Theatre in Wales

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

My Year of Theatre 2017 (2)

“As a nation we have been over-dependent on public funding”

The Sherman at the Royal Court and Wales in Edinburgh were big events in the first eight months of the year. The autumn too brought events worth remembering. The Torch celebrated an anniversary milestone with a big production. If it was a return to ground previously trod it was done with panache to audience acclaim. At the same time, like all companies with punch, the Torch also spent the autumn breaking new ground. Behind the scenes “Grav” was being set to play in Manhattan in early 2018.

By coincidence my three autumn highlights all came from the canon and all were repolished for 2017. Kesey, Ibsen and Chekhov all saw new life at the hands of skilled directors, Doran, Harris and Harvey. When Theatr Clwyd performed at the theatre of its production partner in Sheffield Dominic Cavendish wrote that Jamie Ballard was the best Vanya he had seen. If a writer of his calibre says it, so it is.

On October 5th the Other Room announced a new play-writing award, the Violet Burns Playwright Award. The award is to run annually for the next three years. Unlike the BBC Wales and National Theatre collaboration of prior years this award gives dramatists what they both want and need most. The winner will have their play professionally produced at The Other Room. The award is testimony to the respect that the company has come to command in a brief life of two and a half years.

Government turned its attention to culture in the autumn and should be applauded for doing so. Arts Councils are a reconciling and adjudication mechanism. The demands they face are not just broad and heterogeneous, spread across art forms and languages, but their inherent value is ever up for debate. That makes it as difficult a role as any in public service, particularly when the evaluations are so ambiguous. In England six figure sums have flowed to Punchdrunk who have hiked their prices to £110 for a double ticket. Although some stuff is tolerated in Wales that would never get by elsewhere that kind of company would not.

There are assessors for the Arts Council who move unseen. Just once I have had sight of an opinion of an assessor. He came over as a lost soul with small clue of what had taken place before his eyes. The live sessions of the Culture Committee were covered here in October. Culture in Wales has many heroes and they know who they are but Yvonne Murphy was one of them in 2017.

Rachel Jones gave evidence that public subsidy was an “unhealthy over-reliance on ACW.” This was a time when “the Revlon Girl” was playing a serious venue in London so it is not universal. Hijinx and NoFit State were picked out as long-term stories of international success. Rachel Jones' co-presenter of evidence took the same line. Emma Goad: “as a nation we have been over-dependent on public funding.”

The description of ACW being in “a teacher-pupil relationship” is not quite right as a metaphor. Teaching is a profession while arts management is just that, management. And management is high-minded intent hitting a daily reality of circumstance, event, accident and politics. One day the Flint Ring was there. The next day it was Keyser Sôze blowing a puff of air across his open palm. “Like that” he said- he was speaking of the Devil “and he's gone.” So went the Ring.

The most substantial book of the year on theatre came from a substantial figure. Among other things Hytner's “Balancing Acts” is a meditation on the why and the what of subsidy. “The best reason for the state to help pay for the art” he wrote “is because a vibrant society thrives on self-examination. Simply, it's more exciting and fulfilling to live in a society actively engaged in wondering what's beautiful and truthful. The healthy state builds not just monuments, but the resources for its citizens to discover for themselves values that transcend the marketplace, and to have a really good time.”

One of the book's reviews set the position of Britain in an international context. “Britain sits somewhere in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to public subsidies for the arts” wrote the unnamed reviewer “If it does not have the generous private philanthropic culture and tax incentives that exist in America, it is not continental Europe either, where theatres are often still financed almost entirely by governments and can get away with scorn for public taste.”

The Senedd Committee has yet to report. It is hoped that it may reach the obvious conclusion. Wales is a part of the United Kingdom and not Germany. Relief from the market does not mean release from the market.

The full details of the Violet Burns Award are at

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
31 December 2017


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