Theatre in Wales

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

Informal European Theatre Meeting

David Adams reviews the recent conference in Cardiff.

Every so often Cardiff feels like a European city. every so often it feels part of a contemporary culture. Every so often, it can feel it's almost grown up, confident, a cosmopolitan centre in the new Europe.

Such was the case the last weekend when the Infromal European Threatre Meeting came to town - 250 directors, performers, promoters and academics in the annual get-together held each year in a different European city. Conversations, debates and criticism in so many languages - though english was inevitably the lingua franca - as representatives from 25 different countries made the capital buzz.

While the hectic three days was full of meetings, networking and deals in and around Chapter Arts Centre, a leading memeber of the organisation and this year's host, it was a chance for Wales to talk to Europe (and beyond) and for visitors to sample some of the tastes of Wales.

Performers already known abroad like Earthfall, Volcano, Marc Rees, Sean Tuan John, Diversions and Brith Gof presented their work; but what got people talking was the most controversial performance of the weekend - Sioned Huw's Lliw Lili in the marbled surroundings of the National Museum. She mixed harpists, clog dancing, folk singers and dancers in full costume, little children and her own dance style into a celebration of rural welsh life, and the audience found it either embarrassing and boing or refershingly innocent and honest - some slept through it and some whooped and cheered.
Lliw Lili emphasised that a lot of performance in Wales is still much concerned with Welshness. While in general the European theatre people here seem to have gone beyond the question of cultural indentity - even if many confess to having problems about their own nationality

Despite caveats about romantic ideas of Europe, they are firstly Eupropeans - and of course as performers they spend much of their lives in other countries - so the question of identity is not so obsessive. While the issue of bilingualism may have een on the agenda - because this is Wales - it was the Croatian director Branko Brezovec who reminded us how, while shared language can break down barriers, an insistence on pure language (evidenced in the cleansing of Croatrian, Serbian, Macedonian and Slovenian) can build barriers.

As the host country, Wales was allowed to be somewhat over-concerned, not about the quality of its cultural product but about its identity. Art historian Peter Lord and dramatist Ed Thomas agreed that Welshness weas no longer an issue in Wales - but it was in england, where Thomas's last play Gas Station Angel was received by critics with knee-jerk racist comment and the derisory Guardian headline 'Welsh Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit'.

As he pointed out, appropiately in this company, Welsh theatre is more popular in Europe than in England - or in Wales

author:David Adams

original source: Western Mail
07 October 1998


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