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Theatre: the Talk in England

Writers and Commentators , England & Wales 2012 , January 3, 2013
Theatre: the Talk in England by Writers and Commentators “Britain's theatre culture can be hermetically sealed at times” wrote an English playwright in 2012. I have applauded his plays on four occasions, and disagreed before with his views beyond the auditorium. Welsh theatre talks, and loves to talk. 2012 felt like something of a vintage year for talk; talk that was often frank, sometimes harsh, but always impassioned.

The National Theatre of Wales' Writers Group seethed more than once in the year. Theatre-makers took to public platforms at Hay and in Swansea. Articulture mounted a weekend, in difficult circumstances, on performance in the Outdoors. Lucid assembled a mix of directors, writers and programmers. Wales Arts Review held their inaugural Critics Round Table. Devoted and Disgruntled visited Wales north and south.

Conferences used to leave their papers as record; now the imprint is digital. But just as a map is not the territory, the digi-footprint is never the event. Gatherings are made by the thousand casual encounters, that unexpected chat in the queue for the coffee. That an electronic simulacrum can be the equivalent of the primary experience of the senses is a popular fallacy. “Mobile devices enable theatre over the 3G network to your hand” writes a London commentator “so perfectly possible to watch on a park bench, as well as on bog or in bath.” Well, yes, but a sweet-faced young figure in battle fatigues who hands you your seat in a crepuscular Pembrokeshire school hall is not the same as observing a replication through a flat two by two screen.

Maddy Costa described a production, a piece of Shakespeare in fact, in terms of “the fizz and crackle of excitement, the exhilaration of being swept along, as though on a rollercoaster.” The transmissions from the National Theatre (of England) communicate a lot, but they don't do that. In fact the camera, good at close-up, is useless at conveying performance action.

Techno-commentary has a habit of circling round the same few giant companies. The French always do things differently. Their public broadcaster is forbidden from promoting particular corporate brand names. Their broadcasting is only permitted the use of generic description, as in “social networking site”. When one theatre commentator sees “a vital example of digital technologies [sic] magmatic qualities, and how they might create ad hoc public space in the flesh” I, for one, have no idea what he is trying to convey.

The corollary is “to demand that theatre back out of all this in the name of being present, to protect some notion of pure experience, is by now nothing more than ruritanian perversity”. There is a strong impression that he does not care overly for sensual delight. Rather like Brecht and his acrid verse on the GDR’s 1953 Uprising, there is a smell around the place that it would be nice to get the funding but do without that troublesome entity, the audience, altogether.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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