary Sir Bryn Terfel, which I had the chance to review. A history lesson/musical, outlining Robeson’s personal and political struggles and his links with Wales (including an appearance at the Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale exactly 60 years ago), there was probably not enough of either Terfel or Robeson on offer for it to be entirely satisfying, but there were many other talented people involved.

Later in the week, I went back to check out some visual art. Firstly there was the display by the Contemporary Arts Society of Wales, in the Pierhead Building, of some historic works by the likes of Ceri Richards and Siani Rhys James. Then I braved the lengthy security queue at the Senedd (the Welsh Assembly Building) to experience the exhibition of new pieces selected for the Eisteddfod; some beautiful stuff, with some striking sculpture, photography and video, but I felt most drawn to the paintings – hazy portraits by Casper White, and James Moore’s work, redolent of surreal film stills.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

"Eczema" / Edinburgh

My most recent theatre reviewing experience provided my first opportunity to experience the acoustics at the B.B.C.’s Hoddinott Hall at the Wales Millennium Centre. This was “Eczema!” –  part of National Theatre Wales season celebrating 70 years of the National Health Service, and a rare Cardiff appearance by the company. A clever collaboration between writer Maria Fusco and composer John Harris, performed by popular actor Rhodri Meilir.

Rhodri Meilir (Photo: National Theatre Wales)

As ever, I won’t be going to the Edinburgh Festival, but at least I’ve managed to see Cardiff productions of a few shows from Wales which will be running on the Fringe, namely “The Flop”, “Tremor” and “Lovecraft”. I will be monitoring reviews with great interest.

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

"Incredibles 2" / "The Flop" / "Flours"

Like all sensible people, I was a huge fan of Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles” (2004 – one forgets that, at the time of its release, the kind of superheroes which it spoofed had not yet taken over the box-offices of the world). Obviously, a sequel is not going to have the same element of surprise, but I was greatly relieved to discover that “Incredibles 2” is every bit as witty and meticulously inventive as its predecessor. Kicking off directly from that film’s conclusion, the narrative sees the fight for superhero rehabilitation taken to the mass media, with Holly Hunter’s Elastigirl given prominence, much to the exasperation of husband Bob (and possibly some of the more Neanderthal members of the fan-base). It’s not quite perfect – some of the action sequences are inevitably impenetrable, and maybe baby Jack-Jack has one or two too many superpowers to keep track of. But it’s a very satisfying experience, and one trusts that, like the original, it will reward multiple viewings.

My most recent theatre reviewing assignments have both been comedies staged at Chapter. “The Flop”, by Hijinx and Spymonkey is a farcial take on tales of 17th century French nobles being taken for court by their wives for impotency; while “Flours”, from Big Loop (a spiritual sequel to that company’s “Flowers”), sees two young women facing up to adult pressures (body image, work, relationships etc), whilst tasked with running a surreal bakery. Widely divergent in tone and intention, but connected by an irreverent focus on sexuality, and both dependent on clownish, physical comedy.

"Flours" (photo: Tess Seymour)

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