Blakeson - Writer

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

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"Jem & Ella" / "What Mid-Life Crisis" / "Constellation St." / "Fear Of Drowning"

Another stimulating couple of weeks of theatre-reviewing.
It began with “Jem & Ella”,   at the Sherman - the latest phase of a continuing father-daughter dance/theatre project, co-created by choreographer Jem Treays and his twelve-year-old daughter Ella. It could have been a rather sentimental, tear-jerking exploration of their relationship but for the high quality of the movement on display.
Jem & Ella (photo: Jorge Lizalde)
Then came “Dick Johns – What Mid-Life Crisis” at Chapter, in which the actor also known as Dick Bradnum hosted an amusing cabaret-style show based around middle-age, as a vehicle for a number of his short stories.  Odd to watch a show in which someone who is younger than oneself meditates on his advancing years; but at least I won some chocolates in the pub-style quiz.

Then there was the latest from The Other Room – Matthew Bulgo’s “Constellation St.” Four monologues, each presented on a different, meticulously designed set within the tiny venue at Porter’s Bar; each focusing on inter-linked, troubled lives. Well up to their usual standard, although the nature of the presentation, with the audience split into groups to experience the segments in a different order, ingeniously managed as though it is, means that one will always miss out on one of the story-strands.

Most recently there was P.R.W. Jenkins’ “Fear Of Drowning” back at Chapter, a runner-up in the 2012 Wales Drama Award, and the first production from Black Sheep Theatre. Basically two plays in one – a romantic comedy and a surreal environmental anti-buddy movie - so a tad unclear in its narrative intentions, but featuring some excellent comic performances.
Fear Of Drowning (photo: Kirsten McTernan)

This last was experienced only an hour after I had heard the news of the passing of one of my true musical heroes, Prince; which followed hard on the equally untimely and shocking loss of Victoria Wood. There seems to be a lot of sneering when the word “grief” is mentioned in connection with the deaths of celebrities; but if someone has made a positive contribution to your life, even from a great distance, losing them is undeniably distressing.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

"High Rise"

I can’t claim to be a particular devotee of the work of J.G. Ballard. The only novel I’ve read of his is the atypically autobiographical (and excellent) “Empire Of The Sun”; and my memory of his dystopian short stories is that they are very well executed, but creepy and cold. In this respect Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of “High Rise” is exemplary in its fidelity to the tone set by its original author.

Tom Hiddleston, bringing the dubious composure he brought to the BBC’s wonderful “The Night Manager” plays Laing, a physiologist, who moves into an upper-scale high-rise block apartment block in a large British city, and is implicated in events which lead to the already shaky infrastructure which exists deteriorating completely, apparently mirroring events in wider society. Luke Evans co-stars as his rebellious, slightly more proletarian downstairs co-resident; with Sienna Miller as the sexy upstairs neighbours; and Jeremy Irons as the Architect, who isn’t nearly in control of things as he likes to pretend.

The décor, cars, clothes, hair-styles and typefaces place us squarely in the drab 1970s, as does Wheatley’s directorial style, with its focus on brutalist architecture, its disjointed narrative, and the kind of clipped, dislocatory dubbing which calls to mind European art cinema of that era (Bunuel, Antonioni etc). Along with screenwriter (and co-editor Amy Jump), he creates an unsettling and unsettled atmosphere, with the escalating nightmarishness signalled from the very beginning.

Full of reliable, familiar faces (Reece Shearsmith, Elizabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes), and with a soundtrack which cleverly repurposes Abba, the film is flawlessly executed, but also thoroughly unpleasant. This, I’m sure, is the filmmakers’ intention, as they “predict” the rise of Thatcherite amorality.

The look is remarkable, the performances flawless – “High Rise” is an artistic success in its own terms. It is not an experience, however, which I will want to revisit any time soon. An extra point for having “Industrial Estate” by The Fall play over the end credits, though.

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