Blakeson - Writer

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

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I went to see Sherman Cymru’s production of “Clytemnestra”, written by former Poet Laureate of Wales, Gwyneth Lewis, earlier in the week. One of those shows which I probably wouldn’t have chanced had I not been given the opportunity to review it for the British Theatre Guide online (and thus get a free ticket), since it combines two areas where my experience/interest/expertise is limited – the Greek classics and physical theatre. It was a very impressive production, however – Jaye Griffiths is on imperious form in the lead role, and it’s good to see another example of the trend (also noted in Shock’n’Awe’s “Muscle”) of employing a choreographer (in this case, Johan Stjernholm) to work with non-dancers in order to enhance the visual impact of their performance. As I suggest in my review, an adaptation of Aeschylus is probably a hard sell for a main stage in Cardiff, but it’s a brave and successful experiment, full of startling moments.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

“The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning”

Hats off to National Theatre Wales for making their latest production “The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning” (aka #ntw18) available as a live internet simulcast, in conjunction with its presentation in a number of Welsh schools (I managed to access it on my third attempt). Prior publicity suggested that it might be a piece of shallow agit-prop, using the life of the title character - the U.S. soldier and one-time West Wales schoolboy who is currently awaiting court-martial for leaking U.S. military secrets in relation to the Middle East to the Wikileaks website - as a blank canvas. I should have known better, of course – Tim Price is far too accomplished a writer for that. What we have instead is a cleverly structured, free-wheeling biographical drama, frequently shifting in time and place - a classroom in Haverfordwest, the streets of Iraq, a gay bar, the brig at Quantico - painting a sympathetic picture of a troubled and complex individual, played at various moments by different members of the talented cast (Matthew Aubrey, Harry Ferrier, Gwawr Loader, Kyle Rees, Anjana Vasan, Sion Daniel Young). The direction, by company supremo John E. McGrath, is slick (with scene changes accompanied by alarming outbreaks of Lady Gaga and Atreyu); the lighting and sound design (by Natasha Chivers and Mike Beer) impressively atmospheric (as far as I could tell on my laptop screen); the multimedia presentation (by Tom Beardshaw) a technical triumph (although one might question the wisdom of inviting viewers to click on web-links as the piece is proceeding). While the play answers (as far as a work of fiction can) several questions re Bradley’s motivations, and the U.S. Army’s handling of him prior to his act of heroism/treachery, its focus on him as an individual rather than on the wider political context means that other issues are unadressed (e.g. the wisdom of dealing with Wikileaks rather than a more reputable outlet, the possibility that Manning’s actions may have jeopardised military and civilian lives, the effect that the case will have on other gays in the armed forces, the nature of the toppled Saddam regime). I suspect that whether one believes that Manning is a hero or a fool (or both), one will leave the play with one’s opinions more or less confirmed, but with troubling questions swimming around one’s head – which is probably the ideal outcome for a piece of political theatre. Powerful stuff.

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Latest short film: "'Monday or Tuesday' by Virginia Woolf (a Prelinger Mash-up)"

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Sunday, April 15, 2012


Morten Tyldum’s adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s novel “Headhunters” (“Hodejegerne”) is a tense, grisly treat. As the opening credits roll, the “hero”, Roger Brown, impeccably played by Aksel Hennie, introduces himself as a deeply flawed individual, simultaneously smug and insecure, funding his extravagant lifestyle through art theft, and using his job as a high-level corporate head-hunter to glean information from likely victims. Needless to say, it all goes deliciously wrong, following an encounter with techno-surveillance mogul and former elite soldier Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau); although the film spends a good deal of time prior to this establishing Brown’s obnoxiousness, and setting up the cynical nature of his interactions not only with work associates, but also with his impossibly gorgeous wife, Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) - not to mention his girlfriend, Lotte (Julie Ølgaard). When the unpleasantness eventually kicks in, it’s slickly handled, and occasionally (necessarily) gruesome, with numerous plot-turns and plentiful dark humour – the outdoor latrine moment is especially symbolic. I’m not one of those who reflexively rails against Hollywood remakes of European masterworks (“Let Me In” was a perfectly decent revamp of “Låt den rätte komma in”; and Fincher’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” was one of the films of 2011), but Mark Wahlberg, who’s already got plans for a U.S. version (presumably with himself in the Clas role), will need to employ a screen-writer/director with the robust indie quirkiness of Tarantino, Aronovsky, or P.T. Anderson if he’s to avoid turning it into a routine, cheesy thriller, especially since the central protagonist’s journey involves the learning of valuable life lessons, notably concerning his marriage and his own self-worth. Ultimately “Hodejegerne” is little more than a sophisticated yuppie nightmare movie, but it’s still a gripping tale, deftly told.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mystery Jets

My first experience of a big gig at Cardiff's Gate Arts Centre (about five minutes walk from my flat) was a delightful one, courtesy of Mystery Jets, near the beginning of a busy summer to be spent mostly touring their impending fourth album, “Radlands”. An unusually civilised venue – a former church converted into a busy community arts centre: the theatre space holds 350, with plentiful seating, a decent-sized dance-floor and a pleasantly chilled atmosphere. Supporting were Peace (virtually un-Google-able, but apparently from Birmingham) – tuneful, floppy-haired indie, with a hint of rolling funk bass there and there – very enjoyable. The headliners kicked off with jaunty, heartfelt new single “Something Purer”, following it with a clutch of oldies (“Half In Love With Elizabeth”, “Flash A Hungry Smile”), then a chunk of new material, suggesting no radical shift in their sound (despite the presence of pedal-steel), but perhaps a maturer, more layered approach to their darkly cheery, melodic guitar pop. The set ended with more hits, including my personal favourite, “Two Doors Down”; the three-song encore included “Young Love”, sadly devoid of Laura Marling. And then we were cruelly ejected into the fresh, spring night, still singing along. A lovely evening.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

"The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists"

I found myself somewhat more engaged by the latest Aardman animation, the brilliantly titled “The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists”, than I had been, the week before, by the perfectly decent but uninspiring “The Hunger Games”. Adapted by Gideon Defoe from his own book, directed by stop-motion veteran Peter Lord, and inspired by the incident in which Charles Darwin presented the world’s last surviving dodo to Queen Victoria, with the assistance of a band of loveable maritime brigands (liberties may have been taken with historical fact), it’s pacy, incident-packed, and constantly amusing. The voice cast, led by Hugh Grant (who seems to be clearly enjoying himself as the Pirate Captain), Martin Freeman, David Tennant and Imelda Staunton, is uniformly excellent, and the guest appearances (Lenny Henry, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek) are well-judged. Underneath the witty, meticulous inventiveness and vague naughtiness, there’s a message about valuing friendship over worldly glory; the soundtrack is also glorious (possibly the best ever use, in a montage, of the Clash’s “London Calling”). Vintage stuff.

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Monday, April 02, 2012

Filmed Poems

A playlist of my Prelinger mash-ups:'

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