Theatre in Wales

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

National Theatre Considerations

Intellectuals The Last People That Theatre Needs To Be Pitched At

n organisation becomes what it is by doing. The site is quite tight-lipped about longer-term aims. But national theatre is not an accumulation of marketing segmentations. The most successful piece of Welsh theatre of the century has been “Amazing Grace.” That was seen by one and a half percent of the population. A target within five years of producing something seen by, say, a quarter per cent more share of the population would seem not too stretching a target for management to get their heads round.

A word on “Outdoors”; half the households in Britain share their space with a dog or a cat. A new puppy or kitten galvanises the surrounding and brightens up life for everyone else. They are drunk with excitement in their new environment. But puppies chew up shoes and homework. Kittens fall off the back of sofas and charge headlong into walls.

The deed is done but Aberystwyth is the kitten charging into the wall. Whether one person considers the philosophy shallow, the public utterances daft, the aesthetics void, even the ethics questionable, is neither here nor there. It is questionable whether it will last its course until February for one reason. It has no audience. The Aberystwyth theatre-goers can be blamed, but that’s tough. As John McGrath said in his 1979 lecture series “A Good Night Out” theatre is not “a place to experience a rarefied artistic sensibility in an aesthetic void.” From Cardigan Bay, it looks as though the primary motivation was see-the-show, now let’s-do-the-symposium.

The debate, if that is the right word, currently in theatre feels so like the situation of the novel a generation back. Gore Vidal has written witheringly about a generation of university tenured staff hi-jacking the novel. Robbe-Grillet, Sarraute and BS Johnson theorised and produced. But to put it brutally they are dead and unread. Jonathan Franzen rules.

Gerard, one of the librarians in “Shelf Life” last year, said he had never read Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida or Barthes. Enrichers all of our collective intellectual life, sometimes I wish theatre-makers had never heard of them. This is not a plea for a theatre of Rattigan-esque virtues. The production that meant the most to me last year, “Interiors”, had a cast in which one actor spoke and seven mimed. I was warmer towards “The Threat of Silence” than the national press and towards “Shelf Life” than almost everyone else.

If the work of Volcano, Give It A Name, O’Reilly-Zarrilli, Jill Greenhalgh, Marc Rees, Matthew Lenton has been lifted by reading Deleuze and Guattari then this whole paragraph is invalid. We are all prone to fashion. But getting into bed with Rimini Protokoll looks more like a fashion statement than sense of mission to anything else. Most of all, intellectuals are the last class of human beings that theatre needs to be pitched at. Enough said.

The first public statement on the impending National Theatre, before a single job description had even been drafted, wanted “work that can have impact on a wide audience.” The fallacy of the cultural studies movement is that the significance of an object rises in proportion to the size of its audience. The counter-fallacy is that a private solitary act is also significant. If a Ceredigion citizen, for instance, wishes to walk around the North Pole with a camera the word for it is tourism.

Last words from Sir Brian McMaster, author of the most recent review of the arts. He called for “a new assessment method based on self-assessment and peer review that focuses on objective judgements about excellence, innovation and risk-taking.” And on governance: “To best support the delivery of the artistic vision, and to keep that vision at the heart of an organisation” he advised, “the board of every publicly funded organisation must include at least two artists or practitioners.”

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
28 April 2011


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