Theatre in Wales

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No Politics Please!- We’re Theatre from Wales- I'm with the Band

At Wales Millennium Centre

Wales Millennium Centre and Traverse Theatre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , October 20, 2013
At Wales Millennium Centre by Wales Millennium Centre and Traverse Theatre The full title of the United Kingdom has more words to it than any of the other two hundred member-states of the United Nations. It has moved to one of the strangest polities on earth, a quasi-federalism, but with an asymmetry in size so that the largest constituent part wavers between ignorance and resentment on discovery of the fact. Only within the last month has a noisy political party rescinded its path of revolution, its intention to overthrow one of Britain’s elected governments.

“I’m with the Band” is made up of a dozen album tracks. The first is called “We’re all in this together.” Yes, for defence, foreign affairs and macro-economic policy, but law and contract, the Private Finance Initiative, free schools and academies, health reform, university tuition and care fees, prescription charges and plastic bags, we’re not in it together, not one bit. The politics of the United Kingdom are in a condition of unprecedented, fascinating wonder.

Theatre in England does not do the four governments of Britain, and it does not matter. It does “Chimerica”, “Routes” and “the World of Extreme Happiness”, big themes from the big world outside. Theatre in Wales and Scotland might be expected to rush to explore the issues of self-government. The tradition of a politics-evading theatre is well established and. “I’m with the Band” fits well into this tradition.

“I’m with the Band” is an allegory. It is the third allegory in as many years to emanate from Welsh theatre’s big producing companies. That is three more allegories than the whole of English theatre has produced in that time. And the reason is a good one. Allegory passes when it is on a baroque ceiling. It works when it is rich in detail and colour. That is the difference between when the Tiepolos, father and teenagers, do it compared with the figures on the ceiling in Chirk Castle’s Saloon. The allegory in this piece of theatre is at times plain weird, at times unclear and blurry.

In the world- that one outside theatre- the First Minister was in Downing Street on 16th October. In thirty years time the discussions will be made public. It is denied that voices were raised but it was called “the liveliest meeting yet.” Diplomatic language has its code of meaning. Inaction over the Silk Report, an eighteen hundred strong list in Bridgend alone for one bedroom accommodation, that does not exist; these do not feature in “I’m with the Band”.

Instead, Gruff Wales cowers in a box sobbing. His plea to England is “I’ll do whatever you want. You have to look after me.” Near the close Wales and Ireland are sent into spasms in which they lose shirt and trousers. It is a deeply strange, masochistic image for Welsh theatre-makers to portray of Wales within the Union. It is also fiction.

The allegory is unclear. Damien England frets because drummer Aaron Northern Ireland has not turned up. But the audience has no idea where it is he is supposed to have decamped to. The last thing the Republic wants is a million Ulstermen upsetting the balance in the Dail. The most animated of the musical numbers, performed with gusto, describes passionate sex with an offstage woman. But it is unclear then whether the drummer represents Ulster as an entity, or whether it is just one community. These uncertainties niggle.

Wales’ First Minister was asked after a high-profile political lecture in 2011 about Scotland’s independence. “If Scotland leaves, everything changes” was the gist of his reply. The coverage to date on the referendum, conducted by the national media, has been infrequent and shallow. It hardly goes beyond a dry assessment of money. Andrew Marr to his credit has been a rare voice to point out that human beings are not the dry rationalisers of economists’ fantasy. They will be swayed next September by deep notions of allegiance, identity and hope.

The truth is that Scotland’s exit will be a shock of deepest profundity to the English body politic. Faslane will close. That is the end of Trident- they won’t be heading for Milford Haven. Recriminations will be akin to those accusations from Republicans in the late nineteen-forties over the “loss” of China. History is strange. The September 18th 2014 referendum is the creation of the Conservative Party. The trialling of the Poll Tax in Scotland brought the SNP from the fringe and its response left Labour scunnered. A good Ukip showing in the May 2014 Euro-elections could tip it.

Not the least interesting aspect is what it does to Labour. A First Minister who holds power, even if it be a modest fifteen billion pound government budget, is something. A Leader of the Opposition, locked out of power in permanent opposition, becomes a lesser thing. If dismay is felt at the lack of heart in this production, it is because the issue, and the consequences, matter.

Director and cast throw all their energy into it, which gives it a bit of momentum. But without real motion or purpose ninety minutes still feel long.

A TV documentary in September jumped from the Loughor Estuary to Wedmore in Somerset. The distance in a straight line is sixty miles and the linguistic jump, rhythm, cadence and dialect, is astounding. The variations in language, including vocabulary, across the United Kingdom are a gift for a writer.

Barry, representing Scotland, is a powerfully played, charmless figure whose language, initially expletive-embroidered, degenerates to relentless monotony. The dreary effing becomes the tail that wags the linguistic dog. The four persons on stage have their accents but the language has small differentiation. Brand names pop up- Macs, Cubase and Dropbox. In case the audience has missed it, the line with Dropbox is repeated. Typing out brands and a volcano of expletives, it sure beats writing for theatre.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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