Theatre in Wales

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

Coverage of the Performing Arts (Concluding)

Planet Magazine 2012

“A Stage in Devolution” (Issue 207) deals with a novel subject, that of theatre in Cornwall. The historical detail of performance is fascinating. It covers modern work of playwrights Donald Rawe and Nick Darke and production companies Bish Bash Bosh, Miracle Theatre and Rogue Theatre. As often the surety of the writing in the arts is matched by a blurriness when the subject moves to politics.

“While no historic declarations of devolution have occurred between Cornwall and England, popular opinion in the territory has nonetheless supported more internal division.” (The word “internal” is surely redundant. Reference to the last noun suggests a popular wish for a splitting of Cornwall.) This is an assertion made without evidence of opinion poll or election. Devolved government in Cornwall may be the enthusiasm of an activist minority, but there is scant popular appetite of significant size.

The article is spoilt by an unspecific and plumped-out prose. Cornwall, belying its visitor image, is England’s poorest county. The prose fattens this out to a laboured thirty-six words.

Faddish terms feature along with the tendency to phrases piled high with words of Latinate origin. Semantic clarity is the casualty. Cornwall has “an unresolved duality of place” (the author’s inverted commas) and is “working through its cultural negotiations.” These are fashion items deficient in concreteness of meaning; they have small place in a popular journal on arts and current affairs.

Planet 206 contains three articles on economics, politics and performance in prison. All are heavy in abstraction, lack lively reporting from primary experience and have styles heavy with stodge. Thus, in Cardiff prison “As I observed the creative choices we made and their effect on audiences, I began to understand that certain conventions taken for granted on the outside carried different meanings and extra significance on the inside. For example, when men played women, these performances of gender and sexuality drew attention to the everyday performances that prison seems to encourage.” Ten abstract nouns scream for a corroborating concreteness of detail. The use of verbs like “seems” dilutes the stamp of the writer’s presence.

An article about the First Minister is cut-and-paste, poshed with with reference to Xenophon and Machiavelli. Carwyn Jones does not even appear until four-fifths of the way through. The same baggy,fence-sitting prose predominates:- “it is far from clear that” and “indeed Plaid may be seen, rather fortuitously, as.” I recognise nothing of the Carwyn Jones, whom I have heard speak. The article has the political spice and insight of a cucumber.

It also contends that the Westminster Coalition wishes to reduce economic activity. There is no evidence given for this. Assertion too is the guiding impression in “Capitalism as a Religion of Self-Destruction.” Abstraction runs riot in a plethora of vaguenesses. “Anti-state fanaticism ruined the public infrastructure required for long-term profitability” is stated, without qualification. The USA has a low-ranking quality of physical infrastructure not due to the state withdrawing but because its public capital allocation mechanisms are imperfect. And it has small relation to the profitability of the corporate sector.

The authorial parochiality precludes making any mention of all of actual economies or countries. Does Planet really believe that “capitalism creates a historical dynamic which is as material and as objective as it is directional and irreversible” is suitable for enquiring subscribers of a journal of life and letters? The author’s conclusion is that full employment is unattainable ever again. Maybe that is so, but assertion is not argument. A writer, as distinct from a dogmatist, cites examples from labour economists.

The author comes from “the Centre for Ideology Critique.” That such a place has left its natural home in Minsk to squat within Cardiff’s University is cause to wonder at the sheer oddity of modernity.

The emotional effect of these articles is to leave me dejected. I am not their reader. That an argument requires example and illustration is a building block of critical writing. Maybe I am in the wrong place, that I should not be a Planet subscriber at all. Or maybe they are in the wrong place. The ability to compose a hundred thousand words that is destined for a small scholarly audience in the know is one gift. It has no automatic cross-over to the talent to write an elegantly formed thousand to fifteen hundred words for the general reader.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
15 January 2013


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