Theatre in Wales

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

It's About Saying the Difficult Thing

5 Dramatists Speaking in 2017

The drowning out of criticism, looking at the art itself, by a flood of features is not good. But it is the age. Out of Wales' public funding the money spent on public relations for the arts with agencies in England is not disclosed but considerable. The money spent on cultivating lively critical response in and from Wales and the development of young writers is negligible to zero.

Nonetheless, a culture of liveliness cannot be kept down. Get the Chance is the leader in interviewing the people who keep the arts scene vital. Mary Owen, the Merthyr historian, cited a nice quotation from J O Francis “we need less oratory and more carpentry.” Nonetheless, dramatists speak and they have interesting things to say.

Get the Chance included two playwrights in its interviews in the second half of 2017. Matthew Bulgo 2nd September: “...there are so many promising playwrights in Wales and so few opportunities for them to get their work produced on a Welsh stage. So, yes there’s lots of good supportive things happening…but I’d like to see more productions by Welsh playwrights on our stages.”

Meredydd Barker October 17th: “...there are communities in Wales that aren’t addressing their faultlines and if theatre can’t point that out then it doesn’t deserve to call itself art because art, if it’s about anything, is about saying the difficult thing.”

Both are worth reading in their entirety.

Tim Rhys wrote at the time that Winterlight put on “Quiet Hands”: “Theatre is at its best when it can engage the intellect and the emotions. I always want my theatre to have a physical effect on the audience, to stir up intense feelings, to create a physical involvement in what is happening onstage.”

It is a kind reprise on how Roy Williams put it: “The three tasks I always look for in a new play are to feel, to learn, to be surprised.”

Simon Harris is both director and writer. Before “Little Wolf” toured he wrote: “...audiences are also crying out for the opportunity to engage with and reflect on powerful, meaningful stories. It’s part of the drive behind the box-set generation and the success of long-form drama that audiences want the emotional engagement and depth that comes with complex characterisation and relevant stories. It’s one of the ways we think about our own lives – by referring to the fantasies, conflicts, needs and losses of others.”

“The Revlon Girl” probably took more at the box office in 2017 than any other production on a Wales theme. It vies with “How to Win Against History.” It won the best production of the year title from Wales Arts Review. Its author Neil Docking said it got audiences because it had the ambition to do so.

“As a company [Nearside] we are very keen on ‘bums-on-seats’. Of course we are as committed to quality and originality or artistic integrity as everyone else – but success in these areas is entirely subjective, often self-proclaimed and mean, for the most part, very little. So what really means something to us is that, no matter what it is we create, it’s nothing if people don’t see it!

“Be it ‘Calendar Girls’ or ‘The Full Monty’ or ‘An Inspector Calls’ to ‘All Our Sons’ – all these popular productions were once original productions, unknown to most people- but there was something about them that struck a chord and has since endured. So in other words, we’re always trying to get to the heart of what it is we’re meant to be doing; and that is telling a story (and a story is best summed up by E.M.Forster as ‘The King died then the Queen died is an incident; the King died then the Queen died of a broken heart is a story’) and, moreover, telling it to a large number of people.

… “We’ve learned and observed some simple rules over the years and especially employed them during last year’s tour, and we saw audiences come out in remarkable numbers. And it really could have so easily gone the other way; this isn’t necessarily a story that would have appeal were it not done as well. But clearly the show connected with people- and that’s because it was always about the story and not just the event.”

The quality of dramaturgy in Wales- inferior to that of Scotland and England- has been an ongoing theme for years. (See “the Talk in Wales” 18th December 2012 & 28th/ 29th December 2014).

One aspect is the uniformity of outlook. “I am less interested in plays that mirror my own way of looking at experience than in playwrights who dumbfound me with their conviction and authenticity.” That was Hytner in his memoir. “Boring scripts flooded in, all of them monomaniacal about making some point or other, none of them remotely theatrical. Plays that make points rarely are.”

Modernity and politics graze the theatre of Wales lightly. James Graham uniquely has two plays on politics in London in theatres running side by side. He knows what makes a theatre of politics. “I’m more interested in trying to understand people I don’t necessarily agree with” he says “try to understand their motivations and why they feel what they do.”


author:Adam Somerset

original source:
21 December 2017


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