Blakeson - Writer

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

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Edinburgh Fringe Shows / Homeless World Cup

This is the time of year when all theatrical activity ceases everywhere except in Edinburgh, so I thought I might as well flag up my reviews of those productions I’ve seen in Cardiff which are playing on the Festival Fringe – all of them solo shows, as it happens.

Carys Eleri’s multimedia take on love and loneliness, “Lovecraft” returns, last year’s run having been curtailed due to a bereavement; National Theatre Wales are showcasing two of their N.H.S. monologues, including Rachel Trezise’s abortion-themed “Cotton Fingers”; Dirty Protest are offering Sian Owen’s Newport odyssey “How To Be Brave”; Jonny Cotsen muses on his experience of a lifetime of deafness in “Louder Is Not Always Clearer”; and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama are bringing Benjamin McCann’s apocalyptic “Grit”. There’s also a non-Welsh show which played at The Other Room: “Laurie Black – Space Cadette”.

Carys Eleri (Photo - Kirsten McTernan)
Meanwhile, in Cardiff, the Homeless World Cup, backed spiritual and financially by Welsh actor Michael Sheen has been happening, which was well worth popping down to see in the city’s Bute Park, whether to check out the four-a-side sporting action, or other events, including musical entertainment in the evening. On Thursday, I managed to see the much-acclaimed relative indie newcomers Mellt, who were very impressive; as well as one of the finest bands ever to come out of Wales, The Joy Formidable, led by charismatic guitar heroine Ritzy, who mentioned that they were marking their tenth anniversary. Some very powerful, emotional songs, anchored by some jazz-tinged bass-playing; with the genial mood enhanced by the rabble-rousing drummer. Lovely stuff.

The Joy Formidable (with Michael Sheen side of stage)

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

"Kinky Boots" / "Grit"

Still running, as I write, at the Wales Millennium Centre is “Kinky Boots”, the Broadway/West End hit stopping off as part of an extensive U.K tour. This tale of a struggling Northampton shoe-making factory which saves itself by starting to cater to the drag queen market features a dazzling central performance from Kayi Ushe as Lola (aka Simon), and a mercifully non-musical-theatre-esque song score by Cyndi Lauper. And without getting bogged down in debate, Harvey Fierstein’s script provokes discussion about the nature of masculinity.

Kayi Ushe in "Kinky Boots" (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

The night after seeing this, I went to a preview of a show at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of scale – a one-man play on a post-apocalyptic theme, which is being taken to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. “Grit”, written and performed by Benjamin McCann, is a highly accomplished production – it will be interesting to see how the Edinburgh run goes.

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Monday, July 15, 2019

"A Prayer For Wings" / Garbage

Last week, I paid a rare visit to Swansea, to see West End/Broadway director Sean Mathias’ production of the play which kick-started his career in the mid-1980s, “A PrayerFor Wings”, performed in his home town for the first time, at the Volcano Theatre. The play itself was beautifully performed, and stood up very well, but one was inevitably distracted by the presence of Sir Ian McKellen and Frances Barber supporting their old friend in that intimate, rough-and-ready space; Kevin Allen who played the male role in the original Edinburgh production was also in attendance.

"A Prayer For Wings" production team (photo: Swansea Grand Theatre)

Sunday night saw a long-awaited event – the visit of Garbage to Cardiff, several years after a previous date was cancelled when the band went on hiatus. In support, in the Great Hall at the Students’ Union, was DuBlonde, featuring guitar heroine Beth Jeans Houghton leading a classic rock trio with a stripped-down, sensitively punky set, mostly comprising new material; and she even manned the merch stall during the interval.

The headliners were in imperious form, singer Shirley Manson in chatty mood as she admitted being more at ease playing in a relatively intimate space than during other recent shows. With the augmented classic line-up missing only drummer and super-producer Butch Vig (rotator cuff injury), the set focussed on the  second album “Version 2.0”, the current tour marking the 20th anniversary re-release; but newer songs such as “Blood For Poppies” got an airing, as well as classic early singles “Vow”, “Only Happy When It Rains” and “Stupid Girl”. One forgets how massive Garbage were in the 1990s, with the world ready for a female-oriented, electronica-inflected take on grunge, and Manson is certainly an authoritative but somehow relatable frontwoman. This was a propulsive, 80-minute set, and I felt the absence of some of their more poignant songs (“Cup Of Coffee” excepted), but it was rounded off with an ironic encore of “When I Grow Up”, delighting a crowd many of whom were not in the first flush of youth.

The show provided a fittingly feverish end to a day of remarkable televised sport (England’s men winning the Cricket World Cup; Djokovic beating Federer in the longest ever Wimbledon final).

