Blakeson - Writer

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

Monday, May 25, 2009

Scott Matthews

It is a truth acknowledged by all right-thinking people that “Elusive” by Scott Matthews is one of the finest songs of the 21st century thus far. So I leapt at the chance to see him when he visited Cardiff’s Glee Club last night, and I was not disappointed. Supporting was James Summerfield, whose accomplished acoustic country-folk stylings went down well, and did his football-related banter. The headliner’s ethereal, multi-textured soulful folk/blues was received ecstatically by the capacity crowd, and the new songs were every bit as compelling as his older material. Scott Matthews (a.k.a. the Wolverhampton Wonder) stands manfully on the shoulders of Jeff Buckley and John Martyn; one only hopes he takes better care of his personal welfare than they did.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the launch party for the new English-language National Theatre of Wales, in Cardiff’s Castle Arcade, last week - I hadn’t been invited, but was very kindly snuck in by younger, more successful writers. It was an intriguing collection of people, of both the arty and moneyed varieties. The new company certainly has some exciting plans - such as a production a month for the first year, starting in Spring 2010 - and a promising on-line forum. Let’s hope the inevitable whingeing doesn’t bring them down too much.

The reviews for the London production of “The Exquisite Corpse” have been less rapturous than those it received in Edinburgh last year, but I’d put that down to the world-weariness of the metropolitan critic. The write-ups have generally been of the kind which would tend to intrigue potential audiences (“this is weird”), rather than put them off entirely (“this is bad”), and the company seem quite pleased with the houses they’ve been getting.

Gary Owen has published the Welsh-language dialogue from his bilingual play “Amgen : Broken” on his website, and it turns out that I understood even less of it that I’d previously thought, to the point of entirely misreading the trajectory of the “Gareth” character; thus his “crisis” is altogether more upbeat than that of his English-only alter-ego; which makes it even more appropriate as a “what it is to be Welsh” play than I originally thought.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Linguistic Fluidity

Last Saturday saw another Writers’ Guild event, in the Sherman Cymru, Cardiff. In conjunction with their production of Gary Owen’s “Amgen: Broken”, it was a forum discussion on the subject of Bilingualism in Drama, chaired by noted Welsh playwright and director Ian Rowlands, and with guest speakers (alongside Gary), Jeroen Van Den Berg (a Dutch playwright who has worked with a Frysian-language theatre company in Holland) and Dominic Rai (the Indian-born founder of the Mán Melá Theatre company, now resident in Wales). The general consensus was that linguistic fluidity is the future of society and therefore, of any dramatic writing which aims to reflect it with any degree of authenticity. “Amgen” is artistically successful, because, as the author explained, it uses the learning of the Welsh language as a metaphor for personal transformation; and there was agreement that playwrights should be encouraged to work multilingually, when the subject of drama called for such an approach (e.g. social inclusion, linguistic oppression, generational conflict). The problem in Wales though, appears to be that work is often criticised on the basis of the “correctness” of the Welsh used, rather than its relevance and verisimilitude as drama, and that bureaucratic considerations preclude the production of work (especially on TV) that reflects the bilingual reality of most Welsh-speaking communities. The limited number of opportunities, particularly in television, for non-Welsh-speaking writers in Wales was also brought up.

A couple of days later, I paid a visit to London village to check out the latest production of “The Exquisite Corpse” (I am one of the five co-writers) at the Southwark Playhouse, and was blown away once more by the slickness and coherent incoherency of the production. I’m proud to be even a small part of such an aesthetically ambitious project, for which my biennial visit to the Tate Modern was the ideal preparation.

I loved the new J.J. Abrams "Star Trek" film – particularly the depiction of the developing relationships between the principals; some lovely, surprisingly nuanced performances. Slightly concerned about the “alternative timeline” scenario, which could easily have laid waste to any pretence of subtlety; and towards the climax, when CGI threatened to take over, I found myself losing concentration, but that’s probably an age thing.

Monday, May 04, 2009

"Amgen : Broken"

There’s a cliché in these parts that the perennial subject for Welsh drama is “What it is to be Welsh”, and the pre-publicity for Sherman Cymru’s production of Gary Owen’s “Amgen : Broken” (“amgen” meaning “alternative) seems to suggest that it touches explicitly on this theme, with its two characters being versions of the same person :- depressed, English-speaking “Gary” (played by Steven Meo); and the ostensibly less depressed, more complacent, more successful “Gareth” (Simon Watts), who has chosen, at a crucial point in his life, to become a Welsh-speaker. It’s a subtler piece than that, though, eloquently mining the depths of personal and social despair whilst remaining funny and engaging. As an experiment in bi-lingual theatre (about a third of the dialogue being in Welsh), it succeeds to the extent that it allows monoglot audience-members to identify with “Gary’s” feelings of exclusion and alienation while gaining tantalising hints as to the nature of “Gareth’s” parallel journey, an apparently smoother one which nevertheless brings him to a moment of near-terminal unhappiness as poignant as that of his counterpart. It goes without saying that the performances were excellent, and I particularly liked the set – strewn with discarded carrier-bags and fast-food wrappings. I think I may have missed a beat, however, in terms of the events which led to “Gary’s” final crisis of confidence, but I was probably distracted by the smoke.

The hit Edinburgh production to which I made a small but vital (my perspective only) contribution, “The Exquisite Corpse” is about to have its London opening, at the Southwark Playhouse which, apparently, is not quite in the West End. I look forward to seeing how it’s looking these days.