Blakeson - Writer

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Stalin Paddington Lehrer Dance Maiden Tiger Glass

Armando Iannucci’s “The Death Of Stalin” is even more brutally funny than one might expect from a famed political satirist, since it is based in verifiable fact. It depicts the jockeying for political position following the protracted passing of the post-Revolutionary Soviet leader, with Simon Russell Beale brilliantly loathsome as security chief Beria, and Steve Buscemi on excellent form as Kruschev, the voice of reason. The casting is flawless as a whole, with Jeffrey Tambor, Andrea Riseborough and Jason Isaacs also especially effective. Furthermore, it avoids the trap of being about a lot of men shouting in darkened rooms via some witty camerawork, not to mention all the shootings. Perhaps the most shocking element, however, is the depiction of Stalin’s popularity amongst his people – which may or may not impact on the film’s chances of ever being shown in Russia.
There were more reflections on dictatorship in Fio’s production of Ariel Dorfman’s “Death And The Maiden” at The Other Room, in which a former political prisoner confronts the man she suspects of being one of her torturers; very tense and nightmarish.
Lisa Zahra in "Death And The Maiden" (photo: Kieran Cudlip")
A tad more light-hearted was Adam Kay’s “The Remains of Tom Lehrer”, in the sophisticated surroundings of the Ffresh Restaurant at the Wales Millennium Centre – an excellent show, in tribute to the work of one of the cleverest – and darkest - musical satirists of the 1950s and 1960s.
There have been several other notable events at that venue in the past couple of weeks. The ambitious, large-scale musical “Tiger Bay”, set in multi-cultural Cardiff in the early part of the 20th century, boasted an impressive cast and score (and a slightly puzzling sub-plot), and seems to have been a hit with local audiences.
"Tiger Bay" (photo: Polly Thomas"
Most recently, there was the visit of the Clod Ensemble with “Under Glass”, in which we are put in the role of scientists, observing the lives of several individuals in glass cases, as though they were specimens. Very clever, if occasionally obscure.
There was also “Roots”, at the Dance House, round the back of the Centre – in which the National Dance Company of Wales offered four short, diverse, and very satisfying pieces, as part of Cardiff Dance Festival 2017.
Also part of the Festival, but at Chapter, was a double-bill comprising Liz Roche’s “Wrongheaded” – a piece rooted in the politicisation of women’s bodies, particularly in Ireland, but, obviously universally applicable – and Laïla Diallo’s “In This Moment”, a solo rumination of the concept of our experience of time. Also striking was a piece which contained only a modicum of actual dance – “Hardy Animal” by Laura Dannequin, in which she reflected on her experience of chronic back pain and its effect on her career and self-perception.
"Hardy Animal"
The latest “A Play A Pie and A Pint” production at the Sherman was “The Burton Taylor Affair”, which was a well acted but disappointingly shallow take on the lives of two great actors. Somewhat more inspiring was an evening of playlets and music put on at the nearby AJ’s Coffee House by Gareth Ford-Elliot’s Eno Theatre.
Perhaps the highlight of the month, if not the year, was “Paddington 2” – a beautifully cinematic and warm-hearted return to a universe in which a small, well-meaning bear can wander about spreading light wherever he goes. Excellent performances from Hugh Grant, as the pantomime villain, and Brendan Gleeson, too. Jolly fun, with a lightly handled theme of positivity and inclusiveness.

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