Theatre in Wales

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

Coverage of the Performing Arts (1)

Planet Magazine 2012

Planet in 2012 comprised four issues, six hundred and thirty-two pages, seventy-nine features, forty-one reviews, four editorials and one obituary. Eight features were on the subject of the performing arts.

In Issue 205 Amelia Forsbrook follows National Dance Company Wales to Chennai, Bangalore and Delhi. In New Delhi she sees “red dragons nestled up against moody, stylised photographs of dancers”, in her eyes “depicting an unbalanced Janus-faced culture unsure of how to find its voice.” These promotional materials, provided by the British Council, Forsbrook discerns as digestible images that evade representing a “rich, diverse and living culture.” Forsbook is candid on admitting the difficulty of capturing contemporary dance but she can coin a good phrase like “troubling and elegant in equal measure.”

Dylan Moore has also been travelling, to Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala. With local press excitement high Twm Morys’ appearance is reminiscent, he writes, of a 1965 Bob Dylan press conference. He places Morys in the tradition of raconteurs who fit Gwyn Thomas’ line that “every Welshman is a kind of mobile theatre.”

Moore moves from Hay’s Kerala Festival to the conference of the Association for Welsh Writing in English. His feisty writing observes: “Tradition has it that, like the Scots and the Irish, we Welsh always have to play up to expectation, hamming up an exaggerated version of ourselves like Dylan Thomas in America.” Moore jumps back to 1984 and Gwyn Alf Williams and forward to National Theatre Wales.

Like other commentators he pulls out two of the company’s many productions and declares them as “stand-out”. Not really; while not belittling either production he follows the fallacy of the cultural studies movement that the significance of an event correlates positively to the publicity accorded it.

The media flocked to both. In the case of “the Passion” they went, because it was headed by a film star. I was there and I heard the camera crews. It was “Michael, Michael” and little else. The point about National Theatre Wales is the steady accumulation of style, event and location. It matters not that BBC Wales only stir its stumps to make a fawning documentary when the location is Bridgend. Artistic significance does not correlate with ease of access from Queen Street. The absence of the cultural commentariat on the wonderful doings in Wepre Park in September 2012 is evidence enough of that.

Moore is an indispensable observer and commentator. But this article slightly falls for the PR. “Community engagement? Check the website. National Theatre Wales is a community.” No, it is a theatre company, in which some people bank salary cheques and have responsibility for making public performance. Others stand in a queue, pay for tickets, observe and make judgement, a distinction that is real, no matter the mumbles of a few fanciful wafflers outside theatre.

Moore moves to the pairing of “the Dark Philosophers” and “Llwyth” at Edinburgh. He sees them as “Wales’s arrival as a country unafraid to share its warts-and-all past alongside its warts-and-all present.” Moore as a commentator is not immune from the lure of the false metaphor. “Nationality is a performance” he writes; no, not in the sense that it is consciously entered into and may as easily be shed. I was in the furthest part of Kent in the August in the summer of 2012. The nicest of houses there are thirty miles distant from France. With their high flagpoles, their Union Jacks blowing in the breeze and their boldly written placards of hostility to Europe that is not a performance.

An article in the same issue entitled “the Role of Arts Subsidy in Making Wales” is a silly piece of work. It is evasive, declaring that “latterly a utilitarian symbiosis between devolved government and Arts Council priorities is apparent which may be less healthy.” But he makes small qualification. The One Wales Coalition was instrumental in the foundation of National Theatre Wales. At the end he asserts again a bias of distortion “making it a function of economic drivers and international kudos.” This dreamily avoids any critical approach that might, for example, explore the fact that Theatr Genedlaethol for years neither made nor sought international impact. The company is not even on the Theatre Management Association member list.

As arts journalism it is an indolent piece of work with no primary research. Secondary sources are cobbled together; undue prominence is given to a polemicist who, brutally, has never been a player in theatre. Whether the Arts Council had or did not have a Drama Officer before 1979, what can that possibly say about the arts forty-three years on?

The author does not like the Investment Review of 2010, which is fair enough. He has no posture on the fact that demand for Arts Subsidy is like every other capital project in the world. Demand will always exceed supply, and the allocators of capital have to make decisions. This tired and leaden article, worthy of a Casaubon, makes reference to not one single piece of actual performance.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
10 January 2013


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