Theatre in Wales

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

My Year of Theatre 2012

Theatre in Venues North, South & West

riter Martin Crimp spoke on radio on December 12th to promote his forthcoming production. His new work took the form of a tripartite art installation. It was chosen, he said, in reaction to a theatre culture that was “conservative.”

The claim went unchallenged by the untrying interviewer. Even for someone marooned in the BAC-Bush-Barbican Bermuda triangle, it is an adjective of some daftness. Performance in Wales in 2012 comprised one performer or dozens; it had lots of words or no words; it went down mines and into mansions; it camped out in barns and forges, tents and airfields; it visited dance halls and river valleys. Folk from the Cosmopolis really should try and get out more.

Richard Eyre in “Utopia and Other Places” wrote of “the “untranslatable” element in the theatre, the part that isn’t a surrogate for television, that isn’t prose to be read standing up, the part that can’t be translated from stage to screen; the part that is, in a word, theatrical...the unique properties of the medium- its use of space, of light, of speech, of story-telling; its theatreness.” That mix of space, light and all the rest withers when it is hijacked for other purposes. Theatre is itself, not realised philosophy or sociology or documentary or affirmative action or pedagogy. Schiller may well have dramatised the realisation of the Kantian Categorical Imperative. The audience doesn't care, and I don't care either.

When it works, it works. All performers know it, when it happens. They feel it, those points of exaltation, that make worthwhile the life that they have chosen over all those other sensible occupations, the ones which offer continuity, daylight hours and pension schemes. And when it doesn’t work, there is always another time. It’s disappointing, heart-breaking even, when an audience is sombre. But best for the the makers, and their backers, to keep silent. To critique your viewers for somehow not being worthy, of not recognising your work may well be right, but a stoicism of silence is the wiser course.

The best of it is that no single person can ever state with authority quite what theatre is, or isn’t. I am still surprised at the array and diversity of performance each year. It is a culture of glorious surfeit. In 2012 I didn’t see “Clytemnestra”, “Love at First Light”, “Stitching”, “I Saw Myself”, “In Water I’m Weightless”, “Coriolan/Us”, “the Utah Bride” and dozens of others. I have never seen Willow, Fluellen, or most of the companies who perform at Chapter. But, from the productions I did see, there are a few thumbs up from 2012:

YVONNE MURPHY and GREG CULLEN. They produced shows- presumably independently of one other- on female and male experience. Together, the two productions would make a great double bill. Both were theatre of conviction from the roots. They had help, but far outside big company funding. The productions came into being through single-mindedness, and it shows. Most of all they were about women and men in 2012, and a cheering antidote to Heritage Theatre.

ERICA EIRIAN, BUDDUG VERONA JAMES and COLLABORATORS. Theatr Pena displayed the same qualities with their radical re-take on “the Maids”. There are certain writers I can happily do without. One taste of Goethe has been enough for life. I would never rush to Wilde or Genet, but I can applaud a production's originality, full-bloodedness and conviction.

PONTARDAWE ARTS CENTRE. I have never been there, but the venue was instrumental in getting the Cwtch series off the ground. I missed the first, but saw the second and third (twice in the same week); shows that were funny, balletic, unsettling, with a heady dose of good bad taste.

THE WRITER IN THE PORKPIE HAT. The National Theatre of Wales site bubbles with chat, news and bonhomie. But one participant regularly infuses a bracing dash of seriousness. He says it, the new writing framework is insufficient. The national companies cannot be the vehicles for new writers. They should be able to draw on a pool of writers with four productions behind them. New writing in Wales is irregular and random. It was never a golden time but Made in Wales and Sgript Cymru had artistic missions by which they might be judged. If all dabble with new writing, then no-one has responsibility. Tim Price wrote down the numbers- “twenty new plays a year are produced in Scotland, as opposed to 3/4 in Wales.”

