Theatre in Wales

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The Play's the thing     

. Absolutely. Plays are meant to be interpreted and performed. The publication of a play is therefore only an addition to any stage production. Play texts are like critics, somewhere out on the margins of the theatre world, part of the dressing.

However we are part of a culture where more dramatic work is getting published. It is relatively easy now to produce extended programmes and call them books. The writer and the actors love them, everyone from the stage manager to the cook gets a mention on the opening night and they are passed around with the wine and cheese. There is in the end something about a book. It’s potential longevity promising life beyond the four weeks of rehearsal and ten day run in a small theatre. The blaze of publicity with stories in papers everyone has read before. A run everyone will forget in a month as actors and directors and writers move off into their own lives again. Plays are often forgotten, usually for good reason. But the play text captures a certain time. It offers for the writer at least the potential of a new run and new life, they have a habit of getting you places. Charlie Way was invited to the Sundance film festival as the result of someone reading his play Dead Man’s Hat in a collection published by Seren. Dead Man’s Hat is a Western set in Wyoming. Mark Jenkins has found it useful to have his epic monologue Playing Burton published in a collection called One Man, One Voice. Playing Burton was already well into a successful ten year world tour by the time it was published but the authority of the printed text with critical introduction has helped Mark Jenkins in his role and producer and playwright. Sharon Morgan has recently played Magic Threads captured in One Woman, One Voice to audiences in New York. The publisher can never be sure if a book was instrumental in securing extra productions for these plays but they didn’t do any harm. Again there is something substantial about a book, the investment of time and money beyond what the play is meant to be.

I’ve been involved in publishing plays since the publication of Alan Osborne’s Merthyr Trilogy. Both Bull, Rock and Nut and Sunshine and Shadow had achieved a certain mythical status in the world of Welsh theatre. The great Welsh actors of the time had played in them, Dorien Thomas as Nut, Sharon Morgan as Vee. Bob Blythe appearing in both. Alan Osborne’s run of plays opening up an important period of Welsh theatrical invention in. However they were not published until 1998 some fifteen years after the first production of Bull, Rock and Nut. There was something in the plays that kept them in the memory for over a decade. I had never seen a performance but had met plenty of people who had. In the publication we tried to do something more than just publish the plays, we tried to set them in the context of it times with retrospective essays by Gilly Adams, cast photographs and set design sketches. This is expensive but in making a book into something more than just the play we have attempted to follow this model with published work on significant playwrights such as Ian Rowlands. Seven years on from publication the first print run of The Merthyr Trilogy has sold out and the book has spurred a number of rehearsed readings but there still hasn’t been another full production of any of the plays. It is a lot easier to just publish the play with a cast list. We’ve tried this as well. On balance I’d prefer to wait, edit and select.

Plays don’t sell in any numbers likely to interest a publisher interested in making any money. They are read largely by people involved in the industry, actors, directors, writers, producers. In wider terms they are adopted for courses of study and they are a record of times. However they are part of the dramatic culture of the theatre, again like critics, not ecessary but sometimes useful.

Lewis Davies

New Welssh Review  
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Lewis Davies
Sunday, October 02, 2005back



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