Blakeson - Writer

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

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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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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