Blakeson - Writer

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

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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Friday, March 03, 2017

Wales Theatre Awards 2017 / Video Portfolio

I attended the Wales Theatre Awards last weekend - held, for the first time, at the Taliesin Theatre on the campus of Swansea University - and wrote it up for the British Theatre Guide. As ever, it was a lively and well-attended event with a celebratory mood in the auditorium, and a wide range of work highlighted across all the genres. Personally, I was pleased to see Cardiff's The Other Room get four awards, and Hijinx win Best Ensemble for "Meet Fred". And the Special Achievement Award went to legendary Welsh tenor Dennis O'Neill, who seemed suitably surprised and delighted.


"Meet Fred" (Hijinx)


Prior to that, I took a useful Cult Cymru training workshop in the use of Wordpress, which enabled me to create a video portfolio page to showcase my short films. Jolly fun.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Sinners Club" / "Flash"

My latest theatre-reviewing assignments are both singular, musically-oriented pieces of work. 

First up was “Sinners Club” from Gagglebabble at The Other Room, written and composed by, and starring the ridiculously talented Lucy Rivers. It places the audience in the studio as a concept album on the theme of the sad life of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain (who happened to have been born in Wales) is being recorded – highly innovative and heartfelt.

Lucy Rivers (photo: Kieran Cudlip)
The other was a work-in-progress by Morgan Thomas, staged at the University of South Wales: “Flash” which uses his fan-dom of Freddie Mercury’s Queen to reflect, in an apparently shambolic manner, on mental health issues. A fascinating project, and one which looks likely to develop further in the months to come.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

"T2: Trainspotting"

I was probably too old and non-druggy to identify over-much with Danny Boyle’s original adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting”; I simply recognised it as a powerfully significant cinematic achievement. Obviously, when the sequel was announced, I feared the worst, such ventures seldom going well. I need not have worried, however – the sure hand and visual inventiveness of Danny Boyle, not to mention John Hodge’s gifts as a screenwriter, the narrative richness of the source material and a remarkable cast have ensured that a “Gregory’s Two Girls”-style disappointment is avoided by some distance.

The plot of “T2:Trainspotting” involves the return of Ewan MacGregor’s apparently sorted Renton to his home town of Edinburgh, 20 years after abandoning his friends, having let them down badly. The ensuing events involve the varied reactions of Ewen Bremner’s hapless Spud, Johnny Lee Miller’s scheming Sickboy and the psychopathic Begbie, played by Robert Carlyle, who pretty much steals the film; while Veronika, Sickboy’s East European girlfriend (Anjela Nedyalkova) looks on in bemusement.

The film is about nostalgia, and regret and the pull of home, not to mention the problem of coming to terms with a disappointing middle age. Boyle gives us brief, telling images of the first film (occasionally to confusing effect, not helped by the fact that MacGregor and Miller hardly look older than they did in 1996), as well as making full use of his box of cinematographic tricks. The music of Young Fathers is cleverly threaded throughout the soundtrack, multiculturalism being part of the new subtext.

T2…” is a more than worthy successor to the epoch-making original.

"T2: Trainspotting" (Sony)

My most recent theatre reviewing assignments have been two wildly contrasting one-person shows: Conor Mitchell’s “The Moot Virginity of Catherine of Aragon” – an avant-garde musical meditation on the life of Henry VIII’s first wife; and “A Regular Little Houdini”, written and performed by Daniel Llewelyn-Williams, and set in his home town of Newport in the early part of the 20th century. Each fascinating in its own way, but aimed at entirely different audiences.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

"La La Land" / "The Snow Queen"

Damien Chazelle’s third feature, “La La Land” starts as it means to go on, with an unashamedly lavish song and dance set-piece taking place in a Los Angeles traffic jam, immediately succeeded by a brief, surly encounter between the two characters who eventually turn out to be the principals: Emma Stone’s Mia, an aspiring actress, and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, an intense jazz pianist, who is something of a purist.
A slow-burning romance ensues, with the magical moments played out as classic widescreen movie musical numbers, enhanced by 21st century CGI. As the relationship progresses, however, the staging becomes more prosaic.
The theme of the piece is the importance of chasing one’s dreams, and the inevitable disappointments and compromises which one has to encounter; although in Sebastian’s case, the compromise involves a lucrative job in a pop/soul combo with old friend Keith (John Legend). Mia’s journey has a few more bumps in the road, but somehow one is never convinced that she is a failure-in-waiting.
Stone’s apparently effortless likeability is the film’s main selling-point, her open features regularly filling the screen; her soul-destroying audition scenes are particularly tense. Gosling’s character is more of a closed book, although it’s good to see him essaying light comedy, and his keyboard skills (mimed or otherwise) are impressive.
The overall impression is of experiencing a contemporary Broadway musical, complete with not-quite-memorable tunes. Technically, the film is a significant achievement, however, and it certainly hits home emotionally, the ending being especially clever.
La La Land” is beautifully realised, and worthy of all the awards buzz, falling short only because it skimps on the darkness.
 
"La La Land"

My hometown Christmas treat this year was “The Snow Queen” at the New Victoria Theatre in Newcastle-Under-Lyme (shamefully, my first visit in many years). This boasted a surprisingly large ensemble (compared to Cardiff productions), with many cast-members also part of the on-stage band in Theresa Heskins’ take on the Hans Christian Anderson classic. There were hints of Miss Havisham in the title character, folksy, Brecht-Weil-tinged songs, and a bit of a science-fiction spin at the denouement. Very enjoyable.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Festive Theatre 2016

Obviously, the highlight of the past few weeks has to be the Pixies gig as reviewed in my previous post. There have also been a few theatre trips, though:

Most recently was an unlikely double-bill; “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the very likeable Christmas show for under-sevens at The Sherman; and, in the evening, “OTUS”, an intriguing hybrid dance/circus piece from Company Oliveira & Bachtler in the Dance House at the Wales Millennium Centre.
"The Emperor's New Clothes" (photo: Kirsten McTernan)


Looking further back, there was “Some People Talk About Violence”, from Midlands-based Barrel Organ at The Other Room; the Sherman’s Christmas show for over-sevens, “The Borrowers”; the dreamy and tragic “Light Waves, Dark Skies” from We Made This at Chapter; and “Looking Through Glass”, the none-more-dark festive offering from difficultstage, once more at The Other Room.


"Looking Through Glass" (photo: Kieran Cudlip)
All very stimulating, but frustrating, for obvious career reasons.

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