Blakeson - Writer

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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Star Wars" / "Peter Pan"

I can’t claim to be especially invested in the “Star Wars” universe over and above being grateful to George Lucas for helping to save the commercial cinema in the mid-70s. I’ve only watched the original trilogy once or twice, and bailed out of the second lot a few minutes into “Attack Of The Clones”.  My faith in J.J. Abrams, however – along with the ridiculous amount of media hype which would inevitably have resulted in plot spoilers – prompted me to take a chance on “The Force Awakens”; and I was not disappointed.

The story is something to do with the fate of a map pointing out the whereabouts of one Luke Skywalker, but that’s of little importance. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are impressive as newcomers to the ways of The Force, with Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver and Domnhall Gleeson giving fine turns on various sides of the argument. And, of course, it’s good to see Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in the thick of the action. I even spotted the Daniel Craig cameo.

The screenplay is surprisingly funny, and the action and visuals are as beautifully orchestrated as one might expect, although if I’d known beforehand that the 3D was an afterthought, I might not have paid the extra. Still, it is well deserving of the fanboy praise, and will doubtless enthuse a new generation of cinema-goers.

No Christmas trip back to Stoke would be complete without a visit to the Regent Theatre to take in the panto. The double-act of Jonathan Wilkes and Christian Patterson (whom I last saw being threatening at The Other Room in Cardiff) this year brought us “Peter Pan”, J.M. Barries’s tale padded out with pop songs, energetic dance routines, vaguely off-colour humour and numerous local references. Wilkes was chummy and charismatic as ever, and Patterson (also responsible for the script) is always a formidable presence (although there were sadly few opportunities for him to cross-dress this time round). Amanda Coutts was also excellent and well-received, as the Essex girl Tinkerbell; and the rest of the cast, mostly drawn from the Wilkes’ performing arts academies, acquitted themselves admirably, despite seemingly having to speed through the plot in order to advance to the comedy business. It was all jolly fun, though.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

“The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe” / “Saturday Night Forever”

If my calculations are correct, I’ve reviewed 31 plays this year; 29 of them for the British Theatre Guide. Mostly jolly fun, and the responsibility of having to write about a performance certainly helps one to concentrate on the experience, even if it’s somewhat frustrating to be a mere spectator. Still, one is grateful for the opportunity to learn from the expertise (and mistakes) of others.

The big Christmas show this year was Sherman Cymru’s production of “The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe”, with a cast including, as now seems customary, some fine actor-musicians. It’s quite magical despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of life-like animal costumes and special effects. The awkward fact that C.S. Lewis’s theme is Holy War can’t be avoided, however.

“The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe” (Photo by Mark Douet)

Somewhat less festive was the touring revival of Roger Williams’ “Saturday Night Forever” at Chapter, a production of which I remember seeing in 2001. One of several recent object-lessons in handling a one-person play, it’s not a happy tale, being about tragedy befalling a relatively new gay relationship. An excellent central performance, though, and imaginative but simple design and direction make it a rewarding experience.

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Monday, December 07, 2015

Alt-J / "Touch Blue Touch Yellow" / "Alix In Wundergarten"

My most recent concert-going experience was Alt-J at Cardiff’s cavernous Motorpoint Arena; something of a Mercury Music Prize mini-festival. First up was Ghostpoet (two-time Mercury Prize nominee, recent judge), who just about managed to make himself audible amidst the muddy sound-mix. His languid vocalising – not quite singing, not quite rap, not quite spoken-word poetry – was very seductive, and well-received, but his set would probably have better suited a much more intimate venue. Still, thanks to BBC6 Music, I was more familiar with his repertoire than I had previously realised.

Second in support were The Horrors (one-time Mercury nominees), who provided a more than passable, trippy Goth wig-out; the only songs I knew were the singles “Still Life” and “I See You” which duly impressed.

Excitement reached panic-levels for Alt-J, though – one of the few indie-bands who can cite Gregorian chant as a major influence. For such a sensitive crew, they inspired much boisterous foot-shuffling and head-bobbing. The complex, nuanced songs from their Mercury Award-winning “An Awesome Wave” and more recent “This Is All Yours” albums just about survived the inevitably murky live experience and were greeted rapturously, from the unlikely blues-rock-inflected “Left Hand Free” to the intensely moving “Matilda”. The light-show was impressive as well, although I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed not to see an image of Miley Cyrus appear alongside her sampled vocal of “Hunger Of The Pine”, part of the four-song encore. Magical, frankly.
Touch Blue Touch Yellow

A couple of days earlier, I went to see and review Tim Rhys’ “Touch Blue Touch Yellow” – a play partly informed by his experience as the father of a child who is on the autistic spectrum. Intending to combat some of the myths propagated by work such as (the admittedly excellent) “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” in terms of savant-ism and lack of emotion, it was a sobering look at the experience of “sufferers” and their families, and featured an excellent central performance from Joshua Manfield.

Alix In Wundergarten (photo by Aenne Pallasca)

My first vaguely festive-themed production of the year was “Alix In Wundergarten” – a co-production from The Other Room and difficultstage. Taking the form of a staged radio recording of an adaptation of “Alice In Wonderland”, it was a surreal exploration of the actor’s ego. Very funny in parts, but perhaps a tad over-long.

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