Theatre in Wales

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

New Theatre Writing in Wales in the 1980s

Carl Tighe: New Writing in Wales (2)

Carl Tighe was active in Welsh theatre as writer and commentator from 1969-1987.

In the winter of 1982-1983 the magazine "Arcade" circulated a questionnaire. Its results provided Carl Tighe with material and quotations for a substantial article on new writing in Wales. Its first version was published in "Platform" issue number 5, Spring 1983 under the title "From Tremadoc to Sketty Hall."

The first part of the article was published 1st June. The article on Welsh theatre in the 1980s continues:

"In 1962, Warren Jenkins, director of the Welsh Theatre Company, said: ‘‘Welsh’ is the dramatic oratory of the pulpit and the political platform; ‘Welsh’ is rugger and lava bread; ‘Welsh’ is not synonymous with THEATRE.’

Throughout the 20th century it was England and America that offered Welsh playwrights their opportunities. In 1974, in spite of the Welsh language plays of Saunders Lewis, and the theatre building programme then undertaken in Wales, Wilbert Lloyd Roberts’ joking remark that Wales was the only country in the world where TV had arrived before theatre, had more than a slight edge of truth to it. Even so, apart from Emlyn Williams and Dylan Thomas, there was nothing much to talk of in English, and even Dylan Thomas’ radio play Under Milk Wood was produced on stage in America, Edinburgh and London, before it received a production in Wales.

Some of the most talented of Welsh writers in English – Ewart Alexander (Kings Royal), Elaine Morgan (Fame is the Spur), and Gareth Jones (director of Brass and Coronation Street) – have all clearly found a more lucrative market for their work in TV, and, with Welsh language writer Sion Eirion (Pobol y Cwm), only make a rare sally onto the stage. Even Alun Richards, who was singled out by the Welsh Arts Council Report The Arts in Wales as more fortunate and resourceful than his contemporaries, and who has since provided us with Ennal’s Point and large chunks of The Onedin Line, has yet to have one of his stage plays premiered in Wales.

The development of theatre writing from the strictures of religious rite and peasant ritual into the expression of individual talent operating in the mainstream of a tradition – the normal development for drama in European communities – didn’t happened in Wales. As a result, Theatre as a whole has remained largely un-rooted in Welsh soil. The important developments which took place in English theatre from the Middle Ages up to the 20th century passed Wales by. Dramatists, where they existed at all, did not outgrow unadventurous imitation of what had been before, nor embark upon conscientious works of craft until the 20th century. Given this background, it is not surprising that confusion and misunderstanding should reign as to the relationship that a healthy national theatre bears to a healthy theatre writing tradition. Wales through the centuries has presented an extremely complex and daunting prospect for the would-be playwright. If truth be told, it has proved equally daunting for would-be producers too. Any theatre company operating in Wales and taking its function seriously has a double burden to carry; as well as struggling to gain audiences for tried and tested works, to establish theatre as part of the ‘way of life’, they have to convince all concerned that it is both possible and legitimate to write in and about Wales.

English language theatre in Wales has relied on English theatre and English plays.

That is the quandary. Until we come to terms with the idea that a Welsh National Theatre company must be founded on the bedrock of good theatre writing by playwrights in Wales, the whole effort is little more than a cosmetic exercise of no substance at all. The way out of the situation lies not necessarily in simply producing more new plays, but in the more difficult task founding and rooting a tradition of theatre writing where none existed before, in the creation of an infrastructure whereby playwrights in Wales may grow, experiment and develop.

Playwrights like all writers, work within a tradition. Their work stands in relation to what has been written before and the audience it has created. The history of theatre in Wales, or rather the lack of such a history, thus leaves the contemporary playwright with a wide variety of problems, and, in spite of the risks, it is as well to articulate the knotty and contentious puzzles that arise.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
02 June 2020


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