Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Acting Wales: Stars of Stage and Screen

Zoe Hewett reviews Peter Stead's new book

As someone who tends to be more interested in the overall effect of a film or live performance, than the individual cast members, I do not normally dwell on the ‘real’ personality of a leading actor. I also have distinct lack of respect for egotistical acting ‘stars’ that prize their fame and fortune above artistic integrity. Fortunately Peter Stead’s recent book ‘Acting Wales: Stars of Stage and Screen’ is an informed (though occasionally longwinded) look at the contribution of Wales’ acting success stories to the profession, rather than a sycophantic exercise in pure patriotism.

Opening with a somewhat anecdotal but not uninteresting recollection of the first theatrical encounters which led him to develop a deep interest in acting, Stead considers the particular qualities of an actor’s face, and their individual physique, in very particular and thorough detail, in each chapter. This at first seems a little strange until the realisation sets in that their unique features are of course, an actor’s fundamental tools.

Although the so-called Taff Pack do not possess, or at least have not yet revealed the same true ‘star’ quality as say Richard Burton, their chapter initially seemed the most interesting. Unfortunately it focussed too much on Ioan Gruffudd’s ‘good looks’ and not enough on the artistic aims and ambition of the Pack ‘members’, which would have been of particular interest with the Capital of Culture 2008 bid and development of the Valleywood studios looming. Also there are no excerpts from interviews with any of the actors still alive and working, although I suppose the likes of Catherine Zeta Jones are probably a bit hard to get hold of nowadays.

Whilst it is great to see home-grown talent succeeding in the National and International film and theatre industries, we Welsh do tend to get a little over-excited by such achievements. We seem to be more surprised than most when a native succeeds in any field, that our ‘shat-upon’ country is actually capable of producing anything half-decent. Those in the previously similarly depressed north of England share with us a sense of pride in themselves and their successful cultural exports, but not our self-pity.

Equally, simply ‘Welshifying’ a Shakespeare play by setting it in Wales for example, absolutely does not necessarily make it automatically good. Stead’s claim that now would be the right time for our own National Theatre on the strength of the Taff Pack seems rather grand, not to mention optimistic. Without the writers, directors and designers of the same calibre needed to sustain such an organisation by making truly challenging and innovative work for the stars of Wales to star in, it would be something of a waste.

The Welshness of the actors covered in the book sometimes tends to get in the way of how relevant or exciting they actually are. But overall it’s an interesting account of the careers of some very talented and successful actors, who just happen to be Welsh.

Acting Wales is published by the UNiversity of Wales press. Full details are in the Books section of this web site

author:Zoe Hewett

original source:
24 February 2003


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