Blakeson - Writer
Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.
Friday, May 27, 2011
The Arts Council of Wales Creative Wales Award is a grant designed to allow established artists to explore new aspects of their practice. Philip Ralph has used his to create “The One-Eyed Man Project”, in which he attempts to integrate his work as a writer (e.g. of the celebrated verbatim drama Deep Cut) and performer (not to mention researcher and polemicist) in order to try and create a new form of theatre. Thus he’s staging a number of performances in small, non-theatrical spaces, and depending on audience input for the bulk of his material – the one I attended was on the second night of three at the Plan Café in Cardiff’s Morgan Arcade. I had been anticipating a kind of dramatic version of comedy improv, based on the current news/media agenda; what transpired was something more intimate, as Ralph used his mid-life crisis, recent illness and declared misanthropy as starting-points for a dialogue with the audience (around a dozen of us) about their pet hates - generally petty annoyances on this occasion, such as neighbours’ failure to recycle, or other people’s bad driving habits (I’d kind of expected a mention of the arrest of Serb warlord Ratko Mladic, which had occurred that day, but was obviously in the wrong crowd for that). Assisted by rabble-rouser and occasional (perhaps too occasional) musical accompanist Gareth Clarke, Ralph managed to riff amusingly on these and his own bêtes noires, eventually challenging the audience to collaborate in his therapy by giving him a task to perform, out there in the real world, in order to enhance his personal growth. He’s a magnetic performer, and a genial one, despite his proclaimed distaste for his fellow humans; I was both vaguely disappointed (speaking as a writer) and mightily relieved (speaking as a coward) that his approach wasn’t more confrontational (cf the deconstructive alt-comedy of Hitting Funny), but that would have been inappropriate given that everyone in attendance was on his side from the beginning. One suspects that if this were a more long-term project, he might grow bored with the supportive, liberal, arty audience and seek a more challenging performance environment (A young offenders’ institution? The offices of the Daily Mail? A working men’s club crowd expecting a comedian?) which might enable the piece to grow from what is a refreshingly frank, thought-provoking entertainment into something which constitutes a more complete synthesis between the populist, the personal, and the experimental.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
"Attack The Block"
Attack The Block took me by surprise. On the evidence of the trailer, and writer-director Joe Cornish’s much-loved comedy partnership with Adam Buxton, I was expecting a facetious parody about chirpy South London hoodies cheerily taking on hapless aliens with baseball bats. Yes, there are light moments (generally courtesy of Nick Frost), but the tone is largely one of menace, with violent death, whether at the hands of vengeful invaders from space or the local crack-dealer, always on the agenda. Even more impressive are the visuals, the council estate where the action takes place lit to look glamorously grim, and the effects (the aliens being gorilla-gremlin hybrids with fluorescent fangs) rivalling anything a Hollywood production of commensurate scale might have to offer. Cornish has spoken of his admiration for classics like The Warriors and Assault on Precinct 13 which underlay their teen-crowd-pleasing genre story-telling with a political subtext, and his film, which begins with nurse Sam (the reliably excellent Jodie Whitaker) being mugged by a youthful gang led by a boy named Moses (a star-making turn from John Boyega) certainly doesn’t stint when it comes to depicting the limited social and intellectual boundaries which hem the children in. The pacing and plotting are flawless, and even trustafarian stoner Luke Treadaway’s explanation of the localised nature of the alien invasion is plausible; there are also plentiful iconic images (e.g. people of different races, genders and classes coming together to fight a common enemy, Moses using the Union Flag to effect an escape). Some of the line-readings are clumsy, which is understandable, given the inexperience of the younger actors; and the occasional Spike Lee moments (e.g. Moses’ suggestion that the aliens are part of the plot against young black men) are clunkily handled. On the whole, though, this is popcorn cinema at its most accomplished. The hotly anticipated Cowboys & Aliens will have to go some to outdo it.
Monday, May 16, 2011
"Whereof One Cannot Speak"
I've only just realised that a short audio drama, written by me and recorded last year, is available to hear online. Entitled "Whereof One Cannot Speak", it is one of a number produced by the Sherman Cymru, under the curatorship of Gary Owen. Excellent cast, too.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Given a choice between two intelligent action movies about ultra-violent adolescents, I opted for Joe Wright’s Hanna, rather than Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block, and was rewarded with a highly entertaining piece of work whose treatment belies its B-movie plotting. The almost literally luminous Saoirse Ronan is exceptional in the title role of the child trained from birth by her gone-to-ground retired secret agent father, Eric Bana, to take revenge on his former boss, ice-queen Cate Blanchett. Apparently Ronan secured the job for Wright, having worked with him on the wonderful Atonement, and while the action scenes (including a miraculous single-take set-piece featuring Bana and a gang of unfortunate assailants) are handled with great efficiency, his directorial stamp is most evident in those fairy-tale-inflected sequences depicting Hanna’s experience of sensory overload on belatedly coming from ice-bound seclusion into a world of exotic sights, bemusing sounds and complex emotions. There are brilliant supporting performances too from Tom Hollander, as Blanchett’s camp German enforcer, and young Jessica Barden as the epitome of normal teenagehood whom Hanna encounters on her travels, along with her world-weary bohemian parents, Olivia Willams and Jason Flemyng. The Chemical Brothers’ score is predictably excellent as well. Highly recommended.
Great quote from Stephen Fry, casually tossed off during an interview: “Music is not about understanding any more than love is about understanding - it’s an emotional, almost physical thing that overcomes you.” (BBC Breakfast, 12th May, 2011). It’s been said before, of course, but always worth hearing.