Theatre in Wales

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National Youth Theatre of Wales- Botticelli's Bonfire , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , September 3, 2005
Imagine a visitor from a far away place to our newly developed Cardiff Bay. They, as I did two days ago, may visit the Millennium Centre struck by the impressive bulk of it – a metaphor for an impressive culture. They go inside to look for evidence of what it does; what it’s there for and one of the first things they may find is a small display telling the story of Cardiff and detailing the city’s culture and creativity (and by extension an indication of a nation-wide creativity) and, as I was, may be perplexed by the video of Charlotte Church and the pair of Shirley Bassey’s shoes in a small glass case as a summary of that creativity. You may expect them to think that this is a sad little culture of no serious distinguishing importance, scraping the barrel in this way for a residue of achievement.
As I moved through the cavernous foyer where a lone, young woman sat behind the longest ticket counter in the Western World, dispensing nothing save a wan smile, and out onto the empty piazza – a place of celebration yearning for something to celebrate – I imagined my visitor wondering with some anguish: if this here is the full expression of creativity in this culture, how could a nation of the advanced, rich First World be so empty – what tragedy befell it?
What’s happening is the masters of our culture ignoring that which isn’t couched in a cheap celebrity. One may also reflect on the self-interest of that buffoon Bogdanov who’d love to get his hands on a National Theatre for Wales declaring, in effect, that Shakespeare is the greatest living writer; fearful, as he is, of those writers of Wales actually writing today. People like Greg Cullen whose Botticelli’s Bonfire I saw yesterday in an extraordinary production by the National Youth Theatre of Wales which was, for me, yesterday, representative of that sidelined creativity.
Thrilling arguments about the tensions between creativity and the fascism of fundamentalist religion; democracy and sovereignty – so apposite today with the rise of fundamentalist Christianity in the governments of the US/UK axis - infect this script with a feverish underpinning of the action. It has a finely structured narrative with ideas that resonate beyond the moment. Cullen is a classy intelligent writer who challenges his young cast, a challenge they, using a reciprocal intelligence, meet.
This is a production that owes so much to the text and the actors response to it though it has to be said that Debbie Seymour’s direction produces moments of breathtaking beauty with magnificent tableaux and a choreography of sound and movement worthy of the most professional ensembles. In the end, what you feel is that the example set by this cast with its dynamism and commitment is what we should be celebrating in piazzas throughout Wales and not the manifestations of those jaded old men from England who have come here because their National theatre and their Shakespeare company no longer wanted them.
It would be invidious to single out any actors for particular praise and there are too many to list. It’s enough I think to say that they are all utterly convincing.
The play is set in the Renaissance and the conflict, in the end is between the Dark Ages and the Enlightenment and it made me think, wildly, perhaps in its strongest resonance that we are dominated by popes who would condemn our serious creative endeavours to lightlessness. There is a real struggle and responsibility for the writers (along with currently the best theatre in Wales – the new writing companies of the TIE movement) to find a way out of that dark and into the light otherwise the true metaphor for our culture and creativity will be that forever empty piazza.

Reviewed by: Dic Edwards

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