Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Four-Day Festival of Plays and Playwrights: Great

Public Event

RWCMD , RWCMD , April 5, 2014
Public Event by RWCMD David Bond of RWCMD recounts an interesting tale in front of a plenary session of writers, directors and actors on the second day of the College’s four-day festival in celebration of writing for performance. He once found himself at an event in the unlikely company of a mogul of British retail. He wondered of his companion to what extent this veteran kept an eagle eye on his competitors. Not a lot, replied the CEO, it was his public who held his focus. David Bond extends the analogy to RWCMD, not to be over-attentive to RADA or Mountview, but for Cardiff to be distinctive in its own way.

Not so long ago- it was when Philip Breen directed “Thoroughly Modern Minnie” at the Sherman- the show was preceded by a solo third-year student on stage. A building is on the way, she said with great winningness, every last pound counts. The appeal did not say quite what the building was to become. It is one thing to have pitch perfect acoustics built into the Dora Stoutzker, but another to have a footfall of sixty thousand in the first year, and rising. The Richard Burton has become venue of choice for companies of the stature of Mappa Mundi.

New architecture has a habit of sending overheads skywards. A snappy electronic locking system comes with a service contract which a plain old lock and key arrangement never did. An air conditioning system, controlled via a server in Texas, costs. Even if the Friday jazz sessions are ticketless it all flows over into bar takings.

New writing. A new initiative of significance is in its germination stage in Cardiff, unannounced as yet although Louise Osborn is present to read out a public declaration of principles. The programme for “New:2014” has a front page of numbers, good ones: thirty-two actors, thirty-two performances, four new plays. The young writers are Hayley Squires, Alastair McDowall and Laura Lomas. Gary Owen has transposed Frank Wedekind to the Valleys. Actor Steven Elliott, familiar from Danny Boyle’s “Frankenstein” and many a Theatr Clwyd production, has seen it and gives it a mighty thumbs up.

RWCMD has a laudable practice of staging work from London from recent years, a practice that propelled “Love and Information” into my 2013 favourites. “Harper Regan” was staged in 2011 and Simon Stephens is present for the first day of “New:2014.” The College has also produced Richard Bean’s rural epic “Harvest” and on the second afternoon the writer is in a Q&A with the Royal Court’s Chris Campbell before an audience of student actors.

Richard Bean is an exemplar of the playwright who had the life before the writing. “I had a gap year” he tells his audience “but it wasn’t Thailand. It was in a bakery.” Lest it sound bucolic he adds that it was the night shift in a Humberside industrial bakery with batches of five thousand loaves at a time. The tales that he tells from this pivotal time in his experience are so ripe and rich that they deserve to be heard in person. The mildest tells of a co-worker who fails to turn up one day. Hull’s next-day newspaper reveals the reason; he is under arrest for attempted bank robbery. Bean pre-empts a common question he is asked, whether a psychology degree and twenty years in industrial psychometrics have aided the making of drama. The answer is not really.

Bean, in his sixteenth year as theatre writer, has a record now of addressing more public issues probably than any other active playwright. His roaming fearless enquiry has on one occasion put his life in considerable hazard. He refutes the distinction of left-wing versus right-wing. It is down to issues. Asked which dramatists he likes he prefers to say that it is individual plays that matter. He acknowledges Eugene O’Neill but, somewhat true to form, it is not the great titles but a lesser series of one-acters. He is not overly keen on a knighted playwright and Chris Campbell adds an amusing anecdote. Too true; public television buys in Saga Noren and all it can rummage around to sell in return is Johnny Worricker.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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