Theatre in Wales

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2014 Theatre Book (1)

Theatre Writer Book

Tim Price , Bloomsbury , November 17, 2014
Theatre Writer Book by Tim Price Political theatre is a genre of elastic definition. The national theatre hosted a spontaneous discussion day on political theatre as a bonus to its galvanic opening year. John McGrath in his introduction put forward a punchy four-way taxonomy. A paradox of theatre is that it is least interested in politics when it is most stridently declarative that it is. “Arturo Ui”: forget it. David Edgar is still out there scrutinising the process with “the Shape of the Table” in a current revival. His play does what Harley Granville Barker did with brilliance in “Waste”. It shows us politics in action.

There is a more common kind of anti-politics that Christopher Hart encountered when he saw “Posh”: ”the political sensibilities strike you not so much as right or wrong, but as seriously lacking in complexity, maturity and breadth; emerging from a tiny, tiny little world where everybody thinks exactly the same, agrees with each other ardently and credulously reads the same newspaper. It is not a good recipe for political theatre.” Theatre in Wales does many things but it does not do political theatre, at least not too often.

It does not do satire either. It is ten years since “Franco’s Bastard” caused rage. Women of power of the likes of Hutt or Hart have no mirror in fiction. A local politician fell from grace in “Two Princes” but that too was a good few years ago. And there is Tim Price. He is not a political writer in that he gets onto a stage a dialectic where differing voices are given credible persuasiveness. He is not James Graham but he is different and formally bolder. He is also Welsh theatre’s most interesting voice to have emerged this century.

“Plays: 1” fascinates and for three primary reasons. Firstly, the fact of being a playwright from Wales means that the productions will most likely have been geographically dispersed. It is a rare theatre-goer who will have managed to see all in this collection. Publication fills that gap. Secondly, the introduction allows the playwright to reveal background, context and motive. Thirdly, it reveals a dramatist in genesis. In Tim Price’s case there is in addition the intriguing knowledge that these plays precede one that is not there. Publication has come after the latest production. And “Teh Internet is Serious Business” dwarfs all new work to be seen in a theatre within Wales in 2014.

There is no obvious template for the career of a dramatist. It is debatable whether the term “career” is even applicable. But there are plays and there are productions. There are writers, not many, who have sustained a life beyond a short burst of glory. For those who have lasted a partnership with a director that endures seems a feature in common. Tim Price has it in Hamish Pirie. His introduction does honour to Pirie for his “faith and tenacity... his commitment to writers, and new writing, is unshakable and this author owes him an eternal debt of gratitude.”

Price keeps his introduction crisp and to the point. It is thus filled with moments of sharp interest. But then he is an unreconstructed Aristotelian. Plot is indeed the first principle. A piece of paper on his wall reads “Make story your God.” He is acute on the craft. “Deifying story is something I try when I find I am enjoying writing too much.” He has learned to beware “the over-articulated emotion.” In a climate with an over-tendency toward a neo-Romantic notion of art as self-located and artistic identity as self-declarative, Price asserts the distance that is necessary between subject and object. “I am the vehicle for story, not the other way round. I take pride in my discipline and little else.”

He starts his short description of the writing life in 2010. