Blakeson - Writer

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Real Human Being" / "Parallel Lines"

I’ve had a couple of contrasting but equally intriguing theatrical experiences over the past couple of days.

First up was “Real Human Being”, from Taking Flight Theatre Company which specialises in inclusive theatre. Written by Matthew Bulgo, this is a play intended to raise awareness of disability hate crime. Designed to be presented as part of a day-long programme of workshops etc. in secondary schools, it was but shown in concentrated form to interested parties at Cardiff’s Llanover Hall Arts Centre. Cleverly done and, frankly, quite stressful.

"Parallel Lines" (photo by Kirsten McTernan)

The following evening saw a revival of the award-winning “Parallel Lines” from Dirty Protest at Chapter. I was initially reluctant to review it again, having seen it on its initial run two years ago, but it turns out to have been radically reconceptualised by director Catherine Paskell and writer Katherine Chandler, for a Welsh tour. Centring on an accusation of sexual misconduct made by a bright female pupil against a male teacher, it is more of a lament about adult failings in general than a “torn from the headlines” drama. The new, stripped down aesthetic is bold, with the witty script and powerful performances combining to mitigate the play’s pessimism. 

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"The Martian" / Made In Roath 2015

During a scientific mission on Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after an explosion. Left behind by his crewmates, he faces a struggle, not only to survive, but also to alert his bosses on Earth as to his plight; and even if he were to succeed, any successful rescue would take years…

“The Martian” is Sir Ridley Scott’s most satisfying film in quite some time, possibly since “Gladiator”. Matt Damon’s irreverent, resourceful hero is supported by an excellent cast, including Jessica Chastain as his ship’s commander, Jeff Daniels as the careworn head of NASA, Kristen Wiig as a PR chief, Donald Glover and McKenzie Davis as minor but crucially important nerds, and a number of Brits – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Benedict Wong - in pivotal roles. As might be expected from the director of “Blade Runner”, the visuals are breath-taking; but there is also much humour, the 1970s disco soundtrack underlining Watney’s determination to remain upbeat.

Written by Drew Goddard, based on a novel by Andrew Weir, and set only a little way into the future, the science is on a believably human level – no chatty computers, no magical food-generating machines, no instant transportation through wormholes, etc. This is a tale of human courage, ingenuity and co-operation. In fact, in a genre which thrives on dystopianism, “The Martian” is hearteningly positive and optimistic. I almost wish I’d paid the extra to see it in 3D.

This past week saw Cardiff’s boutique Made In Roath Arts Festival, with artists’ open houses, pub theatre, music, photography etc.  I managed to contribute this year, with a purpose-made video inspired by “The Book Of American Negro Poetry” (ed. James Weldon Johnson, 1922), shown in the garden of vegetarian bar/restaurant Milgi.

The Aframerican Poet from OTHNIEL SMITH on Vimeo.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

"The Drowned Girl" / "Yuri" / "A Doll's House" / The Other Room

I’ve had three diverse but satisfying theatrical review assignments in the past few weeks, reflecting the variety of work which is available in Cardiff – the intimate, bijou “The Drowned Girl”, a semi-autobiographical one-woman show performed by author Kelly Jones; the freewheeling, extravagant, mid-scale “Yuri”, a translation of a surreal French comedy about childlessness; and Sherman Cymru’s main stage production of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”. All very well executed and highly enjoyable, although I found the Ibsen particularly revelatory and surprisingly exciting.

Leila Crerar in "A Doll's House" (photo by Nick Allsop)

Following this, it was interesting to attend, as part of The Other Room’s Blue Sky season, an open Manifesto meeting in the city’s first purpose-built pub theatre, at which the team who run the company discussed their work to date, talked about future plans (with no spoilers), and invited those present to make proposals as regards their artistic policy. Conclusions reached included the need to make connections with other venues, to try and increase the number of new plays performed, and to commit to producing Welsh-language/bilingual work. There was frank discussion of their perceived failings and difficulties  – principally involving  less than full houses for some pieces – but there was much support in the room for the company, and appreciation of the fact that it has already developed a distinctive identity.

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