FRONT-OF-HOUSE at ABERYSTWYTH. Smartphones have the illuminative power of a torch. As “At Swim Two Boys” reached its end at Aberystwyth on 11th March a brilliant smartphone lit up. The work of dancers, director, lighting designer was wrecked. “Phones off” is the word at Aber, kindly but firm. “That means off, not mute.” Other venues should follow; get tough.

Tomatoes come in different sizes from the big beef to the small, sweet cherry. Rotten tomatoes for 2012 are of the cherry variety. Here are a quick eight.

THE MAN ON THE SOUND DESK who cheers and claps when the curtain comes down. You're a member of the company. Leave the audience be. If they want to cheer, they’ll do it. If they’re numbed and tardy in their applause, then that is their privilege.

THEATRE ADVERTISERS who don't just tell it. Why is the show worth seeing? Cobbling together a content-less “trailer” is a futile time and money-waster. Culprits- Sherman Cymru and Mappa Mundi. Mappa Mundi is a great, an admired brand, but it is ungenerous that advertising conceals the names of the artists.

THEATRE REVIEWERS who don't get on with the job. Performance is made by women and men who have given their life to this. A Welsh journal managed to cover four pages without mention of actors, designers or, writer. The worst review of 2012 turned up in Exeunt Magazine. Nothing wrong with an intro but the writer managed to mention a missile silo, the Peasants Revolt,Wat Tyler, Magaluf, slippery nipples, Exocets, the white cliffs of Dover, wombles, Vera Lynn, Hitler, the Horst-Wessel-Song , Elgar, Gilbert and Sullivan, the Forth Bridge, Colin Firth before beginning to address what actually passed before his eyes.

THE ASSESSOR FOR ACW who makes declaration of a production that it “makes demands on audiences.”

There is a phrase “employee capture” which denotes an organisation run wholly and solely for the benefit of its employees- see Investment Banks. “Makes demands on audiences” is a weasel phrase brought out for work that is dreary or solipsistic, or both. It is Client Capture, not assessment.

THEATR CLWYD CYMRU. A great company that does great things with its actors; has got into an Autumn habit of choosing material unworthy of its stature. “Educating Rita” is plain depressing. It is all right for the Auchertermuchty Amateurs, but Wales' premier classical company?

NATIONAL YOUTH THEATRE OF WALES. A company is like a human being. It has to be for someone other than itself. I do not take any teenager I know; it may be delivered by young people but the mind-set is nonagenerian.

ARTS EDITORS in London who have given up on Wales (with the exception of one company.) A “Tempest” in Bath with a well-known Prospero is a three-line whip; a “Tempest” by a national company a bit further west is shunned.

ARTS EDITORS of Welsh publications who choose shows for review already well reviewed. Advice to new theatre-makers- get yourselves smartish onto publications' advisory boards. It helps.

My best of the year. No doubt about it that National Theatre of Wales had a good second year. It took years for television news to stop announcing government policy as all-British when it was England-only. The Observer wrote in the summer “we can no longer talk of "the National" and mean only the South Bank”.

The best of the year is an imperfect process. Much I never saw. It is entirely subjective. The best touring productions were the best of the BE Festival, “the Two Worlds of Charlie F” (Bravo Company) and “Going Dark” (Fuel and Sound & Fury). My best of Welsh have a few factors in common; physicality and a spirit of generosity towards young performers.

“Hairspray” makes it on those counts rather for the script, which is amiably fanciful. The Civil Rights movement left some campaigners traumatised for life. The Aber company mixes professionals with young local dancers. They are held to exactly the same high standards. Nowhere else in the world does this happen.

My top five:

“Branches: the Nature of Crisis” (National Theatre of Wales)

“Hairspray” (Aberystwyth Arts Centre)

“Little Dogs” (National Theatre of Wales & Frantic Assembly)

“MacBeth” (Opra Cymru)

“The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning” (National Theatre of Wales)

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
31 December 2012


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