Blakeson - Writer

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

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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Sunday, March 18, 2018

"Cannonballista" / "Richard III Redux"

My most recent reviewing assignments have been two contrasting one-woman shows. The first, “Cannonballista” at the Sherman, from Bristol-based performer Liz Clarke sees her creating a flamboyant, burlesque-style alter-ego to aid in creativity and facing the world – obviously, an age-old idea, but executed with great charm.

Cannonballista (Photo: Paul Blakemore)

And then came “richard III redux OR ‘Sara Beer (is/not) richard III’” at Chapter, an inventive deconstruction of depictions of Shakespeare’s fictionalised villain, put together by Beer and Kaite O’Reilly, from the starting point that the actress is affected by the same curvature of the spine as the historic Richard Plantagenet – funny, informative and a powerful statement about inclusivity (although Antony Sher gets a bit of a kicking).
Sara Beer (Photo: Panoptic Photography)

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Fio Declaration / "Black Panther"

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks working on a project with Fio, entitled “Declaration” – aimed at helping to increase diversity in Welsh theatre. Aside from being given some personal voice coaching from legendary actress Cathy Tyson, the highlight was the final evening, where three short plays by B.A.M.E. writers were presented at the Sherman Theatre, one written by actor Connor Allen and directed by me. My experience is detailed more fully in a piece I wrote for Arts Scene In Wales, but basically, it was valuable, enjoyable and occasionally highly stressful.

Despite my growing aversion to superhero films, I went to see Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther”, conscious of its being a cultural landmark, as a mainstream Hollywood film with a mostly black cast, and a focus on Afro-centrism. Basically the tale of the struggle for control over vibranium, an alien element which has made the small African kingdom of Wakanda secretly potent, its massive success is a testament to how much its message of brotherhood and empowerment was needed. The cast is remarkable, and apart from the “Yonder lies the castle of my father” tone to some of the dialogue, it is very well executed. Unfortunately, I’m pretty much immune to the fast-moving CGI slickness which is an essential component of the popular appeal of films from the Marvel universe. Thus, while I wholeheartedly applaud the achievement, I have to confess that it didn’t grab me emotionally.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Terra Firma" / "A Number" / "Woman Of Flowers" / "The Commuter" / "The Shape Of Water"

My first reviewing assignment of the year was National Dance Theatre Wales three-part “Terra Firma” at the Sherman – a welcome chance to see two pieces I’ve seen before – “Folk” and the beautiful “Tundra”, alongside the recently-developed “Atalay”. Obviously, I’m no expert in dance, but there’s plenty there, in terms of grace and skill to delight the non-aficionado.
My second was the first in the new season at The Other Room – Caryl Churchill’s “A Number”, in which a father encounters cloned versions of his adult son. A very clever and involving two-hander, handled with great assurance.
And most recently, there was Theatr Pena’s “Woman of Flowers” at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – Sion Eirian’s take on Saunders Lewis’ adaptation of the story of Blodeuwedd, from the Mabinogion – a rare chance to see some pleasingly weird classical Welsh theatre in English.
Sara Gregory in "Woman Of Flowers" (photo: Holly McCarthy)
I wouldn’t normally have gone to see a Liam Neeson action feature in the cinema, but “The Commuter” is notable for featuring my niece, Ella-Rae Smith, in what turns out (spoiler alert) to be an important role. The story of a recently unemployed salesman (and former cop) who is bribed/blackmailed by criminals to track down an associate on a commuter train, it’s very slickly directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; and Neeson is more charming than he’s allowed to be in his “Taken” guise. And, of course, Ella is excellent.
 “The Shape of Water”, Guillermo del Toro’s latest film is a fable of connection and outsiderdom, featuring a magical lead performance from Sally Hawkins. She plays Elisa, a mute cleaner, in a U.S. government facility in 1960s Baltimore, who becomes entranced by a new acquisition – a sea-creature captured in South America, the study of whose biology would impact on Man’s ability to breathe in space. The period detail is impeccable, as are the performances – Michael Shannon as the saturnine bad guy, Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s gentle, gay neighbour, and Octavia Spencer as her feisty friend and work-colleague.  It doesn’t break any new ground thematically, but it tells an age-old story with great style and sensitivity, and is well deserving of all the awards and nominations which are coming its way.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

"Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri"

As any writer will attest, it’s the easiest thing in the world to come up with an eye-catching premise; it’s quite another to weave a compelling story from it. In “Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri”, a woman puts up said notices in order to highlight what she believes is police ineptitude in investigating the horrific rape and murder of her daughter several months earlier. The fact that the story develops in a deeply involving and not entirely predictable manner is a testament to the genius of writer-director Martin McDonagh.
"Three Billboards..." (Blueprint Pictures)
The lead role of Mildred Hayes is a gift for Frances McDormand, all coldly righteous fury mingled with grim wit, but this is only one of several laudably complex characterisations; most controversially, Sam Rockwell, playing a laughably unpleasant idiot cop who just may be good at his job. Woody Harrelson does excellent work as the embattled police chief; indeed the entire supporting cast is given the opportunity to dig deep, mining humour and pathos from subtly written archetypes (e.g. Peter Dinklage’s unhappy town dwarf, John Hawkes as Mildred’s violent ex-husband, Samara Weaving as his “bimbo” girlfriend).

This is a film about the deleterious and sometimes energising effect of grief and guilt, which also prompts one to reflect on the nature of goodness and justice. As well as serving us a good few narrative curveballs, McDonagh also makes exemplary use of the bleached, Southern landscape, natural beauty co-existing uneasily with human misery and drabness. 
Three Billboards…” is a powerfully told, compassionate, brutally beautiful film whose emotional impact lingers long after the credits roll.

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Sunday, January 07, 2018

"Treasure Island" / "The Last Jedi"

I ended 2017 in my home town of Stoke-on-Trent, as usual, and persuaded my mother to accompany me to the New Victoria Theatre to see their Christmas production, following on from last year’s “The Snow Queen”. This was Theresa Heskins’ rambunctious take of R.L. Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”, featuring some mild gender-tweaking, and plenty of rock-inflected music. Since we were up in the balcony in this theatre in the round, some of the ground-level action was inevitably lost to view, but the ship-board setting ensured plenty of swinging in the rigging. A large, multi-talented ensemble, too, with most of the cast also playing in the band. Jolly fun, with inevitable hints of bleakness.
"Treasure Island"

My first film of 2018 was the latest in the Star Wars canon – “The Last Jedi”. As a non-devotee, I just about managed to keep track of goings-on in terms of the struggle between the brutally autocratic largely black-clad, Caucasian First Order and the multi-ethnic, proletarian rebels. Director Rian Johnson copes well with the spectacular, space-battle aspects of the story-telling, his script full of pomposity-deflating humour. Some of the acting is inevitably one-dimensional, given the narrow focus of the characters’ various journeys, but Adam Driver impresses as the conflicted Kylo Ren; Benicio Del Toro also benefits from a darkly ambivalent role. As the middle film in a trilogy, it inevitably leaves us hanging, but it’s a solid piece of work.

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