Blakeson - Writer

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"The Beaux' Stratagem" / Young Artists Festival

My birthday treat this year was a trip to London’s Royal National Theatre to see a production of George Farquhar’s “The Beaux Stratagem” (on a £15 Travelex deal). My first Restoration Comedy, and I was expecting an educative experience rather than an entertaining one, but as it turned out, it was a great deal of fun.

The story involves two impoverished gentlemen from London, coming to Lichfield in order to find wealthy wives. Along the way, via the involvement of some thieves, they prove themselves to be worthy and capable of actual love. Written in 1707, while Farquhar was on his death-bed, it is a late entry in the genre.

Director Simon Godwin, in conjunction with dramaturg Patrick Marber, seem to have hit on the perfect formula for making a piece like this work for the popular audience – ensure that as much of the comedy as possible is physical (drunkenness, falling over, swordplay etc) and focus on the off-colour jokes. Any contemporary relevance will then emerge from the text: in this case, the theme is the inequality between men and women when it comes to marriage.

The cast, as one might expect, is excellent, a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar, all seeming to enjoy themselves. The live band was occasionally integrated into the action, to humorous effect. There are even Welsh connections, with Royal Welsh College graduate Amy Morgan playing the feisty barmaid, and the climactic comedy fight scene, choreographed by Kev McCurdy, earning a round of applause. They didn’t quite solve the problem of the comedy Irishman, though.

Actually very funny, and well worth the trip.

Pearce Quigley & Geoffrey Streatfeild in "The Beaux' Stratagem" (photo by Manuel Harlan)

A few days earlier, I was lucky enough to attend the final night of the Young Artists’ Festival, run by The Other Room at Porters’ in Cardiff city centre. This featured five new short plays by Tracy Harris, Kelly Jones, Tim Price, Neil Bebber and Matt Hartley, all featuring young performers, most with a social media theme. As I suggested in my report for the British Theatre Guide, Price’s “I Feel Sexy All The Time” was the most immediate success in terms of audience appreciation, but they all provided much food for thought, and the event as a whole suggests that Wales won’t be running out of actors any time soon.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

"Miramar" / "The Winter's Tale" / Pitch Radio

My most recent assignment for the British Theatre Guide was Taking Flight Theatre’s annual outdoor touring Shakespeare production, in Thompson’s Park, Cardiff. This was of “The Winter’s Tale” (and yes, I had to do research beforehand), and they certainly embraced the piece’s absurd plot elements (“Exit, pursued by a bear” and all).

"The Winter's Tale" - Taking Flight Theatre

Prior to that, was the first production from Triongl, a company comprising three actresses: – “Miramar”, a tragi-comedy about home and the threat of homelessness, starring Valmai Jones as an elderly widow who finds herself in deep trouble following the death of her husband. Funny and worrisome.

In other news, the short play I wrote for Radio Cardiff's Pitch Slot, inspired by the legend of the C.I.A.s attempt to co-opt abstract expressionism into the Cold War, and produced by local performance art luminaries Good Cop Bad Cop is now available to hear online.

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Thursday, June 04, 2015

"Mad Max - Fury Road"

I can’t claim to be a “Max Max” person.

I’ve seen all the films in the Mel Gibson phase of the series, quite possibly in reverse order – I definitely saw “Mad Max 3 - Beyond Thunderdome” first, in the cinema, and was not especially impressed. I was, nevertheless, attracted to “Mad Max – Fury Road” by excellent reviews, promising action cinema at its most visceral.

It certainly delivers in terms of visuals – there’s a lot of fast driving, and inaccurate shooting, and things getting blown up, with a minimum of ridiculously obvious CGI. George Miller’s story-telling, however, is a little confusing, possibly intentionally.

We are introduced, in a kind of hallucinogenic montage, to nominal hero Max, riven by grief, in an apocalyptic Australia where everyone looks like characters in Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys” video. This is a world where, following the nuclear holocaust, natural resources – gasoline, water, healthy babies – are scarce and constantly fought over.

