Theatre in Wales

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

"Welsh Life Largely Invisible"

Arts News in 2017

he commentator role, a minor one by any standard, ought to be about the sifting of the significant from the deluge of information overkill. It does not always work out that way, the comment too often on the wrong side in the signal-noise ratio. Not much gets said about the arts in Wales in the media with the broadest reach. “Front Row” jumped once in 2017 to an item on Wales- probably due to the efforts of Cornershop who always deliver on what they are retained to do. But the Front Row feature had no depth to it because the interviewers had no knowledge of the subject. The Guardian deserved a three out of ten in 2017. It got to see “Sinners Club” for a reason other than PR nudging. The Other Room in 2017 remained a centre of vitality. Its board also rose to the tricky challenge of managing succession to a founder.

On the other hand if the London media has hardly any interest it at least means there is no bad news. An arts subject in Denbighshire raced around the world. Unfortunately it was for a negative, a work that was never to be made real. The Flint Ring Thing was not the first time that a metaphor sank a public monument but it was evidence that meanings are not in the ownership, or even in the intentions, of the makers. If the metaphor had been different it might have survived. A cracked and lopsided walkway-cum-viewpoint could have been used to represent the unstable nature of majesty. That is a meaning far more faithful to history but that is the problem when tourism gets finagled with art-making. Tourism needs placidity; art of quality bites.

As a small footnote good art has a prophetic quality. For those who were at Theatr Clwyd in November 2007 they will remember enacted on stage the same battles. Twelve actors played out the clash between heritage and historical fidelity, personal advancement versus community interest.

Lament over the state of reporting in Wales goes back so far it has become a tradition in itself. Daniel Evans- a social scientist, not the theatre star- was back at the theme: “It is not just the news media” he wrote for 22nd December 2016 “dramatic portrayals of Welsh life remain largely invisible in film, music and literature.” The key word is “dramatic.” It was a theme taken up at an event organised by Cardiff University at the National Eisteddfod. BBC Wales' Head of Content said there had not been enough content depicting Wales on the corporation's UK-wide channels. Programmes were made in Wales but Welsh life was very seldom depicted. The BBC had a duty to present the history of Wales to the people of the country, but also to a UK-wide audience.

Newsnight did an item at the time of the Eisteddfod, August 9th, and received a hammering over its choice of interviewees. Laura McAllister responded : “We have allowed others to set the terms of debate for crucial things (like bilingualism) that we should have framed for ourselves long ago. What’s heartbreaking and infuriating (in equal measure) is that we are better placed to frame an intelligent debate...Wales has insufficient self-confidence, belief and leadership to speak out and to challenge hideous misrepresentations (like last night’s feature) in an effective and constructive manner.”

Critical discussion in Wales rarely rises to a temperature of even mild heat. A new Chair arrived at Marks and Spencers this year. He said with punch what boards are for. “I don't want harmony. I want arguments and debate. I want a board that can wrestle with problems without fear or favour and I don't want us all to be sitting around holding hands.”

Newsnight certainly fired an uncommon response. Professor McAllister: “Without an indigenous, diverse, functioning, informed and informing media that is used and valued by all of the population in Wales...Newsnight and others will continue to treat stories about Wales with the nonchalant, ignorant, sneering disregard that we witnessed last night.” Back at the Maes Angharad Mair was on the panel discussing the BBC. There was a tendency, she said, to present the Welsh people like “monkeys in a zoo” on programmes presented by outsiders.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
20 December 2017


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