Theatre in Wales

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

Is Theatre in Wales engaging with contemporary soc

This is the question that was discussed by the Arts Council of Wales and drama specialists from all over Wales on Friday 15th July at the Gate Arts Centre in Roath, Cardiff

The answer to the question was largely taken for granted by most people attending the conference. Some theatre writers regarded the question as patronising and insensitive and not needing to be asked. Fortunately we were spared litanies of the social and relevance of their programmes from the working theatre directors in attendance. Sadly such wisdom didn’t spread itself throughout the whole of the seminar but for most of the time the passion and commitment and the frustration of the working artist at the conference commanded the respect and attention of the distinguished assembly.

Even a tiny speck of understanding emerged from The Arts Council. From the Chairman Geraint Talfan Davies and reflected by Chief Executive Peter Tyndall but I also suspected that they had already worked out how they would address the current problems almost regardless of what any consultation might produce. A useful discussion could have followed had they aired a potential proposal and listened to the floor’s reaction to it.

The debate was sparked by an excellent presentation from guest speaker, Katherine Meldelsohn, Literary Manager of the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh with her well- established track record in dramaturgy and the promotion of new playwrights. The room buzzed with envy as she outlined the Traverse’s on-going record of commissioning and presenting 6-10 new writers each year and in Wales’ terms the relatively large budget that the Edinburgh theatre has available for this vital work. It is interesting to note that currently Sgript Cymru, Wales’ only dedicated new writing company, is now only able to produce two productions per year. Sitting beside her at the top table was a young Scottish ‘new writer’ Martin Taylor whose latest work East Coast Chicken Supper had recently been commissioned by the Traverse as part of this year’s Festival. He was very upbeat and positive and acknowledged the great value that the support of a well-established organisation meant to an emerging writer in Scotland. It did seem that ‘The Authorities’, who ever they maybe, in Scotland had a much higher regard for the value and significance of new writing than the ‘The Authorities’ have in Wales.

One well-established Welsh-based writer protested that he had acquired his success without a penny of subsidy. A company producer claimed that some devious political motivation had prevented them from taking up a project from one well respected director and entrepreneur. Another well-known Welsh writer complained that he hadn’t even had a response to his phone call, following his submission of a script to one highly regarded Welsh Company. I believe this confrontation ended happily, a commission now being in the pipeline.

The cry then came for a new writing theatre based in Wales, most probably in Cardiff. This was cautioned against by the wisdom of the more experienced theatre practitioners in the audience. But the weight of the room seemed in favour. Whilst this might not prove an utter disaster, I certainly wouldn’t want to put any of money on it being a success. What it will more likely be is just another Great Welsh Part-Politically-Motivated Fudge! Like the setting up of a ring of touring theatre in the early seventies, the beginnings of the Sherman, the Welsh Assembly’s attempt to take over the Arts Council, the establishment of a Welsh National Theatre in only one of our languages and the latest, The Wales Millennium Centre. I had looked forward to this mighty new establishment becoming a beacon of excellence in Theatre administration and programme planning. But I guess the jury is still out on that one. The Abbey Theatre in Dublin with its Peacock Theatre dedicated to the promotion of new Irish writing still throws in the occasional Shakespeare and other masters of playwriting to guide the new boys on their way.

It was acknowledged that most of all the theatre work taking place in Wales at the moment is new writing, resulting in the fact that it’s very hard for an aspiring writer to see a well written play and perhaps it’s one of the reasons that we don’t get that many of them put on in Wales. Though I would say that there were sufficient writers in that room with just a few who were unable to attend, who would be able to provide Wales with plays of a really high international standard, if only there was a well set up project to present their work, to keep us going for many years.

One very positive and practical suggestion did emerge, the setting up of a writer’s network and it looks as if something useful will come of this. We could have a virtual network on the Theatre Wales website. Let’s give it a go!

In the afternoon Ian Rowlands was wise and as ever, passionate though he was by no means alone in expressing a strong caring note for good quality Welsh Theatre. There’s dead wood that needs to cut away to make this a universal achievement. David Adam’s great encyclopaedic knowledge of Welsh theatre was acknowledged, Jeni Williams stressed the need for publication and education, I thought I said something amusing, but nobody laughed and Simon Harris asserted the success of his operation, then we all had a cup of tea and went home.

This is a quick personal account and comment on the day, a much more erudite and informed report on behalf on the Arts Council will be presented by the third special guest, Jonathon Meth of Script Network in due course.

Those in attendance were: - David Adams, critic and academic. Laurence Allen, Playwright. David Alston, Arts Council of Wales. Tim Baker, Clwyd Theatr Cymru. Sara Beer, Disability Arts Cymru. Jon Blake, playwright. Steve Blanford, University of Glam organ. Sam Boardman-Jacobs, University of Glamorgan. Michael Bogdanov, The Wales Theatre Company. Elen Bowman, Sgript Cymru. Phil Clark, Sherman Theatre. Geoff Cripps, Rhondda, Cynon Taff. Greg Cullen, playwright. Nicholas Davis, Arts Council of Wales. Angharad Devonald writer. Andy Eagle, Theatr Brycheinog. Peter Edwards HTV (Wales). Stephen Fisher, Theatre Director. Paul Gibbins, Gwent Theatre. Maggie Hampton Disability Arts Wales. Simon Harris, Sgript Cymru. Richard Hogger, Creu Cymru. Dafydd Hwyel, Cwmni Mega. Mark Jenkins, Playwright. Angharad Jones, S4C. Michael Kelligan, ‘On The Edge’, www. theatre-wales. Chis Lambert Cardiff Arts Marketing. Kevin Lewis, Theatr Iolo. Gaynor Lougher, Hijinx. Katherine Mendelsohn, Traverse Theatre. Gareth Miles, Writer. Chris Morgan, Hijinx/Theatr Y Byd. Kaite O’Reilly, Writer. Gill Ogden, Aberystwyth University, Louise Osborn, Director/Actor. Alan Osborne, Writer/Librettist. Gary Owen, Writer. Philip Ralph, Actor/Writer. Aled Rhys- Jones, Drama Association of Wales. Ian Rowlands, Writer/Director. Othniel Smith, Writer. Tracey Spottiswoode, Writer and Animationist.Geraint Talfan Davies, Arts Council of Wales. Martin Taylor, Writer (Scotland) Adele Thomas, Director. Peter Tyndall, Arts Council of Wales. Jeni Williams, Trinity College, Carmarthen. Roger Williams, Playwright. Sandra Wynne, Arts Council of Wales. Jonathon Meth, Script Network.

author:Michael Kelligan

original source:
18 July 2005


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