Blakeson - Writer

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

Monday, June 29, 2009

All’s Well That Ends Well

Perhaps it’s wrong to express surprise at having thoroughly enjoyed some Shakespeare, but I really hadn’t expected “All’s Well That Ends Well” at the Royal National Theatre (this year’s birthday treat) to be such jolly fun. No massive stars on display, but some familiar faces (Clare Higgins, Oliver Ford Davies, Michael Thomas, Janet Henfrey), with the meatiest roles taken by Conleth Hill (Parolles, lusty buffoon) and Michelle Terry (Helena, feisty heroine), in a star-making turn. It’s known as a problem play, because of its illogical ending (Bertram, the young nobleman, having spent the entire play running away from the besotted Helena, to the point of going to war, suddenly decides to give in, merely because she happens to be pregnant with his child), but it all seemed to make sense here, thanks to some clever visual touches such as judicious use of silhouettes, animated backdrops and symbolic costume-changes (the Bunny-style outfits were an especially nice touch). The 1110-seating Olivier auditorium was virtually full (it being a matinee, full of pensioners), and there was much laughter, most of it prompted by Hill. Director Marianne Elliot kept things moving, and even made a virtue of those unavoidable moments where there were a lot of people hanging about with nothing to do. A grand day out.

Most pleasing rediscovery, courtesy of a cheaply purchased Charlie Chaplin DVD box-set: “Monsieur Verdoux”; witty, charming and politically provocative, even today. Not to mention “The Great Dictator”, lest we forget.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Egin / Osborne

I went to see a couple of shows in this year’s “Springboard/Egin” season – Sherman Cymru’s short (certainly shorter than the last one) festival of new work for theatre - both penned by fellow members of the “Exquisite Corpse” team.

The first was Lacuna, written by Matthew Bulgo, and directed by Suzanne Phillips, which depicts sessions between a traumatised patient - who seems in perfect physical and mental health, with the exception that the lacuna of the title is her lover, whom she can no longer see - and a suspiciously over-invested doctor. One could readily imagine how the clever premise could have led us up an arty cul-de-sac, but mercifully the author kept it on a deeply relatable level, with heart-breaking, poetic dialogue (perhaps occasionally over-written); and the performances, by Gareth Milton and Caitlin Richards, were affecting and witty.

A couple of nights later saw another play about emotional voids – Tracy Harris’ The Cloak Room (a more fully realised staging than Lacuna, directed by Amy Hodge), in which Roger Evans played a psychologically troubled man who steals coats and invests them with the imagined personalities of people he has lost, and Siwan Morris the woman who tries to redeem him. Again, very lyrical and moving, although the female character’s motivation remained obscure (but then, such is life). It will be performed again as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Welsh Event in Washington D.C. in a few weeks time – very fitting as a representative sample of theatrical writing in contemporary South Wales.

The latest in the On The Edge season at Chapter featured a double bill of new plays – “A Pair of Cardiff Shorts” - by local legend Alan Osborne, one of the progenitors of the profane, poetic, surrealistic South Wales style. The first, “The Best Defensive Boxer In The Bay! Nay, The World” is about a pugilist whose aim is to become the world champion loser; the second, a less broadly humorous, more abstract piece, “Until, Box and Sometimes Sally”, has as its hero a blind man whose friends tell him stories to stir (or maybe constrain) his visual imagination. Despite the fact that these were script-in-hand readings, director Russell Gomer kept things moving admirably, and the cast (Nathan Sussex as the related central protagonists of both pieces, as well as Boyd Clack, Dean Rehman, Cler Stephens and Mali Tudno Jones) ably conveyed the pathos and humour in both pieces. More stimulation in a little under an hour than an entire season of Big Brother could provide.