Max is captured by a warlord, and used as a mobile blood-bank as his captors go to war. Meanwhile, female warrior Imperator has kidnapped some of the chief’s wives and makes for a place of supposed sanctuary, pursued by… ooh, all sorts of grotesque people.

“Fury Road” will only work for those who buy into the aesthetic; I‘m afraid I didn’t – I took the flame-throwing double-necked guitar as a warning-sign. Much of the acting is cartoonish – again, perhaps calculatedly, since we aren’t meant to care about most of the minor characters.

For me, the film only comes alive in the middle section, as Tom Hardy’s Max develops an alliance with Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. She is, indeed, the best thing about this film, a fearless, resourceful and emotionally vulnerable one-armed war-machine. Despite his tragic back-story, Hardy’s Max has less emotional weight to carry, so is hard to identify with. An unrecognisable Nicholas Hoult is rather more effective as their accidental ally who seeks an Al-Qaeda-esque glorious death in order to come back to life in a better world.

Some critics have perceived fetishization in the way that the wives (amongst them Zoe Kravitz and Rosie Huntington-Whitely) are depicted as sex-objects. But then, their characters are commodities, valuable as potential mothers; sexiness comes with the territory. And it’s sunny – why would they wear overcoats?

“Fury Road” is very well done, on a technical level, and its “look after your planet” message is more profound than one might expect from a comic-book movie. Theron aside, though, I found it hard to enjoy.

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Monday, June 01, 2015

The Fall / Chalkie Davies / "Wot? No Fish!!"

It has been pretty much 35 years since I first saw The Fall, in Cardiff University’s Great Hall, and have caught up with them at intervals ever since, although the last time was at some point during the last century, at St David’s Hall, which seemed like a poor fit. When I saw a gig announced for The Globe, a short walk from my residence, I felt that it would have been impolite to resist.

First up on the night were local 6-piece, Chain Of Flowers (melodic, electro-inflected punk-pop, charismatic lead singer); followed by (slightly older) Manc quintet As Able As Kane (industrial indie, beat-based but with live drums; keyboardist and female bass-player/vocalist periodically instrument-swap; co-lead vocalist looks like Peter Hook’s bricklayer brother).

Then came the mighty Fall themselves, Mark E. Smith growling from off-stage, referencing J. G. Ballard, before emerging, to huge applause from a capacity crowd of devotees of all ages. Dressed in his customary “1970s geography teacher” style, he was on vintage form, his remarkably tight band (including two drummers) laying down something of a “solid groove” over which he ranted and snarled poetically, whilst wandering to all areas of the tiny stage. As far as I can tell, he seemed good-natured: no-one got sacked, he spent a good deal of the time actually facing the audience – even briefly handing over a microphone to a thrilled fan – and actually played a hit: the vaguely topical “Sparta FC”; although the bulk of the set was devoted to new album “Sub-Lingual Tablet” (at least, I presume so – I have yet to catch up with it). There was even a crowd-pleasing, sing-along encore – “White Lightning”, which sent me and my fellow worshippers out into the drizzle dazed and ecstatic. Wonderful and frightening indeed.

The Fall

In further rock’n’roll nerd news, I can heartily recommend the Chalkie Davies exhibition at the National Museum of Wales. The Sully-born photographer was on the staff of the New Musical Express in the late 1970s and was one of the founders of biblical style magazine The Face. The cliché is true: his moody snaps truly define an era of working-class (or faux-working-class) defiance. Expect the museum to be crawling with teary-eyed old punks for the next few months.

The Clash (Chalkie Davies)

As I recall, there’s no mention of the punk rock revolution in “Wot? No Fish!!” my most recent reviewing assignment for the British Theatre Guide. The story of a London Jewish family, told via a series of drawings presented to East End shoemaker Ab Solomons to his wife Celie virtually every week of their lengthy marriage, it’s lovingly presented by performer Danny Braverman. Alternately heart-breaking and heartening, it is a beautiful, deeply involving experience.

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