Theatre in Wales

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

Roving Across the Year's Critical Writing

Writors at Theatre in Wales in 2013

Performance does not belong to the makers, as John Caird put it nicely a couple of years ago in his monument of a book “Theatre Craft”. Addressing a young director he wrote: “One of your most important functions as a director is that you represent the audience's interest in a play...thus, when your first audience walks into the theatre, they replace you. If they react in a way that you cannot approve or understand, you mustn't blame have simply imagined them incorrectly.” Director Steve Marmion in the book “Getting Directions” is cited “Rightly or wrongly, reviews are the measure of how a show will be judged or remembered by those who were not there. And more often than not, reviewers are right.”

In 2013 there were writers whom I enjoyed but more importantly also trusted. Julie Barclay was at “Salt, Fish and Roe”, a production, she wrote “to take home and reflect over, something that evokes a smell of the sea..floats in a space between the sky and the sea reflecting the ambiguity of what life and living is all about.”

At “Say it with Flowers” she saw a play that “can’t quite make its mind up as to what it is. It starts off as a naturalistic performance, with credible flashbacks, but this seems to go adrift when the ghosts of her brother Freddie and former husband Roger Moore begin to appear and converse with the elderly Dorothy. The play seems to aspire to a sympathetic understanding of Squires’ plight but is reduced to comedy by Maisie’s stereotypical performance of a Valley’s fan; and when the ghosts of Freddie and Moore start to pop out of cupboards, it begins to resemble farce.”

But “the production is redeemed by the cast’s musical performance...there’s no doubt that the mostly mature audience have enjoyed the evening. And, oddly, I enjoyed it too. For, despite the inadequacies of the play, I left the theatre feeling uplifted.”

At “the Rape of the Fair Country” she got it right with the problems of a source novel. Moira Buffini's script for the last, not bad film of “Jane Eyre” grabbed her story by starting it in the middle. Clwyd's dramatist did not. “The trouble is that the novel is packed with events and, rather than extract key highlights,.. tries to cram everything in. And it’s too much to do the work justice. The performance feels like a history lesson at high speed and woe betide any member of the audience who doesn’t know their Welsh history. After a long ninety minutes, the interval came as a welcome relief for those trying to piece together events on stage. Unfortunately, the remaining hour squeezed in flying references to Scotch cattle and their mysterious symbols, the demands of benefit clubs, unions and landowners and a militant attack by Chartists which was barely explained. All of which left any uninitiated audience members baffled...this adaptation fails. In performance, the onslaught of tragedy is unrelenting, like a runaway steamroller. In the novel, there is respite in delicate description and gentle comic interludes; a juxtaposition which adds poignancy to the developing tragedy.”

Gary Raymond was at “Praxis Makes Perfect” and hit it with characteristic gusto. “It is part-live gig and part-full throttle, no holds-barred heavily choreographed pretentious theatre. It is kitsch, funny, moving, uplifting, silly and thoughtful in equal measure. It is rabble-rousing, confusing, flawed, shambolic, loud, flamboyant, boisterous, crude and utterly triumphant. It is a theatrical event that chewed its audience up and flung them onto the dark pavement outside, to a man and woman bewildered and joyous.”

“Writer Tim Price has done a marvellous job with a script that had little room for manoeuvre when it came to content. A lesser writer would surely have buckled under the weight of the biographical information that needed to be let out in order for the story to mean anything to those who knew nothing about Feltrinelli. Yet he has managed to inject much humour, grit and grace into the words. Director Wils Wilson, who must have a Looney Tunes Christmas party going on in her brain in order to keep tabs on everything that goes on from minute to minute, has inserted some very interesting moments of symbolism into difficult plot points. Subterfuge and conniving and torture and relationships, rather than skipped over or lingered on, are given emphatic representations by the versatile and energetic cast. And it is energy that is the key.”

No-one opts for a life in the arts in the expectation of tranquillity. Tim Price scooped the James Tait Black Prize in the summer and at the end of the year got acclaim for “Protest Song”- (a reprise in Wales, please!) Elin Williams sent the last of her lively despatches from Edinburgh seeing “A Welshman, a Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman. Unfortunately these stock type characters thrown into an even more stock type script meant that the production did not deliver at all. The stereotypical, ignorant portrayal of Wales, or any of the countries in fact, was extremely frustrating. The narrative follows the decent of the band after Mr Scotland leaves, an over-exaggerated nod to Scotland’s independence. Following on from that, Mr Ireland starts drinking again and Mr Wales clings pathetically onto Mr England because he’s scared what will happen to him otherwise. The whole production was a fragmented, unsubtle attempt to portray the state of Britain, which was more infuriating than stimulating.”

Ben Glover borrowed a quotation from Havel for his end-of-the-year round-up: “I think theatre should always be somewhat suspect” and found it in Newport’s new Tin Shed Theatre Company. “Whilst many theatre companies admirably perform the task of dissecting and investigating issues that other forms of visual media tend to avoid, there are very few that exhibit the sheer imagination and intelligence of Tin Shed. Straying from the well-worn path of traditional theatrical presentations, Tin Shed have developed a style all of their own – this year’s “Dr Frankenstein's Travelling Freakshow” and “the Ritual” offer a beautifully digressive experience that combines wit, pathos and a cinematic quality that is rarely rivalled.”

Punchy writing all round.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
30 December 2013


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