Blakeson - Writer

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

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"The Dark Knight Rises"

There's barely a hint of campness or irony in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" films, which must partly explain their success - whilst other franchises blatantly insult the intelligence of its audiences, Nolan has high expectations of them (cf "Memento", which I'm still trying to work out). Another vital element is Christian Bale, whose hollow-eyed seriousness is the cornerstone of the whole project. At the beginning of "The Dark Knight Rises", the final part of the trilogy, Bale's Bruce Wayne is a broken man. It takes the intervention of breathtaking cat burglar Selina Kyle - a marvellously slippery performance from Anne Hathaway - and a new super-villain, Bane, played by a pumped-up Tom Hardy (apparently channelling Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood") to bring the shamed Batman out of retirement. The film is full of large-scale action sequences which, mercifully, illuminate rather than obscure the narrative, and special effects set-pieces which look as though they might actually be happening in the real world rather than purely concocted in a computer (although many of them must have been). What really holds it together, though, is the ensemble of reliably committed actors - series regulars Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine (who gets to do his trembly voice) joined by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the straight-arrow police-officer, Marion Cotillard as Wayne's love-interest and Matthew Modine as the wrong-headed deputy commissioner; there are also notable supporting roles for Brits Burn Gorman, Tom Conti and the increasingly ubiquitous Juno Temple. The Nolan brothers' cleverly relevant narrative takes in the financial crisis, moving on to foreground a villain who uses revolutionary rhetoric in order to gain support for ignoble aims, with the aid of foot-soldiers who are ready to die for the cause; their theme, as always, is bad things being done for good reasons. Much has been made of Hardy's unintelligibility as Bane, but quite a lot of the other dialogue tends to get drowned out too; the film seems to sag a little, also, between climaxes. On the whole, though, it's a remarkably adept and satisfying piece of work.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

"After The End"

Another week, another Welsh premiere of a theatrical two-hander about a couple in crisis. This one was Dennis Kelly's "After The End", directed by Mared Swain for Dirty Protest (their first full-scale production) in the studio space at the Sherman Cymru. Gruffudd Glyn plays the geeky young man who rescues his beautiful work-colleague, Kezia Burrows, from a nuclear explosion, hiding with her in his well-stocked bomb shelter. My full review for the British Theatre Guide is here, but it is a harsh, grimly funny piece, all about the lengths we go to when desperate, and appears, deservedly to be doing good business.

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Thursday, July 05, 2012


I went to see Anthony Neilson’s “Stitching”, presented at Chapter, by Company of Sirens – once more, the kind of play I might not have chanced had I not been able to review it for the British Theatre Guide, and thus get a free ticket. A provocative and intentionally confusing tale of relationship dysfunction and genital mutilation, it’s not exactly a fun night out for all the family, but I’m glad I experienced it.

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Sunday, July 01, 2012

"Porgy and Bess"

Fate decreed that a landmark birthday coincided with the visit of the Cape Town Opera to Cardiff, and a return of their production of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” (in conjunction with the premiere of The Mandela Trilogy) – thus, it would have been impolite not to book a ticket. It was only my second opera (following the Welsh National Opera’s “Turandot” some years ago), and my first visit to the hugely impressive main auditorium  - the Donald Gordon Theatre - at the Wales Millennium Centre (excellent acoustics, and a clear view of the stage, even in the cheap seats). In this production, Catfish Row is transplanted direct to an impoverished apartheid-era South African township, and the accents are sometimes impenetrable (so I was grateful for the sur-titles), but, aside from a few moments of step-dancing, the choreography is pretty much in the Broadway tradition. I knew most of the music, of course, most notably from the legendary Miles Davis album, but was surprised at how unfamiliar I was with the sex/drugs/death element of the plot. The singing was wonderful, especially from Sibongile Mngoma as the sensual but weak-willed Bess; indeed, the female voices seemed stronger, on the whole, than the male ones. The WNO Orchestra (conducted by Albert Horne) delivered the score with sumptuous potency, and even at three hours, the pace never flagged. I was, I must admit, unprepared for the emotional impact of the ending, in which the tragic Porgy’s futile (it seems) final act was transformed by the chorus into a gesture of revolutionary defiance, signifying victory against all the odds – something of a masterstroke. A beautiful experience.

By another coincidence, I found a copy of the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong version on CD, when I took a birthday trip (kindly underwritten by my mother, who came along) to Paris. The highlight of the too-brief stay (apart from a boat-trip on the Seine, the world’s most expensive turkey sandwich on the Champs-Elysees, and a rather good vegetarian Indian restaurant -, was a visit to the collection of modern art at the Centre Pompidou – profoundly inspirational, and well worth the journey in itself.

(Excellent mural near the Pompidou Centre:

I must make mention of the recent passing of two great South Wales actors of my acquaintance – Brian Hibbard and Dorien Thomas. Both fine exponents of their art, as well as being excellent men to spend time with, full of good advice which was gratefully received. May they rest in peace.

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