Theatre in Wales

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

My 2019 in Theatre

The Best of the Year

My year of theatre came with a difference in 2019. I saw forty-nine productions over the year and wrote reviews of sixteen. The discrepancy was that I travelled in a different direction, due east rather than south and north. Countries are determined by their geography. The distance from Aberystwyth to Manchester is fifty percent greater than that to Cardiff. But the train journey to Manchester Piccadilly takes seven minutes longer.

I left my own milltir sgwar to write a review just once, 21st November below. That 110 mile round trip had a motivation beyond theatre; I am writing, for elsewhere, about the dramatist's home country.

Otherwise, I saw some of the best that England has to offer. Experiencing theatre beyond Wales has benefits. It allows for compare and contrast. Benchmarking is a management tool, that is a valuable part of a total quality framework. There are anniversaries galore and this year saw the 30-year anniversary of Benchmarking's seminal text.

One of the best public events I experienced in 2019 was the visit of Eluned Morgan to Aberystwyth's International Politics Department. The ministerial role has two parts, International Relations and the Welsh Language. The world does not end at the Dee and the Severn. She spoke impressively, with a strong will that Wales makes its impact on the world beyond.

But to make an impact it has to compete. And that will to compete ceases if, at times, aspiration to artistic quality is muddied with other motivations. Happily there were many examples over the year of aspiration to compete. Edinburgh in 2019 was a peacock's feather of display. I do not do press nights. I bought my own ticket for the transfer of “Home, I'm Darling” to St Martin's Lane, reported 5th February. “Eye of the Storm” was in Scotland and England. A Dafydd James' play played in Stratford's historic Theatre Royal. But no-one in Wales would know as it was wholly unreported.

But then so too were the companies that went out and won Olivier Awards. This is so depressing but also revealing. Mal Pope had a musical at Swansea with a considerable director in Maxine Evans. As far as can be gauged, again it attracted no media interest.

I also bought my own ticket for a performance event in the autumn. I paid myself, so as to be without obligation to write about it. I made an assessment of its artistic virtues and lesser virtues. It played to an audience who were all over the age of fifty and the box office take was £124. This is a public investment and an open culture would be welcoming of a public response. I opted not to for two reasons. One was that I made a judgement and concluded that an appraisal of fullness and candour would be hurtful to a vulnerable persona. This is good at one level but not good for a culture of robustness and accomplishment.

As to my own year I like theatre that reaches out. I was at “Grav” again, seated and squeezed by an audience member of considerable prop forward size. The Referendum of 2016 is untouchable in the arts of Wales. Its impact on the young is set to be considerable. So it is ironic that it takes a dramatist born in 1948, David Edgar, to bring the subject to a stage in Wales, and that was only in Aberystwyth.

Wales also suffers a considerable balance of payments deficit in writer royalties. I relished the madcap inventiveness of the script of “Eye of the Storm.” But there was much else buzzing in both north and south. “Eye of the Storm” featured in a list of the best of the year made by Wales Arts Review. Lists are never the last word, but collective wisdom is usually right and the Review had the benefit of eleven good writers.

It is a pity overall that “Pavilion” at Theatr Clwyd received so little serious assessment. “Orpheus Descending” was obviously formidable and demanding. There were productions I wished I had seen. The Other Room marked up its first five years. Mari Izzard won the Violet Burns Playwright Award with "Hela." “The Mold Riots” sounded as if it contained everything I like about live performance.

The theatre of Wales I saw this year was bound by the banks of the Tawe and Dyfi. So no personal list of the year's best; instead a referral to the judgement of those who were there.

The north scooped Wales Arts Review's best of the year pick. Cwmni Franwen has appeared in my best-of-year lists. “Anweledig” took the Review's number one spot for 2019.

Its top ten were:

Y Brain/Kargalar (Be Aware)

peeling (Taking Flight)

Robinson: The Other Island (Give it a Name)

Neither Here Nor There (Jo Fong/Sonia Hughes)

Anweledig (Franwen)

Les Mis (august012)

Into the Light(Hijinx/La Teatro Ribalta)

A Night at the Clink (Papertrail)

Eye of the Storm (Theatr na n’Og)

Louder is Not Always Clearer (Mr and Mrs Clark)

The list of Wales Arts Review's best can be seen at

The article itself contains links to the original reviews.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
01 January 2020


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