Theatre in Wales

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

A Quartet of 2013 Critics

Writers at Chapter, Cardiff Bay, Carmarthen & Trawsfynydd

Critics who count come with a sharp sense of context. “At what point can we describe a nation’s theatre culture as mature and self-confident?” asked Phil Morris on confronting “Parallel Lines”. Continuing with an answer to his own question he wrote “Surely it is when the themes of its plays no longer hark back to that nation’s past but emerge, instead, from a pressing contemporary moment. Perhaps it is when the subjects of its plays are rooted in specific geographical places though remain nonetheless applicable and meaningful to the lives of people living outside its localised context. Katherine Chandler’s new play Parallel Lines reminds us how exciting and challenging Welsh drama can be, once we set aside – albeit temporarily – mining, Max Boyce and the Mabinogion, and interrogate the problems of modern life in twenty-first century Wales.”

He closed with “Parallel Lines may not be a ‘game-changing’ play set to change the face of Welsh theatre, but it is a very fine play by a talented writer who is making a significant contribution to Welsh drama. In order for ‘great’ plays to be produced in future by Welsh writers in Welsh theatres it is first necessary to build a ‘great’ audience. This will only be achieved when fine playwrights engage contemporary audiences with dramas that reflect – though not necessarily mirror – their contemporary lives. Katherine Chandler, and her like, must be supported in their efforts to create a forward-thinking, modern and mature Welsh drama, and audiences should repay the compliment of having their lives represented on stage, in their complexity and richness, by going to see this play.”

Phil Morris was also out on a cold Sunday in March trying to make the best of a big and over-trailled site-specific event. “De Gabay was a laudable attempt to restore theatre to its historical civic function – that of a public forum around which the community gathers, debates its urgent political controversies and reconciles its differences. The failure of the production in this aim is not attributable to its writers or performers, who made their protests with humour and vigour, but to the director and his production team”.

“The programme of the event sprawled out over seven hours – with several long breaks in between – in an intermittent pattern of participatory activities that engaged each of the senses but little of the mind. Crucially, some unifying narrative that might have provided some helpful context for audience members was lacking throughout. The multi-layered, multi-ethnic history of Butetown, and the complexities of family life following migration, was indicated, even sloganised, rather than explored at any great depth. The indignation of Cardiff’s Somali community (the largest in Europe) could be heard in lines such as: “Our voices go unheard by those in positions above us,” and, “Street corners seem attractive when you live in subsidised housing,” but the fractured and unfocused nature of the production meant that such sentiments did not coalesce into a traceable political argument or coherent social critique...Few of the local community not involved in the project came out of their homes to watch these parades. The decision to stage such lengthy outdoor activities in early March, when intense cold and rain were to be expected, later struck me as singularly inadvisable...poor acoustics and sightlines of the Coal Exchange courtyard.” Many audience members, particularly those with children, peeled away until only a portion of the original audience remained.”

Dylan Moore wrote a pre-production profile of some depth and sympathy. Good arts writing is at the least good observation. Moore got the Taff-Vale railway, the river Taff, Lloyd George Avenue and the Bay. But in a Butetown warehouse he recorded the low rigour of approach: “we’re exploring story as journey and journey as story. It’s more than just a metaphor. In oral culture, a narrative is a way of drawing a map… and maps are records of stories told.’ Bruce Chatwin can do it with “the Songlines” but theatre is action. The concept was admirable. ‘The most beautiful moments when doing projects like this, are those first meetings with the people involved.” No, the most beautiful moment is that first indefinable click of rapport between performer and watcher. The word “project” is a giveaway. The word is a production. Theatre's life is just like the life of an individual- it finds its worth in being for others outside itself. The blandness of the report from ACW's Assessor is indicator just why artists deserve writers who care.

The London press suffered another year of cuts and reduced travel costs with the Independent on Sunday dispensing with its critics altogether. Lyn Gardner made the Carmarthen journey to “Tir Sir Gar” to witness that “this beautifully acted performance is a love letter to the land and those who farm it.”

Jon Gower followed Theatr Genedlaethol to Tomen-y-Mur to see “Blodeuwedd.” “At play’s end she hurled herself off the ridge, her scream echoing wildly, and then a barn owl flew out at us, the spellbound audience. It was a transcendent moment of pure theatre, a fitting ending – both delicate and powerful at one at the same time – to the sheer, simple magic of it all.”

“This was the year” he wrote “when Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru seemingly came of age..the company staged a profoundly affecting series of stand-alone but always political plays, which also naturally connected and concatenated to such a degree that they seemed to form an organic whole. This added up to nothing less than a year-long theatrical narrative and this a very rich and deep engagement with the audience... Collectively the plays deepened this reviewer's allegiance to the language, but also seemed to move theatre in Welsh away from its own rather conventional and sometimes cloyingly conservative recent history."

"Arwel Gruffydd hasn't just oxygenated things, he's added a dash of revivifying ozone too, mixing in the tang of theatrical adventure together with have-a-go attitude that was for too long missing. In short, he's brought that vision thing and persuasively so.

Having been overshadowed somewhat these past few years by its sibling – by the extraordinary and deserved success of National Theatre Wales, under that urbane and extraordinarily hardworking wunderkind John McGrath – this was Theatr Genedlaethol's moment in the sun, and, my, how brilliantly, dazzlingly and illuminatingly it shone.”

The “Blodeuwedd” 2014 tour opens in Llanelli 11th February.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
31 December 2013


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