Theatre in Wales

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

Funding Issues: Big vs Small

David Adams: the Critical View from 2003

The previous article on Wales' critical past included the line “the critic is a voice that it is its own. It is not an issue of the critic being right or wrong.” Nothing is ever wholly new, the line being a reprise of what Kenneth Tynan wrote when he too was looking back on criticism of a former era. “What counts is not their opinion, but the art with which it is expressed”, his line runs from the collection “Curtains”, “It is irrelevant if his opinion is “right” or “wrong.” I learn far more from GBS [Shaw] when he is wrong than from Clement Scott when he is right.”

Tynan continues in a useful vein. “The true critic cares little for here and now. The last thing he bothers about is...who will read him first. His real rendezvous is with posterity. His review is a letter addressed to the future-to people thirty years hence who may wonder exactly what it felt like to be in a certain playhouse on a certain distant night. The critic is their eye-witness; and he has done his job, if he evokes, precisely, and with all the prejudice clearly charted, the state of his mind after the performance has impinged upon it.”

Tynan's language has not lasted well, in line with his cruelty and exaggerated amour-propre. But he and Adams are of accord. David Adams and I part company on how we view theatre's ecology. He is passionate about the small. His enthusiasm for Volcano is unbounded. Volcano is a treasure and, like Arad Goch and Mid Wales Opera, a great survivor. But his advocacy tips towards fandom. He is sceptical about the big beasts, not overly well-disposed towards Hands and Bogdanov. I am well-disposed; they were purveyors of theatrical bite and merriment.

Thus to disagree. A part of the theatre of Wales, within the ecology overall, needs to compete with the best outside. Literature Wales is another source of public bounty, but its cash is deployed to variable effect. The best of poets appear alongside the best of England. It is a very rare event when a state-funded novel of Wales achieves the same. In performance those four stars for “Killology”, and all the other winners, matter.

Adams' bifold critical perspective gets its encapsulation in an article “State of Play at the Stage Door.” It was published in the Western Mail 5th December 2003, is a weighty 1740 words and was prompted by a meeting of decision. “The dedicated people who make, promote and live for theatre are meeting today to discuss the future of Welsh theatre. It isn't billed as a crisis meeting, but it could be because for many people the future of Welsh theatre is bleak.”

The critic has sniffed out that a new national theatre is being mooted and he does not care for the idea. “Even if the plans come to fruition, theatre's future in Wales would still be dominated by big companies created mainly for political reasons.” Adams was there in the 90s and he gives his verdict: “In the last 10 years Welsh theatre has spiralled from being one of the most exciting small nation scenes to one that most people in the business would consider is in a state of terminal decline.” He diagnoses the cause:: “it's simply that those who control the public purse strings (without which no serious theatre exists anywhere) don't know what they're doing.”

Adams is against big money- always a highly relative sum in context- going to big companies. “Will most of that go to Theatr Clwyd in Mold or this embryonic new production company - whatever that is - that the chairman of the arts council has called for?” Adams then lays into Theatr Clwyd, the Sherman, Mappa Mundi, Wales Theatre Company.

By contrast he lists the companies that he thinks matter.”But in the modern world beyond Wales, if Welsh theatre is known at all, it is through Arad Goch, Carlson Dance, Earthfall, Elan, Frantic Assembly, Green Ginger, Sioned Huws, Sean Tuan John, Marc Rees and Small World. Not many people know of our would-be "national" companies. Readers with long memories will recall Cardiff Lab, Moving Being, Paupers Carnival, Y Cwmni, Brith Gof, Hywl a Fflag, The Magdalena Project - all now defunct, though their legacy lives on (Good Cop Bad Cop and Eddie Ladd, for example, were originally Brith Gof performers).”

“These were the companies that defined Welsh theatre, along with the admirable theatre-in-education and community theatre provision.”

He is passionate for the small. “The strength of theatre in Wales to outsiders does not lie in worthy and large institutions run by big-name directors but, as with other small countries, in the variety and innovation of smaller groups and individuals. The future of Welsh theatre must depend on developing audiences at home, regardless of any overseas renown.”

As above, I am not in agreement but this is good spicy stuff. “In fact”, he writes, “the powers-that-be have done everything they could over the past decade to destroy a broad-based Welsh theatre in order to have a monolithic "national" theatre - or, rather, two, one in each language.”

But he is chillingly correct in one area. “And I haven't even started on the subject of playwrights - the people who would ideally be producing the work to be seen on the stages of the new national theatre. The principal new-writing company, Sgript Cymru, and the smaller Theatr y Byd are both starved of funds. And that's to say nothing of smaller venues who could do with more money, such at the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven.”

“The prominent playwrights of the last couple of decades - people like Laurence Allen, Greg Cullen, Sion Eirian, Lucy Gough, Gareth Miles, Alan Osborne, Meic Povey, Ian Rowlands, Ed Thomas, Frank Vickery and Roger Williams - have had to turn mainly to radio and television or have all but given up. So. Little support for new writers. No encouragement for emerging new work.”

For that roll-call from 2003 read Price, Barker, James, Llewelyn-Williams 16 years on.

This is all history on the one hand. I look back on my years of reviewing against the odds, as good ones. But Welsh drama is a shadow of that of Scotland. There should be ten Gary Owens. Flying Bridge has toured continents all on its own initiative. The Baker-Llewelyn-Williams duo should get the chance to do their big-scale Newport epic.

And David Adams' anatomising was prophetically correct in one respect. The article of a week back, 6th April 2019, stands as it stands. It awaits its rebuttal.

David Adams has also left a book as his contribution to theatre. It is titled “Stage Welsh”. It has a subtitle. “Nation, Nationalism and Theatre: The Search for Cultural Identity.” It is a book that asks for attention.

“State of Play at the Stage Door” can be read in full:

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
15 April 2019


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