Theatre in Wales

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

Wales Arts Council in the House of Commons

Carl Tighe on Theatre in Dispute in the 1980s

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

In the 1980s theatre in Wales ascended to an official enquiry by the House of Commons. Carl Tighe wrote this account for the Theatre Writers Union Newsletter of January 1985.

“House of Commons Committee on Welsh Affairs

Welsh Arts Council: Minutes of Evidence and Appendices, HMSO. £6.00, 85 pp

Readers may remember that last summer Theatre Writers Union, the Welsh Association of Performing Artists and Equity demonstrated against the Welsh Arts Council proposal to cut all touring companies in Wales in order to release funds for the creation of two new “mainstream” theatre companies. Equity estimated that the plan would result in 50% job losses for actors and TWU calculated that it would result in 50% job losses for actors and TWU calculated that it would mean a 95% reduction in work opportunities for playwrights in Wales.

WAC members were severely discomforted by the demonstration and by the powerful and well informed lobbying and press coverage. Claiming that the leaked documents were only a draft proposal, WAC promised to redraw its plans and consult clients anew. The promised revision has taken place and is embodied in a document entitled “Priorities into Practice”, which has been widely circulated.

However, the leak, the demonstration and the attendant furore all led to the setting up of a House of Commons Inquiry into the workings of the WAC by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. The document comprises 21 pages of evidence and 28 letters from Welsh theatre companies and individuals submitted to the Committee in response to the WAC proposals. The minutes and evidence of that Committee are now made public- and fascinating reading they make too. Not only does the document provide useful insight into the fiasco of last summer, but also provides some revealing glimpses into the Welsh arts bureaucracy. In theory the report deals with the whole range of WAC activities, but in practice it concentrates almost exclusively on Drama.

One interesting point to emerge is that the documents leaked last summer originated not from the Drama panel, but from an inner group within the Council itself, known as The Chairman's Group and consisting of the Sir Hywel Evans (Chairman), Thomas Owen (Director) and Matthew Prichard (Vice-Chairman). That the panel did eventually have the opportunity to accept or reject the plans is hardly reassuring.

It is clear from the minutes and the evidence that WAC has great difficulty in accepting the advice of its own professional staff- it is not alone in this- and that the organisation has major problems in consulting its clients and maintaining sensible dialogue. In spite of claims that WAC would finalise and circulate its plans, it is clear that members of the Select Committee were far from certain that consultation would have taken place without the famous leak. From the evidence it would seem that where WAC consults at all it is a grudging and desultory operation. Gareth Wardell's comments to Sir Hywel Evans surely stands as an indictment.

“Do you not think that the reaction of the clients of the WAC to the possibility of what you were going to do..shows that your clients certainly believed that you were capable of doing what you suggested?”

There are many disturbing features of the report. One of the saddest is Sir Hywel Evans' characterisation of the draft proposals as “radical.” Clearly he saw the plans as vigorous, far-reaching and daring, when in fact they were drastic, unpopular and ill-informed.

It was unfortunately only a half-day enquiry, so there are gaps in the gaps in the material. WAC, for example, was never asked to justify its obsession with “mainstream” theatre. Nor was it asked to define what such a word might define in the context of Wales. Also, considering the bone of contention that the new theatre writing has grown into over the last ten years, it was odd, but perhaps not so unpredictable, that the business of new writing should get only one passing mention in the 31 pages of minutes.

After a shaky start before the Committee, WAC just about managed to pull together a creditable performance. By the end of the show WAC had begun to shape up as a troupe of honest, well-meaning chaps, much maligned in the press and misunderstood by clients. However, a number of serious questions remain.

Why did the draft proposals originate with the Chairman's Group rather than with the Drama panel?
Why, if the proposals were only a discussion document, did someone in the WAC consider it necessary to leak the material so massively and so comprehensively?

Is the present internal structure of WAC- suited to its current role- particularly in massive planning like this one?

Just who is the WAC accountable to?

Is the present appointment to the WAC- an arrangement whereby a candidate is nominated by the Arts Council of Great Britain and approved by the Secretary of State for Wales- altogether satisfactory?

How does WAC decide and administer its artistic criteria?

Given that WAC could not even dare to contemplate the scheme it outlined last summer, what is WAC's relation to the community it is supposed to serve?

Answers on a postcard please to 9 Museum Place, Cardiff.

For anybody seriously interested in Welsh theatre, this report is a must. Incidentally a note on page one reveals that the cost of publishing the half day enquiry was £6900. That is £900 more than the WAC's proposed increase in Drama spending for the year 1985-86.”

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
24 June 2020


Privacy Policy | Contact Us | ©2006 keith morris / red snapper web designs /