Theatre in Wales

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

Some Good News for Criticism

Criticism in 2013 in Cardiff & Edinburgh

Six or seven years ago Scotland had things to its name that Wales did not; a government with tax-varying powers, globe-straddling financial powerhouses, a cluster of consistent dramatists, the greatest theatre festival on earth, reliable repertory houses, an enchanting Festival Theatre in the shape of Pitlochry, an innovative national theatre company.

Much is different now. The banks have long been wrecks, the dramatists with the exception of David Greig are not so prolific, the relationship between artists and funding body has at times descended to unheard-of toxicity. The capital has not got its tram system after seven years of disruption, with the Scotsman reporting the cost now set to exceed that of the landing on the moon.

What Scotland does have still is a professional theatre critic out there twice a week. How long it lasts is anyone’s guess as the print circulation of the Scotsman is as much in freefall as any other newsaper. The archive of Joyce McMillan’s writings on runs to eight hundred and five articles, an argued, lucid and broad single-source record of Scotland's theatre. They also include cultural commentary like the one thousand word response to a speech of significance by Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop. This kind of high-quality cultural journalism does not have an obvious equivalent in Wales. (As a reader I have lost interest in Wales Books Council monies to cultural journals that are converted into stipendiary groats for ungainly summaries of thesis research.)

But there is ground for critical cheer. A number of voices are now writing- some regular, some less regular,- and doing it with craft and conviction. Mark Kermode, in his admirable 2013 book “Hatchet Job” is the first writer to address criticism in the digital age in some depth. He describes the Hollywood publicists who ease out the critics altogether and stitch together tweets for their publicity. Kermode states the obvious; it is not that tweets or blogs lack authenticity but that they have no density or signature to them.

The wider the range of response the better it is for the arts. It is good when a reviewer in his teenage years has an obviously good time in Treorchy and takes the trouble to communicate his enthusiasm articulately. It offsets the different view of older commentators. The conventions of social media language may spill over into assessment of the arts, but that does not mean they necessarily do the arts a lot of good.

Not least the artists deserve a response to the work that at least aspires to a fraction of care, detail and attention that they have put into the work’s making. Theatre-makers who exude their own praise misinterpret their role. There is small nobility in company employees who cannot spell the name of their own dramatist, nor that of a distinguished foreign university, or let the Rhondda appear as “Rhonnda”.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
31 December 2013


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