Blakeson - Writer

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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Mercury Fur" / Harry Holland vs Sally Bliumis-Dunn

My most recent reviewing assignment for the British Theatre Guide was Philip Ridley’s controversial “Mercury Fur”, from Company Of Sirens at Chapter; all about grim doings amongst hoodie-clad youth and City types in a post-apocalyptic London. Mercifully, most of the violence takes place off-screen, but it’s all suitably disturbing. Google searches suggest that it’s quite popular amongst drama students, providing, as it does, a variety of meaty roles for young men (and one older woman).

For my latest Poetry Storehouse video experiment, I summoned up the courage to e-mail locally based painter Harry Holland to ask if I could use some of his paintings to accompany a poem by Sally Bliumis-Dunn. Luckily, he was kind enough to allow it…

"Woman As Bird, Woman As Song" - poem by Sally Bliumis-Dunn (with paintings by Harry Holland) from OTHNIEL SMITH on Vimeo.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" is a great favourite of mine; I was captivated by the private universe she created, even though it wasn't an especially pleasant one. "The Little Friend" I found less memorable, though obviously highly accomplished.

As in her previous novels, "The Goldfinch" gives pulp-fiction plotting a high-culture sheen. The title refers to a painting, the first viewing of which, by young narrator Theo, coincides with a catastrophic incident. It then goes on to dominate his life, as the plot takes him from old money New York to trailer-trash Las Vegas and back, via various misadventures involving severe family crisis, substance abuse, furniture restoration and Ukrainian gangsters.

In Hitchcockian terms, the painting is a MacGuffin - an object which drives the plot, and motivates the protagonists. In the face of grief, upheaval and romantic disappointment, Theo's Goldfinch remains a symbol of hope and continuity.

Impeccably researched as the book is, the pace sometimes falters as the author gets bogged down in obscure detail. This is entirely justifiable given the obsessional nature of the central character, but slightly alienating. For the most part, though, the writing is beautiful - meticulous and profound.

Vastly imperfect though he is, our hero is a sympathetic one, Tartt making it easy to identify with his somewhat messy life and troubled relationships. "The Goldfinch" is a heartfelt tale of love, loss, and the search for meaning in a world where disaster is always just round the corner.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Wales Blog Awards 2014

I don’t get invited to many prize-giving ceremonies, especially not those in which I’m nominated. So it was lovely to get the opportunity to attend the Wales Blog Awards 2014, where my Blakeson Mashup project was up for Best Multimedia Blog. It didn’t win, obviously – that honour went to the somewhat more aesthetically pleasing Drowning Dogs – but it was a pleasant evening nonetheless, partially due to the free wine provided by the sponsors (Warwick Emmanuel PR, Wales Online etc).

The ceremony, at Chapter, was mercifully brief, all done and dusted in just over an hour, and smoothly hosted by HTV Wales’ Adrian Masters. Highlights included the Best Community Blog Award going to my neighbourhood bloggers Roath Cardiff, and the People’s Choice Award (the result of a public vote) being awarded to Alice Roythorne’s online journal detailing her journey through chemotherapy.

The event certainly helped to highlight much of the valuable work being done by citizen journalists in a number of areas – politics, health, food & drink, sport. Obviously, though, the “dead tree media” (as Masters referred to it) with all its professionalism and access to corporate resources, will remain vitally important, as long it evolves in a healthy, inclusive, and socially and intellectually responsible manner.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Towards the end of Tim Burton’s unjustly forgotten classic “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”, there’s a segment where events featuring the film’s childlike central protagonist are replayed in the “Hollywood” adaptation, starring none-more-macho James Brolin. This is pretty much the starting-point of Lenny Abrahamson’s “Frank”, in which Chris Sievey’s Mancunian, papier-mache-headed 3D cartoon character, Frank Sidebottom, becomes a mercurial performance-artist in the alpha-male body of Michael Fassbender.

Inspired by writer Jon Ronson’s experiences as keyboard-player with the “real” Sidebottom, the plot follows the journey of Jon, an ambitious, untalented hopeful, who almost accidentally finds himself part of a band of international art-rock terrorists led by the mysterious “Frank”, and ends up giving his life direction by attempting to steer them towards the limelight. Needless to say, mainstream triumph is not on the agenda.

Domhnall Gleeson is utterly relatable as the frustrated suburban outsider amongst outsiders, the heart of the story being the battle for Frank’s unreadable soul between him and the intense, resentful Clara, played beautifully by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Part of the “joke”, even in the context of the plot, is that we’re never quite sure who is beneath the big fake head; although whoever it is certainly exhibits Fassbender’s trademark magnetism.

There is consistent, dark humour throughout, until the closing stages, when the theme of the link between artistic expression and mental instability starts to be explicitly played out. The fact that the actors are actually playing the music we hear subtly helps to draw us into their world, so that we feel their joy and pain more profoundly than we otherwise might.

The film is dedicated to “the outsider spirit” of Frank Sidebottom, but one doesn’t have to look too far to discern other, more telling influences on the central characterisation – Captain Beefheart, Mark E. Smith and Daniel Johnston amongst them.

Beautifully done - affecting and subtly inspirational.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Not The Worst Place" / "The Magic Toyshop"

I reviewed two theatre productions for the British Theatre Guide this week, both about adolescent girls in crisis, and both, in an odd coincidence, referencing the ever-controversial story of the Greek god Zeus coming to earth in the form of a swan, and seducing/raping earth-woman Leda.

The first was Sam Burns “Not The Worst Place” at Sherman Cymru; an increasingly rare example of a playwright getting results (eventually) after sending a script on spec to a theatre company. The second, Alan Harris’ adaptation of Angela Carter’s “The Magic Toyshop”, at Chapter, is an increasingly common example of a writer forming a company to produce his own work.

Two jaundiced takes on family life, one a seafront-set comedy drama with mythic overtones, one a none-more-dark fairy-tale inflected fable; both accomplished and effective.

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Thursday, May 01, 2014

Bare Fiction Issue 2 launch

I’m delighted/fortunate to have had a short play (“The Naked Major” – spot the subtle Goya reference) published in issue 2 of Bare Fiction Magazine, and went along to the celebratory Cardiff launch at Gwdihw café-bar.

The evening kicked off with a couple of open-mic poetry slots: from Sion Owen (pensive, Welsh-themed), and Simon King (slyly humorous). Rhian Elizabeth then read a startling extract from her Valleys-set book “Six Pounds Eight Ounces”, before issue 2 contributors Bethany Rivers and Carly Holmes provided vivid examples from their oeuvres. This was followed by Rachel Tresize giving us a story from her excellent “Cosmic Latte” collection, after which Bethany W. Pope regaled us with a selection of colourful pieces.

The second half began with another open-mic segment, John Davies giving a lively reading from his hospital-themed novella, and experienced performance poet Mark Blayney effortlessly maintaining the comic mood. Susie Wilde then offered up a selection of prose and poetry, followed by London-based May-Lan Tan reading from her acclaimed debut collection “Things To Make And Break”. Adam Horowitz then treated us to an actorly reading of his largely rural-themed verse; Tania Hershman read her issue 2 piece “Missing My Liar”, and an amusing story about biochemists at a party; and host/editor Robert Harper wrapped things up with great geniality.

An enjoyable night, with the venue’s questionable acoustics made up for by the quality of the bottled cider on offer. 

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