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Wednesday, July 03, 2019

"Yesterday" / "Seen" at The Other Room

Richard Curtis is adept at spinning an entire comedy screenplay out of a one-line idea. “Yesterday” is his latest, based on the idea that after a freak, worldwide power-outage, only one person – failing singer-songwriter Jack Malick, played by Himesh Patel – is able to remember that the Beatles exist, and is thus in a position to pass their classic songs off as his own. Patel is charmingly dorkish and even Ed Sheeran is effective in a cameo (as himself), but the heart of the film is Lily James as Malick’s (inexplicably single) friend/manager. There are plentiful cheesy moments, and the premise isn’t fully explored (perhaps because this would complicate things hugely), but the whole thing is lifted by director Danny Boyle’s trademark visual flourishes. “Yesterday” is really all about the love and power of music, though, and it is this spirit which elevates it into feel-good territory.
"Yesterday" poster
I got the chance to get some more theatre-directing practice this past weekend, working on a short piece by Mike Leitch for an evening of readings, under the “Seen” banner at The Other Room Theatre. In collaboration with young actors Geri McNamara, Robin Harper and T.O.R.’s Nerida Bradley, I think we managed to make the most of an emotionally resonant script, one of diverse trio of shorts (the others being by Nicholas Currie and Claire Boot) which played, as it turned out, to a full house, which was very gratifying.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Tafwyl / Tate Modern

Every year, Cardiff hosts a festival called Tafwyl, which is a celebration of Welsh-language culture. I paid my first visit this year, but as someone with only a smattering of Cymraeg, made it easy on myself by restricting myself to the Saturday night concert. Thus, I caught some melodic indie-rock from Yr Eira, a bit of smooth electro-pop from H.M.S. Morris (whom I saw a few years ago, supporting Songhoy Blues), and most of the enjoyably anthemic set by Candelas, a band with which I was previously unfamiliar, but who obviously have a large, enthusiastic following.

Candelas at Tafwyl

The next day, I paid one of my irregular visits to London, this time to experience the inspirational Tate Modern Museum as a birthday treat. As always, the exposure to a universe of ideas expressed with love, intelligence and commitment was humbling and overwhelming. This time round, Cildo Meireles’ “Babel”, a tower made of old-fashioned radios, made a big impression; as did Yinka Shonibares’ room-sized installation “The British Library”, comprising a display of hundreds of lavishly bound books, celebrating the contribution of immigrants to this nation. The “Magic Realism” exhibition of work from Weimar Germany was also striking. The whole experience is like taking a holiday in other people’s minds. The gift-shops are also good.

London skyline seen from Tate Modern

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Friday, June 14, 2019

"Cotton Fingers" / "Twelve Cabins..."

In the past couple of years, National Theatre Wales has received some criticism for their apparent reluctance to stage actual plays in actual theatres, as well as for a perception that they weren’t doing enough with the public money with which they have been entrusted. Thus, it was good to be part of a full house in the Arena at the Sherman, to see Rachel Trezise’s “Cotton Fingers”, a monologue first performed over three nights last year in West Wales as part of the company’s celebration of 70 years of the National Health Service. In it, Amy Molloy engagingly plays a young woman from West Belfast, forced to travel to Wales for the termination of an unwanted pregnancy. A much-needed reminder of continuing struggles.
Amy Molloy (photo: Craig Fuller)

Most recently, at Chapter, I saw “Twelve Cabins Twelve Vacancies”, a show spinning off from the fact that director/performer Chris Durnall’s father died on the same night that Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” premiered on U.K television (in 1968), and the effect that this connection may have consciously or sub-consciously had on his subsequent life. Intriguing, especially for film nerds.

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Thursday, May 30, 2019


Elton John’s remarkable work in the early 1970s has been somewhat overshadowed by his subsequent “tantrums and tiaras” public image. Thus it is a relief to report that while Dexter Fletcher’s bio-pic “Rocketman”, co-produced by Elton, is an all-out musical extravaganza, complete with dance routines and hallucinogenic fantasy sequences, it also pays due homage to his musicianship.

It starts as it means to go on, with Taron Egerton’s Elton, dressed in demonesque red costume, striding into rehab, finally facing up to his issues; and goes on to detail his upbringing, with a distant father (Steven Mackintosh), warmish mother (Bryce Dallas Howard with an impeccable accent), and encouraging grandmother (Gemma Jones); early entry into the Royal Academy of Music; life as a touring soul musician; and pivotal relationships with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), music publisher Dick James (a hilariously profane Stephen Graham) and cynical manager and lover John Reid (Richard Madden).

Elton’s sexuality is front and centre, his torment over being gay – or rather, other people’s attitudes towards it – leading to isolation and substance abuse. Throughout, his songs, imaginatively and respectfully arranged by Giles Martin, comment on the action, with little respect played to chronology (e.g. the relatively recent “I Need Love” soundtracks a heartbreaking childhood moment). Lee Hall’s script is sharp, funny and cleverly structured, with only occasional moments of cheesiness (and unavoidable rewriting of history – Long John Baldry doesn’t even get a look-in).

Taron Egerton as Elton John
The film belongs to Egerton, however; his Elton is often petulant and self-pitying, but resolute in his determination to hide the shy Reg Dwight behind multiple flamboyant onstage personas. Fletcher’s film deftly and triumphantly walks the fine line between crowd-pleasing entertainment and merciless character study.

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