Blakeson - Writer

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” is a real treat. It’s a slice-of-London-life comedy-drama starring Sally Hawkins as Poppy, an irrepressibly but not pathologically cheery primary schoolteacher. Given Leigh’s record, it’s hard to watch without the nagging feeling that a bomb’s about to go off at any moment, but the only real darkness comes from the always excellent Eddie Marsan as a deeply disturbed driving instructor. Alexis Zegerman, playing Poppy’s more cynical flatmate, Stanley Townsend as an incoherent derelict, and Karina Fernandez’s flamenco teacher (who gets to play out a classic joke) also score highly. Mercifully, the film is largely free of the whiny, parodic, fake cockney accents which litter many of Leigh’s other works; it’s that rare thing – a feel-good movie which makes one feel good, because it acknowledges negativity and shows people dealing with it.

I managed to get to a few shows in Sherman Cymru’s Springboard/Egin season of New Theatre Writing. The Dirty Protest night was a near sell-out, featuring full performances of outdoors-themed short pieces by Samuel Bees (a poetic story of doomed young love), Tim Price (about a man dealing with his dim, gang-affiliated friend, amongst other tragedies) and Colette Kane, whose Shakespearian take on Notting Hill Carnivalesque medium-jinks was, I felt, the most innovative crowd-pleaser on the night. A couple of days later saw a double-bill featuring Alan Harris’ docu-drama about the closure of the Burberry factory in Treorchy, which was very well done, but raised questions about the concept of verbatim theatre as easy political box-ticking and emotional button-pushing by theatre companies unwilling to trust to the idiosyncrasies of the writer (this may become relevant to me if a projected piece about gang culture gets the green light). The other reading that evening was of veteran Alan Osborne’s “Ebeneser And The Fair Country”, a typically dense, allusive and rewarding tale of slow-burning revenge. The final night saw two takes on the musical: Kit Lambert and Paul Jones’Note/Book”, a vaguely pessimistic romantic comedy; and Tracy Harris and Gindrinker’s “The Push And The Pull”, a dark, kinetic, surreal piece with the musicians firmly integrated into the action. All highly entertaining, but I did overhear a comment questioning the point of a festival encouraging new writing for the stage when there’s so little opportunity in Wales for new writers to develop (and earn more than pocket-money) via full productions; especially when there are so many experienced ones who can’t catch a break. Still, at least the event engendered a good atmosphere, and provided a valuable corrective to those decision-makers who claim that there are no talented, committed dramatists out there.

The only solid news in my career (apart from the continuing, very gratefully received trickling-in of “Tracy Beaker” royalties) is the up-coming Edinburgh Fringe production (funding permitting) of True/Fiction Theatre’sExquisite Corpse” piece, to which I contributed a number of scenes (two at the last count); which will be nice.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Son Of Rambow" / Artes Mundi '08

I greatly enjoyed Garth Jennings’ “Son Of Rambow”. It’s one of those British films about life-defining small victories (see “The Full Monty”, “Calendar Girls”), given extra potency by its underlying theme of outsiderdom, with a side-order of religious separatism. Bill Milner and Will Poulter are excellent (if implausibly articulate) as the two 1980s schoolboy misfits who team up to shoot a home-video sequel to “Rambo”, eventually involving a phalanx of extravagantly-coiffured fellow students. The special effects – more DIY than CGI, in the spirit of some of the production team’s most notable pop videos (e.g. for Supergrass, Radiohead, Blur) – contribute to a satisfying, cinematic feel, and while the story does, of necessity, veer in the direction of cuteness towards the climax (and the sixth-form common-room sequence seems a tad irrelevant), the gritty humour more than makes up for it. It’s quite rare to see a film so squarely aimed at boys, especially one which hits the target so successfully.

I paid a visit to the National Museum of Wales, to take in the latest Artes Mundi Exhibition, which is as much a celebration of internationalism as of contemporary art, featuring works by Afghan, Indian, Malian, Brazilian, Romanian, Australian, Portuguese and Scottish artists. While I was impressed by the meticulous craft-oriented work of NS Harsha and Abdoulaye Konate, the piece which leapt out at me was Dalziel & Scullion’s large-format panoramic ecologically-oriented landscape photograph “More Than Us”; although Mircea Cantor’s exhibit – two video-works and a small sculpture entitled “Diamond Corn” were sufficiently unsubtle to provide immediate food for thought, and Rosangela Renno’s twin-screen video installation looked promising if I’d had two hours to spare.

The recent rejection of a radio play by the BBC has left a bitter taste, not only because the script was, I felt, one of the best I’ve ever written (featuring intelligent Black British characters, a rarity in Radio Four drama), but because I had to chase them up after seven months (the promise being that they’ll get back to you in three). This is even before mentioning the patronising tone of the “professional” reader’s report – it used the word “talented” twice, but also suggested that I was unfamiliar with the basics of writing a radio drama; despite my having had five produced over the years. At least it’s the kind of piece which could work on stage, with a little re-writing.