Theatre in Wales

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SCOPING STUDY: POLICY REVIEW OF ANGLO-WELSH WELSH CULTURE: Professor Hazel Walford Davies, University of Glamorgan     

If in the next ten years Wales were to produce three major novels, five acclaimed English-language films, six plays and superb work by two visual artists, and if all these became known throughout Britain and Europe, then you could really say that the total of all these things would have invented a landscape for a new Welsh culture. A new Welsh mythology cannot be created by one artist alone, but by the accident of all artists coming at it from different directions and being perceived and digested by a world that thinks that this culture is worth something. I want to see a Wales at ease with itself, and a people with confidence in their own worth and their own identity. At the moment, our silence is embarrassing.

(Ed Thomas, dramatist, New Welsh Review, No. 27, 1994)


Almost ten years on from the date of the above comment by Ed Thomas, one of Wales's finest dramatists, the silence in the field of English-medium theatre in Wales is still embarrassing. Very little has happened within Wales since then to give Welsh theatre voice and, with it, visibility. In fact, our silence has been, not just embarrassing, but deafening. With the exception of the work done by Sgript Cymru and a few companies within and outside the Theatre in Education sector, theatre in Wales has suffered from the absence of a coherent and unifying identity. This has not been the case with theatre in Scotland, Ireland and England.

In so many small nations world-wide that have achieved any degree at all of political independence, theatre is a powerful forum for debate, a bright mirror of the nation's indigenous culture and imaginative life. English-medium theatre in Wales, however, especially in our main and mid-scale venues, provides no such mirror. All too often, what is offered to the audiences of Wales is a reflection of another culture, through the plays of other countries. Plays : good ones : by writers from Wales are largely ignored. It has been far too long since audiences in the South Wales Valleys were given the opportunity to see a performance of Alan Osborne's Merthyr-based plays. Mark Jenkins's Playing Burton has been performed, to great acclaim, in New

Zealand, Australia and America, but has not toured in Wales. And when were Cardiff audiences last given an opportunity to see a performance of Ed Thomas's Song for a Forgotten City?

Sgript Cymru and the companies that serve schools and young people have a distinctive Welsh voice and presence, but all too often on our main stages indigenous culture has to yield to adaptations of English novels and to English plays. It is hardly surprising that young Welsh dramatists leave Wales and that renowned Welsh actors have no cause to return, not even now and then, to perform on Wales's stages. A great deal of theatre in Wales is a non-event, and companies parachuting occasionally into west Wales or the Valleys have little interest, because no motive, in nurturing a loyal audience.


- The English-medium A-level Drama and Theatre Studies list of texts in the Welsh Joint Education Committee's syllabus does not contain a single play by a dramatist living in Wales. The list is suitable for centres from England which choose the WJEC as their Examining Board. Centres in England have complained when a 'Welsh' element is included in examination questions. A-level pupils in Wales are, as a result of the English-orientated syllabus, deprived of the opportunity to study texts that reflect their own culture and concerns. In Scotland, the school syllabus acknowledges the prime importance of Scottish culture, its rootedness in community, and its attractive relevance to the lives of Scotland's youth. The Welsh Joint Education Committee's GCSE list of six plays (of which two must be chosen) contains only one play by a Welsh author (Frank Vickery).

- The successful Assembly-funded 'Shakespeare in Schools' project gave pupils in Wales the opportunity to perform plays by England's greatest playwright. The fact that he was also the world's greatest playwright shouldn't dissuade us from allowing the idea to provide us with a model for a Wales-wide project that gives teachers and pupils alike the opportunity to run workshops on, and perform works by, some of Wales's talented contemporary playwrights.

- There are currently no full modules on English-medium drama in Wales available to students within university and college institutions in Wales. And yet, courses on British, Irish, European and American plays are, quite rightly, readily available.

- There is currently only one press in Wales committed to publishing English-medium plays by Welsh authors, and that press : Parthian Press - is seriously underfunded. To allow Parthian to continue its excellent work in the field of drama, more core-funding needs to be provided.

- There is a crucial lack of informed critical debate in Wales (compare Ireland and Scotland) concerning plays and performance. There are no serious, indigenous Wales-based critics reviewing theatre on a regular basis, with the result that companies and writers just do not receive the feedback necessary for assessment, development and future excellence.

- The problem of the lack of critical debate will not be solved until a theatre magazine is established. Literature has the New Welsh Review and Planet, and there are plans, in conjunction with Sgrîn, to establish a film and media periodical. If theatre is to prosper and reflect Welsh culture in a critically disciplined as well as an imaginative way, a periodical dealing consistently with Welsh theatre is of the utmost importance in providing a forum for debate.

- Practically every small country world-wide has an International Theatre Institute (UNESCO) centre dedicated to promoting the indigenous force and availability of theatre at home and its visibility for shared experience and exchange abroad. Since the establishment of the Welsh Assembly Government, ITI (UNESCO) has welcomed Wales as a member of the international theatre community. The opportunity is now there to fund a Welsh centre of ITI (UNESCO). In Wales, Literature has the Academi, Film and Television has Sgrîn, but Theatre has no facilitating body at all. A Welsh centre of ITI (UNESCO) would provide a creative focus for and on the at present all too piecemeal, disparate efforts of the theatre community. It would make a serious difference to all that energises quality theatre in Wales.

- The theatre structure in Wales is not conducive to new writing. Sgript Cymru, to fulfil its remit, needs to be provided with its own venue for workshopping, reading and performance of work in progress. In other words, there needs to be a continuum in the process.

- If funding is not provided for the creation of a Welsh Theatre Archive, Wales's rich theatre history and potential will remain invisible and unheard, and the situation an embarrassment. Politics, Literature, Film and Television all benefit from archival resources. No such resource is available for practitioners, audiences and scholars from Wales and internationally to access theatre information and theatre ideas in Wales. A theatre archive would provide the informational bedrock for an understanding of this crucial aspect of our heritage. In 2002, Baroness Blackstone, the Arts Minister for England, initiated a government task force to seek ways of ensuring continued investment in, and support for, this neglected archival legacy. The task force is due to report to the Government and to funding agencies in the summer of 2003. Even were it within its remit, it would not be able to report on Wales's Theatre Archive. Shamefully, it does not exist.


Immediate and serious attention needs to be given to the state of play in the field of English-medium theatre in Wales. Theatre is the most public of the arts, and, properly funded and structured, it could become (as it has long been in other small nations) a powerful force for economic as well as cultural regeneration and development in Wales.

Hazel Walford Davies
26 February 2003
wales assembly government  
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Hazel Walford Davies
Saturday, March 08, 2003back



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