Theatre in Wales

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

Spectacle Theatre celebrates 25 years

David Adams reflects on a quarter century of work..

Spectacle Theatre and I set out together in Wales - the Rhondda-based company was founded the same year that I started reviewing Welsh theatre and it was one of the first companies I saw.

The year was 1979, for many an annus horribilis: the No vote in the referendum and the start of Margaret Thatcher’s reign.

But it was also the start of a new beginning for young people’s and community theatre, which was to be heralded as “the jewel in the crown” of a fledgling Welsh theatre scene.

Today, as Spectacle celebrates not just a Gala year but recognition at last for the TIE movement at the centre of which it has been for all those 25 years, theatre in Wales may be better funded but is still struggling – two major reports within weeks of each other anguish over the future of theatre provision as the National Assembly considers whether to take over running the arts by a Culture Ministry rather than continue with the arms-length system of using the arts council as an intermediary agency to distribute WAG funds.

Typically, Spectacle director Steve Davis sees it all as another opportunity.

So it’s not surprising that at the company’s recent 25th anniversary Gala celebration at Miskin Manor, where guests included three AMs (including a prominent minister), Steve suggested what could be the most radical moves in the company’s history.

Spectacle’s strength, he reminded us, was in its rootedness in the community (to the extent that company policy dictates that all staff live within a 25-mile radius of the Llwynypia base): “The key to creating work which is actually relevant to the audience is to place the shared experience at the centre of the world – no matter how difficult or challenging the work became in its development or delivery.

“If theatre is to be relevant, the story needs intrinsically to reflect the cultural understanding of the audience,” he told guests. “This cultural understanding needs to be at the centre of the story and not extrinsically placed upon it.

“When theatre engages the audience its relevance is recognised culturally, not cosmetically – and this understanding drives the company’s work artistically and its structural development. Our audiences are interested in our theatre because it is culturally relevant to their lives and this has always been at the heart of the company’s work.”

Up to this point, of course, it all sounded very much like any chief executive’s celebratory speech extolling the company’s vision, mission and success. But Steve Davis decided to “finish with a dream”.

“Imagine in a few years’ time if somewhere in the valleys we have a full-time professional producing theatre – perhaps the Parc and Dare.

“But a main-scale theatre created in the valleys with a community theatre and TIE outreach team, a company that reflects the culture of the valleys and taking it out to the rest of Wales and Europe – as well as having companies from the rest of Europe coming here.

“Imagine,” he asked the intrigued audience, “the shift that would make in the perspective of young people in the valleys…the confidence that would be built...the draw it would create for those who have left and those who would like to come and see what is happening…

“We need to eradicate the idea that nothing good is ever created here and that to do anything we need to leave.

“We can create the best theatre experiences in Wales here in the valleys.”

So this could be the next leap forward for Spectacle – because that idea of a major producing house, maybe based at the Parc and Dare, is one that is now being seriously considered by the arts council and National Assembly. It comes in the recent Boyden Report – but most would assume that a new company would be set up. Steve Davis’s audacious proposal is that it could be the already-existing community and TIE company, Spectacle.

The proposed move to becoming a middle-scale touring company based at Treorchi would not, of course, mean that the TIE work would cease or even be diminished: the company is too dedicated to young people for that.

Steve Davis defined to me a while back what he sees as Spectacle’s essential strength:

“I think the central aspect of Spectacle's work is its consideration of its audience,” he says. “We aim for all of our work, however complex the ideas contained within, to be accessible – and we operate primarily from the idea that children and young people have a right to quality theatre experience at least equal to that of adults.”

In some ways a move to the Parc and Dare would be the logical next step for a company that knows its strength is not only in the local community but in a community that has none of the sort of theatregoers or practitioners that are found in Cardiff or the less deprived areas of South Wales.

Spectacle has thrived in such adversity, but much of the work has gone unnoticed by the public and, to an extent, by politicians: what Spectacle does is very much taken for granted, says Steve Davis, its achievements unsung.

But regardless of whether Steve Davis’s immediate plans happen, Spectacle will always be there for the community of Rhondda Cynon Taf.

After all, they have been for the last 25 years – and whatever the politicians decide is the way forward for Welsh theatre, Spectacle is certain to feature in that future.

author:David Adams

original source: Spectaclee Theatre
17 November 2004


Privacy Policy | Contact Us | ©2006 keith morris / red snapper web designs /