Blakeson - Writer

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

"District 9 " / "Cardboard Dad"

I finally got round to seeing “District 9”, and greatly enjoyed Neill Blonkamp’s engagingly clever sci-fi thriller/satire on the asylum/refugee issue (cf “Alien Nation”). The most important plot-hole (“why don’t they use a prawn to fire the weapon”), as pointed out by listeners to Mayo and Kermode on BBC Radio 5 did bother me, though. Sharlto Copley is excellent as Wikus, the hapless, reluctant hero, David James as the lead soldier is compellingly repugnant, and the CGI aliens are seamlessly rendered. The obvious set-up for the inevitably disappointing sequel was faintly dismaying, however.

My fear, prior to watching Alan Harris’s “Cardboard Dad” at the Sherman Cymru, was that given the play’s inspiration – the American practice of providing cardboard cut-outs of serving soldiers to their families, so that the children don’t forget what they look like – it might be a one-dimensional “issues” play about the plight of Army wives or the iniquity of war. Luckily it throws a curveball by providing something more nuanced, humorous, and dramatically satisfying. Shelley Rees (well-known in these parts on account of her many years in “Pobol y Cwm”) plays Donna, who fantasises and reminisces while husband David is abroad. Hers is rather a big performance, but appropriate given the character’s emotional immaturity; and Juliet Knight’s direction veers towards the balletic, cleverly evoking Donna’s dysfunctional dreaminess. This being the woman’s story, David is given relatively short shrift, but Simon Nehan ably embodies the groundedness which Donna appears to lack, in both real and fantasy incarnations of his character. If I have a criticism, it’s that the worrisome snippets of information about Donna’s unorthodox upbringing which we were given might have been explored more fully, all the better to illuminate her journey towards self-realisation.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Gulliver / Undeb's "The Project"

As one of the millions who suffer from False Memory Syndrome when it comes to having read “Gulliver’s Travels”, I found Hijinx Theatre’s touring production (I saw it at the Sherman Cymru) of “Gulliver”, written by Kit Lambert and directed by Louise Osborne, every bit as topical as intended. It was also highly enjoyable – witty, visually imaginative, and flawlessly acted. Brendan Charleson plays Jonathan Swift as a man struggling both with his fears of madness and his feelings for his young friend Esther Johnson (Zoe Davies). He is visited by Doctor Gulliver (Michael Wagg), who spins him tall tales of misadventures in strange lands, the cast being completed by James Ashton who provides the broadest comedy in a number of small roles. The various worlds are cleverly conjured up via the use of dolls, masks and an engagingly clunky mobile set, and James Williams score is moving and amusing as appropriate. Given, however, that many of Swift’s targets - youths running wild, petty war-mongering, corrupt politicians, social inequality – continue to trouble us nearly 300 years on, the most worrisome impression left by the piece is of the abiding imperfectness of the human condition; not to mention the powerlessness of satire to achieve anything other than increasing the sum total of cynicism in the world.

Kit (who was having rather a good week, his episode of BBC Wales’ “Crash” having aired a few days earlier, in addition to his appearances on BBC Radio 4’s “Poetry Slam”), also featured as part of the inaugural production by Undeb Theatre :- “The Project” – a Sunday-long event held at Cardiff nightclub 10 Feet Tall. He took part in a performance poetry hour, where his literate surrealism contrasted well with the approaches taken by the other versifiers, Jack Stannard (humorous Essex youth angst), Mab Jones (tales of Cardiff low-life) and Byron Vincent, whose machine-gun speed stand-up was particularly winning. It was probably a bad idea to have the performance space adjacent to the entrance, though. Earlier in the day, Louise Osborne chaired a discussion featuring John McGrath (National Theatre Of Wales), James Grieve (Nabokov/ Bush Theatre), Phil Mackenzie (Sherman Cymru) and Jamie Garven (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama) which focused on the personal impact of theatre and the role of the director – a lively and instructive session. Bands, DJ’s, comedy and painting also featured, as well as plays by London writers Abi Zakarian and Joel Horwood, the entertainment continuing well into the early hours. I left in mid-evening, however, after a duo of short pieces by locally-based writers: “Rotten” by Undeb’s Artistic Director Alex Vlahos, a two-hander about a suicide pact which boasted some good writing and performances, but whose narrative set-up seemed overly contrived; and “Dad Astronaut” by the company’s writer-in-residence Samuel Bees :- Gareth Potter and Caitlin Richards in a highly effective family drama which veered in tone from the elegiac to the whimsical to the tragically sinister. Not bad at all for a £4 entry fee, and it’s encouraging to see young artists generating their own work and being rewarded by a full house.