Blakeson - Writer

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Exquisite Corpse" / "Deep Cut" / "The Dark Knight"

I attended two Edinburgh-bound Cardiff productions at the end of last week. First up at the Wales Millennium Centre was the latest version of “The Exquisite Corpse” by True/Fiction. I’m probably biased (since I contributed two of the fifteen scenes which are performed in an order which is determined shortly prior to their performance by an extremely able, lively and on-the-ball young cast) but I really enjoyed it. Shorter and slicker than last time around, it’s rather like taking a ride through other people’s dreams (and nightmares). I hope it gets the attention it deserves amidst the frenzy of the Fringe.

The next night was something of a contrast – a preview performance of “Deep Cut” by Philip Ralph, at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff; a verbatim play (or journalistic drama) based on the story of Army recruit Cheryl James who died at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey in 1995, which is on its way to the Traverse. A highly impressive production, with excellent performances and clever visual touches (courtesy of director Mick Gordon and designer Igor Vasiliev), and all the more moving for focusing on the question of forensic evidence at least as much as the family’s anguish.

There’s obviously little new that can be said about the current Number 1 film in the world, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”, other than I found it completely enthralling, though not exactly enjoyable, because of its general grimness. Some of the violence seems excessive for a film which 12 year-olds will be flocking to, but if the newspapers are to be believed, they’ve all seen a lot worse on the streets. Heath Ledger’s performance is utterly unhinged and, of course, Oscar-worthy. There’s some nice work too in small roles from an array of top character actors (e.g. William Fichtner, Tiny Lister, Colin MacFarlane), not to mention Gary Oldman; and Aaron Eckhart portrays the tragedy of Harvey Dent beautifully. The political resonances are obvious – unilateral, undemocratic and not entirely legal action being taken against an irrational villain whose main motivation is the desire to “watch the world burn”; but then that’s what superhero movies have always been about.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"Charismatic" / "The Exquisite Corpse"

“The Exquisite Corpse”, the production I was involved in last year, is about to make a return to the Wales Millennium Centre next week, prior to a run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Sadly, I can’t afford to attend my long-awaited Edinburgh debut, but one hopes it does well.

In other news, I finally managed to make a new short film, after only a couple of months of intensive pre-production (mainly involving finding a cast), and in the midst of some serious family trauma. Entitled “Charismatic”, it runs for just under six minutes, and the high concept is that two incoherently street-ranting derelicts meet up, and find that they can communicate with one another. The script was originally written a couple of years ago, and specifically designed to be easy to shoot using non-professional equipment – as it transpired, a recently-acquired Sony Handycam. I was lucky enough to be able to secure the services of two experienced, professional actors – Claire Cage and Robert Gwyn Davin – whose stage training meant that they were well able to pull off the trick of projecting their voices (i.e. shouting, to cope with the camera’s on-board mic, and ambient noise, but appearing to be speaking normally). They were also kind enough to provide their own costumes. During the initial production meeting, my cast argued that they needed a hair/make-up person to help them to get into character, so with the help of Skillset Screen Academy Wales, I managed to find Hayley Reeves, who did an excellent job of being my sole crew-member. The evening before the shoot, we managed a full rehearsal, enabling me to choreograph my camera moves. The shoot itself took place on Wednesday June 25th, around Cardiff city centre, with the climax occurring in the Castle Grounds. We were able to wrap by 15.00 hours, and I wandered home with a mild stress headache. The editing was delayed for personal reasons, but once I began, it was fairly straightforward to stitch together the most useable takes of each scene; and a lovely, bi-tonal piece of piano music from my old school-friend David Windsor set the tone. I’m pretty pleased with the end result, and have submitted it to a couple of film festivals (via Withoutabox), and a few production companies, as a writer-producer-director show-reel. Even if nothing comes of it, I feel empowered for having been pro-active, and it gave me something constructive to think about at a difficult time.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fat Pig / Ravenhill

I paid my annual birthday visit to the West End to see “Fat Pig”, at the Trafalgar Studios (a stone’s throw from Nelson’s Column) last week, and it was amusing and provocative in equal measure, as is to be expected from writer/director Neil LaBute. Its theme is body-fascism amongst the American middle-classes, as Robert Webb’s Tom starts a relationship with plus-sized Helen, played by Ella Smith (clear winner in the battle of the accents), to the bemusement of laddish workmate Carter (Kris Marshall) and the conventionally attractive would-be girlfriend Jeannie (Joanna Page). As might be expected, there was a degree of crowd-pleasing comedy business from the male stars, riffing on their TV personas, but it was all in the service of a story which was never going to end well, otherwise there wouldn’t be a story. As we were filing out, I overheard a couple of fellow audience-members remarking that Smith’s character had been written as too perfect (funny, self-aware, self-deprecating, sharing Tom’s interest in war movies); I suppose that was the whole point, however – as in “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” (what right-thinking white people would reject handsome doctor Sidney Poitier as a son-in-law? None – only wrong-thinking white people would). Not the most profound piece of theatre out there, perhaps, and one only has to look around one to see couples for whom such issues are not issues, but highly entertaining.

I read “Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat”, Mark Ravenhill’s collection of elegant short plays on the subject of middle-class responses to the War On Terror over a couple of days recently, and found it frustrating and heartening in equal measure. All fairly sarcastic about the West’s desire to spread liberal values, but then since he is a writer who has benefited greatly from the West’s liberal values, his obvious freedom to be sarcastic about them, and to be subsidised for doing so, is it itself as much a weapon in the War On Terror as any bomb or bullet. I think the phrase is “double-voiced utterance”.