Theatre in Wales

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

Cardiffís Newest Theatre

Kate Wasserberg: the Who, the Why & the What of the Other Room

Two new venues open in 2015. Theatre, like politics, is fathomless in its optimism. Pontio and the Other Room are not quite as far apart as it is possible to get in Wales, but it is close. Both venues fill a needed gap. Pontio last September, even behind wire fencing and scaffolding, looked majestic.

The newly adapted space of Porters could fit into Pontio a hundred times but it looks good in a different way. Things happen in places like this. It is where fledgling writing careers take wing. I saw Lucy Gannonís first play on a stage no bigger. David Mamet repeats over and over that it is an audience that teaches actors how to act, and it is in front of a close-up audience where writers learn to write.

THEATRE-WALES: The Other Room. As a concept, a bolt of lightning? Or a slow conviction that it could happen?

KATE WASSERBERG: More a slow dawning. It was all about the artists I was working with at Clwyd. I was faced with a challenge. Do I go back to London? And potentially leave behind all the actors and designers and writers I had made relationships with, enter into a London network of artists? Do I go round London with a kitbag of ideas and start pitching and freelancing? And itís not really me. A very good friend, an artistic director, said to me it is actually about how you choose to spend that time when you are not in the rehearsal room. Do you want to spend that time selling yourself? And that is fine. Or do you want to spend that time building something?

Every time I came here itís such a vibrant and exciting city. And itís quite rare, itís a city where lots of artists choose to live. And there is no fringe. I just didnít understand. A pub theatre is the theatre where I trained, five years right at the beginning of my career. Pub theatre is a natural thing for me. It was one of those ideas first I had about two years before I left Clwyd. I was waiting for someone else to have it first. It seemed such an obvious gap. So I thought ďIíll come here and try and make something happen.Ē We moved here a year ago, exactly a year ago, thinking it will take a year to find a venue. And I walked into Porters two months after we arrived and Dan offered me the room.

Everyone, everybody we talked to said ďCardiff really needs itĒ and itís a real pleasure to feel, to be building something that is genuinely wanted. Itís a response to what is here.

T-W: Youíre opening with ďBlasted.Ē Sarah Kaneís time coincides with my post-London. Iíve never seen any of her plays. Back in 2000 Dominic Dromgoole was filled with admiration but also had a lot of doubts and hesitations. Two decades on how does the work look to you?

KW: The reason I wanted to do ďBlastedĒ is really quite personal. Itís a very personal piece for me. We decided we were going to make a piece that was about smallness of space. Where the lighting could be close up, where the thrill of being that close to the actors would be enormous. And secondly there were actors I knew from Clwyd, the quality of the acting is amazing. And that would make an extraordinary event.

But the main thing is about my own relationship with the world. What ďBlastedĒ does so remarkably- and I get quite cross with the idea that it is sensational- is she collapses the difference between you and the world, where the news is often had to watch. And that is not a crazy thing to do. Itís the sane thing to do because, like it or not, that difference does not really exist.

Everything happened in ďBlastedĒ. All those horrible things that people get so upset- about they all actually happened while she was writing the play. I feel ultimately itís an incredibly humane play. And while itís tough to watch, the act of writing it, the act of putting it on and the act of watching it are in themselves acts of compassion and make me feel more hopeful about the world.

T-W: Howard Barker is famously one of those dramatists more honoured in continental Europe than at home. Bond would be another and probably Walesí Dic Edwards. Barkerís leading champion and scholar is here in David Ian Rabey. How do you perceive Barker?

KW: I think heís amazing but itís specifically the play. Itís about something which Iíve never seen explored before in a play. Which I recognise with a specific guilty thrill. Itís about our relationship with bad news. When you hear about bad news you feel a need to pass it on. Itís about the fall of a civilisation, based on an account of the Peleponessian wars. The defeat of a great democratic power. This is where we are now, with a great power that believes itself to stand for something more than just power, for democracy, almost in a religious way.

And as you would imagine itís a very witty play but it also wears its heart on its sleeve. I have for a long time wanted to do a Barker without trying to comment. I read it, and these are two real people and I want to make it real, set it in a real barberís shop. I donít want to go ďThis is a Howard Barker so we need to make it an abstract comment on it.Ē Iím going to look at whatís human in Barker because that is often missed.

T-W: The Other Room is being referred to now by its initials. T-O-R. For geeks and techies that has an immediate meaning. TOR means free expression, freedom from oversight and authority. Iím presuming it is pure coincidence?

KW: We had no idea at all. But if there is going to be a coincidence, itís a nice one to have.

author:Adam Somerset

original source: Theatre Wales
19 January 2015


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