Theatre in Wales

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

Remembering the Quality

Five Years at the Oher Room

here is only one account of the first five years of the English-language national theatre. Mine, of 8th September 2015, signed off with the line “I am glad that that coalition in the Assembly came about eight years ago for one reason. The National Theatre of Wales has brightened my life.” The article had a justification where a summary of the first five years of the Other Room can not. I had been at most of the shows and certainly all the ones that mattered.

By contrast I have been just a half-dozen times to Porters. Once was to a Dirty Protest evening, once a comedy scratch night, once for live music, but to only three of the company's own productions. It is by any standards a thin sample from a big body of work.

My visits are collated below. The first visit was 3rd February 2016 to “Play/ Silence”, The Stage had preceded me: “directors Kate Wasserberg and Titas Halder have done something magnificent here with cast and creative team coming together to produce a sublime hour of theatre.” My own review put emphasis on the quality of the production values, Dyfan Jones’ music and Amy Jane Cook’s design.

Amy Jane Cook was designer too for “St Nicholas”, below 12th March 2016. “Amy Jane Cook’s design bathes the space lightly in red. A metal lamp, a thicket of bulbs, a circular rug are all the colour of hell.” The scale of the Other Room means close encounter with an actor. “Christian Patterson has a prop in a single chair. He sits, moves, releases sudden bouts of energy in hand and arms. The phrasing speeds and slows. A line about ruining a life is punched out with a subdued bellow...Christian Patterson is compelling. The smallness of the space and the focus on a single performer draw attention to the sheer richness of timbre in his voice.”

The third, and final, occasion was 12th May 2016. The tininess of the space has so many qualities to it. The restrictions placed on actors and designers have an absurdity to it that is simultaneously testament to the sheer resolve of a company to make theatre. And with “Constellation Street” directors Chelsey Gillard and Dan Jones did something extraordinary. “Amy Jane Cook is again designer”, ran the review, “her approach to “Constellation Street” brilliantly counter-intuitive...but to reveal too much would be a spoiler, should it be re-created elsewhere. The most intimate space in the theatre of Wales has been split up and made more so. Nonetheless the design works on contrasts of light and dark, space and enclosedness.”

So many productions. The review of “Constellation Street” finished with “the Other Room’s invitation to Amy Jane Cook has been a great decision. True to form not a single London broadsheet has noticed.” Over five years Lyn Gardner to her credit has made a visit. For the rest the London pack dances to the company with the cash and which makes out the plump cheques to the Covent Garden PR outfit. The record of the Other Room is not to be found in the London broadsheets but it is scattered around. The British Theatre Guide, Get the Chance, Wales Arts Review and others have all been there. The future historian of this period in Wales' theatre will have a bit of looking around to do but it is all there.

2018 was as bouncy a year as any for the company but, to select just one, Matthew Trevannion's “All But Gone” attracted universal praise. This site was not there but did provide a compilation from those who were. The title, reprised below 12th April 2018, was titled “Survey of a Hit.”

Jane Laljee for Arts Scene in Wales went straight for the quality of the acting from Callum Hymers, Wyn Bowen Harries, Daniel Graham, Nicola Reynolds. Othniel Smith for the British Theatre Guide, looked to the quality of the writing:: “Matthew Trevannion gives us something equally complex...the action of “All But Gone” takes place in two time periods...dialogue is full of humour and compassion, and his plotting constantly surprising.” Design was crucial: “As so often in this venue, the set tells much of the story, Carl Davies’s design combining a kitchen and living-room, its cosy familiarity not quite preparing us for what is a tale of betrayal, abandonment and forbidden passions.”

Jafar Iqbal for Wales Arts Review put “All But Gone” in context: “Dementia has dominated Welsh theatre”, he writes, “in the early part of this year, with at least four plays tackling the subject so far. Thematic links between all of them are obvious and inevitable but, tonally, this Valleys-set drama sits alone from the pack.”

The Other Room is a success. It is an emblem of what the culture of 2019 ought to be. Success is a will-of-the-wisp but the factors for its success were laid down from the start. They were implicit long before that first audience heard those first words written by Sarah Kane.

The factors that propel the Other Room are four in number and will be subject of the concluding article.

Postscript: the article omitted a production of the Other Room not at the Other Room. In December 2017 I was in London for "Sinners Club", a co-production with Gagglebabble & Theatr Clwyd.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
11 May 2019


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