Blakeson - Writer

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

Friday, January 30, 2015

Y Tŵr / Dirty Protest vs Artes Mundi

I got the rare opportunity to experience some classic Welsh-language theatre this week on behalf of the British Theatre Guide. This was courtesy of Invertigo Theatre Company, and their touring production of Gwenlyn Parry’s “Y Tŵr”. A very interesting piece, partly naturalistic and partly allegorical, with a couple experiencing a lifetime of small-town crises whilst intermittently ascending the titular, symbolic tower. The English translation was projected on a video-screen to the side of the stage at Chapter, for the benefit of non-Welsh-speakers, who seemed to be very much in the minority in a packed auditorium.

And last night there was another Dirty Protest night of rehearsed play-readings, this time at the redeveloped Abacus building near Cardiff Bus station. Playwrights Richard Redman, Tracy Harris, Neil Bebber, Kelly Jones (winner of the 2014 Wales Drama Award), Owen Thomas and Paul Jenkins were tasked with coming up with ten-minute pieces inspired by the exhibits which were up for the Artes Mundi Prize. References to Renzo Martens’ chocolate sculptures cropped up in at least three of the pieces; dysfunctional relationships were a recurring theme, as well as the egotism of the artist. Entertaining and stimulating as ever with a fine cast – Gareth Pierce, Gwawr Loader, Neal McWilliams and Melangell Dolma, plus special guest Sharon Morgan. 

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Library Cuts - Letter from WGGB to Cardiff Council

Cllr. Phil Bale,
Leader, Cardiff Council
County Hall
Atlantic Wharf
CF10 4UW

Dear Councillor Bale,
The Welsh Committee of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain would like to add our voices to those expressing profound concern at Cardiff Council’s plans to make cuts to library services in the city.
While we understand the financial pressures under which the Authority is forced to operate, it seems clear that such measures as removing funding from smaller libraries, which are vitally important to local communities, can only be harmful in the long term. Replacing trained staff with volunteers (however committed and well-intentioned) does not seem conducive to the continued provision of what has, for many years, been an excellent service. There is also the possibility that the security of historically significant archive material might be compromised, not to mention the danger that valuable buildings might fall into disrepair.
Furthermore, proposed cuts at Cardiff’s Central Library seems inconsistent with its status as a high-profile feature of a major European capital.
As writers and readers, we urge you to re-think these plans.

Yours faithfully,
Sion Eirian, Gillian Brightmore, Othniel Smith
pp Manon Eames
Chair, Welsh Committee,
Writers’ Guild of Great Britain

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015


I’m not entirely sure how much I enjoyed “Birdman”, the latest film from Alejandro González Iñárritu. It’s certainly an impressive technical achievement, although its primary selling point in this respect – the fact that, for the vast majority of its length, it appears to be one long take – isn’t necessarily essential to the telling of the tale, since it neither unfolds in real time or from a single point of view; the effect is of a trippy, stream-of-consciousness ride.

The narrative is anchored around a powerfully edgy central performance from Michael Keaton as the former superhero-movie actor attempting to re-invent himself by staging a Raymond Carver adaptation on Broadway; he is matched by Edward Norton as his co-star and rival in alpha maleness. Emma Stone also excels as his world-weary, fresh-out-of-rehab daughter as do Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts as emotionally vulnerable fellow actors, and Lindsay Duncan as a coolly vicious theatre critic; it’s also good to see Zach Galifianakis playing a vaguely recognisable human being.

At various points it seems as though “Birdman” is about the neurotic nature of the actor’s existence or the redemptive power of art. Its real subject, however, appears to be the male ego in all its glory and ugliness. With woozy naturalism punctuated by moments of CGI excess, the storytelling is intentionally confusing and dislocatory. There are emotional truths at its heart, however, so the gratuitous cinematic tricksiness can be forgiven.

While the film is perhaps a little too fond of its own cleverness to truly love, it’s certainly an admirable piece of work.

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Monday, January 05, 2015

"Dick Whittington"

It was my second consecutive year attending Jonathan Wilkes’ popular panto at the Regent Theatre in my home town of Stoke-on-Trent, after a few weeks of slightly artier Christmas fare in Cardiff; so I thought I’d offer my observations in the form of a checklist of the elements one might expect at such an entertainment.

  • Traditional story? Yes, “Dick Whittington” – although the hero travels to the town of “Stokey”, rather than London.
  • A cross-dressing panto dame? Yes, in the form of the excellent Christian Patterson, as Dick’s mother, in an array of extraordinary costumes.
  • A cross-dressing, thigh-slapping principal boy? Sadly, no, since the title character was played by Wilkes himself, although he’s very charismatic.
  • Famous names employed, to get bums on seats? Not really, although Wilkes, best known for his work with Robbie Williams, is something of a Potteries celebrity. And the cast was impressive, including rising West End star Louise Dearman, and Welsh actors Simon Nehan and Kai Owen.
  • Contemporary pop songs shoehorned in on the merest pretext? Yes – “Let It Go” and “Happy” made appearances; with vintage hits from Queen, The Village people and Kylie & Jason also featuring, presumably to appeal to mums and dads.
  • Seaside-postcard style “saucy” humour? Well, the central character was called “Dick”, which led to much family-unfriendly inappropriateness. There was also a touch of mild homophobia (“Gay Gordons”?).
  • A lack of narrative coherence in favour of plentiful comedy “business”? Yes – but the onstage banter between the cast seemed unforced, and went down well.
  • Numerous local references? Oh yes – maybe too many. Although the rewrite of “12 Days Of Christmas” was amusing, involving…
  • Audience participation? Yes - much singing, as well as a half-hearted attempt at a “he’s behind you!” interlude.
The video intro, narrated by Brian Blessed and featuring local notables including darts legend Phil “The Power” Taylor and Pete Conway (Williams' comedian father) was a novelty; although the advert from sponsors seemed an odd fit. And the ensemble of dancers, involving both local children and students from the Wilkes Academy of Performing Arts was highly accomplished.

All very enjoyable, and obviously a well-oiled machine, such that even technical blips such as malfunctioning microphones were seamlessly incorporated into the entertainment.

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