Theatre in Wales

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

Observing the Public Sphere

Opposition Is Essential to Ecology


I never used to get it whenever I heard or read about the lack of confidence in Wales.

I did not get it when Tim Price wrote about it. I did not get it when Rhodri Morgan talked about it at his valedictory lecture at the Drwm.

I did not get it probably for a reason. We inhabit our own cognitive worlds. It is the paradox of belonging to our species; its strength is to be the most co-operative on earth, its paradox to be comprised of discrete organic units. The gift of language is the great chain that links.

For the larger part of my life now I have knocked around Ceredigion. It is a small world but contains multitudes. I have met Ministers and Chairs, Bishops and Vice-Chancellors. The range of fellow citizens run the range from millionaires to the homeless. I have been at funerals of a gut-wrenching sorrow and weddings of an unlimited joyfulness.

But I never met or felt a lack of confidence.

In the year that the Urdd Eisteddfod came to Lampeter I bumped early on into the Secretary of the local committee. The sum required to be raised locally was substantial and felt beyond reach. Within a couple of weeks I was in a packed-out Theatr Felinfach at a fund-raiser concert. The outflow of musical talent was impressive but the event was also a surprise. Faces I recognised from daily life were leading choirs or singing solo beautifully to their own accompanying guitar. The abundance of culture astonishes. But then perhaps it is bias, special to Ceredigion and the Fro generally.

I attend events like that concert fund-raiser or see a performance in Aberystwyth by a community-based company. There has over the years been a plethora, like Louche or Bold or Lurking Truth or Curtain Call. Then I glance an eye, not often, on the official statements on culture. The language feels remote. I cannot get the connection with what happens on the ground, or at least this bit of ground.

To start at the beginning, usually a good place to start.

It started on March 6th 1940. The state controlled everything in a time of most extreme hazard. That control moved to include the mechanisms for enjoyment. The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts made a formal request to the Treasury for financial assistance. The language in the Memorandum was clear: its first clause committed the organisation to the “preservation in wartime of the highest standards in the arts of music, drama and painting”.

To what purpose? That was equally clear. “The widespread provision of opportunities for hearing good music and the enjoyment of the arts generally.”

Look at that word five words from the end. It is about us. It is why we choose one thing over the other. It is a word that in 2020 no policy-maker is allowed to utter.

I have met a few management consultants in my time. One that stood out used to borrow a line from Heidegger. Admittedly I watched the reaction of his management clients who were somewhat bemused. “Language is the House of Being. In its home human beings dwell.”

The wrong words distort. Things go wrong. If the new patrons of culture now lack the confidence to grasp the right words the result will be distortion.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
12 March 2020


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