Theatre in Wales

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

My Year of Theatre 2016

Theatre in Wales & Afar

Robert Wilson, veteran American director-pioneer, was in Sydney for a festival this autumn. A Cardiff social media link highlighted an interview he gave to Australia's principal theatre site. In the interview, no longer available, he spoke emphatically and authoritatively about what theatre was and what it needed to do. The drawback was that his views and instructions were linked only to the strand of theatre that he represents. Extrapolation from one gifted director cannot capture an art form of such heterogeneity. Its breadth eludes generalisation.

That was evidenced in my highlights of 2016. They ranged from the Llanarth Group to a new Matthew Bulgo play to Cęt Haf and Elgan Rhys on a colourful jungle journey.

No two people share quite the same experience in the arts. That means that retrospective is biography. The largest change to my year of theatre was that in 2016 I saw less of the performance of Wales than in many a previous year. Although the venues ranged from Mold to Cardiff via Aberystwyth and Cardigan the volume of shows fell. In a peak year I saw a production of Wales a week and in 2016 that tally fell.

The companies whom I saw in 2012 or 2014 -a year boosted by the Dylan Thomas commemorations- were regular names. The names whom I failed to see this year included Arad Goch, Bara Caws, Black Rat, Dirty Protest, Gagglebaggle, Lighthouse, Mappa Mundi, Marc Rees, Music Theatre Wales, Mid-Wales Opera, Opra Cymru, the Torch, Theatr Iolo, Volcano, Waking Exploits and WNO. I saw just one of Theatr Genedlaethol's six. Edinburgh was host to a starburst of acclaimed shows. Of the eighteen that featured on the Fringe I saw just Cwmni Franwen. This omission will be put right in 2017. “Meet Fred” and “A Regular Little Houdini” are set for big tours.

There were four reasons for seeing less. Only occasionally do I stay away deliberately but “Aberystwyth Mon Amour” was one such case. West Wales in the guise of a gumshoe parody had nothing to do with the quality; it is just not for me. But there were quantitatively fewer tours. One company, which has more than once appeared on my personal best of the year, did not get its project grant for an unusual reason. It quite often sold one hundred and fifty tickets, to real people, but they were not in the right places. If that is an apparent rule fair enough, but let it apply to all.

The last reason was an alleviation in personal circumstances. That allowed travel, in one case to the Southern Hemisphere. That meant missing the Roald Dahl weekend, although responses to it flooded my social media feed. The relative nearness of the London megalopolis always makes Wales different from Scotland. But its best shows provide contrast and comparison. “Murder Ballad” , which had a long run at the Arts, is good but it is not better than its nearest analogue in Wales, Gagglebabble.

Brecht is tough to pull off. I saw a good “Caucasian Chalk Circle” but for all its size the RNT did not get it with “Threepenny Opera”. If Macheath isn't scary then the whole thing fails. But then “the Plough and the Stars”, also at the South Bank, was staged in epic style in centenary tribute to the 1916 Rising. It is my kind of heritage theatre. It lives because the human players caught up in history's turmoil remain human. While the patriots rise and die O'Casey's characters go a-looting. It is a fidelity that even now is uncommon in the theatre of Wales. As an aside Howard Davies, co-director, died in October. 2016 was a year of loss also among theatre directors, fulsome obituaries for William Gaskill and Peter Wood both appearing in February.

New work is theatre's lifeblood, also the larger reason for it being in the sphere of public subsidy. The cream of England's award-winners that I saw included “People, Places and Things”, “the Father” and “Rotterdam”. These and another production, “the Drover's Wife” in Sydney, were all different but they had two things in common. First they all took subjects that matter. Their subjects were Alzheimer's, alcoholism, gender dysphoria, misogyny, racial murder. None of them had any interest in getting the local Tourist Board purring. But subject is only as good as its treatment. All employed the language of theatre in diverse ways to startling effect; that is action within space, split-second scene change, costume design, lighting. None wanted their stage to be a substitute for television or welfare session or lecture room.

Back in Wales the Other Room had a blistering inaugural year which was reflected in the Awards of January. Whether it is sustainable will be revealed in a month or so. Theatr Genedlaethol is consistently interesting with both surprise and breadth. The Sherman built on strength and pulled off a coup of its Royal Court co-production. The RWCMD continued with its mini-festival of new writing in April. Scriptography went to the King's Head. “A Regular Little Houdini” did five theatres in four countries. The whole Edinburgh display was evidence of a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit behind the art-making.

So I missed much but these all meant a lot to me in 2016. One feature to note- the whole lot had women at the helm, either as director or co-director.

Blackout- Take Part Youth Theatre

Told by the Wind- Llanarth Group

Constellation Street- The Other Room

Dilyn Fi- Cwmni Franwen

Insignificance- Theatr Clwyd

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat- Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Merch yr Eog Marc'h an Eog- Theatr Genedlaethol & Teatr Piba

The Revlon Girl- October Sixty Six Productions

Smash It Up- Mr and Mrs Clark

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
31 December 2016


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