Theatre in Wales

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

That vision deficit thing...

Chris Ryde asks why we don't produce real quality theatre in Wales

I saw two pieces of theatre last week and reached a very sober conclusion about the state of the art form in Wales as a result. One was Get Carter performed by Red Shift and the other was Playing for Time at Salisbury Playhouse.

This is not an attempt to review either production. That is not my job, but you only have to read David Adams elsewhere on this site to see that Get Carter was a quality piece of theatre very stylishly presented. Whether or not you liked its amorality, you could not question its supreme confidence. Playing for Time, the British stage premiere of Arthur Miller’s play about the ladies orchestra that played at Auschwitz while millions of their fellow Jews were gassed, was a different experience. It was morality with a capital M. But content aside it was an extraordinary event for a different and far more mundane reason. Salisbury is not in the premier division when it comes to English regional rep. It is not normally mentioned in the same breath as West Yorkshire Playhouse, Birmingham Rep or the Royal Exchange and yet on a wet Thursday in November it had in its autumn season a premiere by one of the twentieth centuries greatest playwrights with a cast of twenty four actors.

So although the two productions had very little in common artistically and stylistically, they had one inescapable similarity. Neither of them could have been mounted by Wales based companies. There is no company in Wales that has the style and confidence of Red Shift and no company in Wales that can afford the ambition of Salisbury Playhouse. And before the reader assumes that Salisbury mortgaged the whole season on this one play I should point out that there is an in house production of “My mother said I never should” in the Studio at the same time.

This is not a criticism of Wales based companies or the people that run them. Indeed it’s something of an irony that my conclusions are reached in the same week that Peter Doran has been justifiably recognized as Theatre Manager of the Year, but the Miller play in Salisbury employed more actors in three weeks than he can afford in three years! I appreciate that you can produce pieces of very good theatre on very little, but you can produce whole seasons with proper resources. The quality of Red Shift is no accident – it stems from a certainty of funding that allows development of ideas over a given period (Get Carter is the second of three screenplays to be adapted over three years – the third will be Vertigo). The quality of the production also comes from the certainty that allows a company to tour for virtually six months.

We were given a chance to make something happen last year. I sat, along with half a dozen well meaning others on the Arts Council’s Working Group that prepared the future plans for English Language Theatre. Perhaps the report wasn’t radical enough, perhaps it got some priorities arse about face. In the end that didn’t matter much because it didn’t go anywhere, except into a cupboard. It did represent an opportunity to get something done about the state of theatre in Wales in 2005 but perhaps our failure to mount our “production” is a morality tale all of its own.

We need scope, breadth, vision and purpose and there is no sign of any one of these coming from Cardiff Bay or anywhere else at present.

The Arts Council Conference last July was castigated in some quarters for having a strap line of World Class Wales? Why the question mark? Why not an exclamation? Having watched my two pieces of theatre in this last week I think it there is much more to attend to than punctuation.

author:Chris Ryde

original source: exclusive report for TiW
21 November 2005


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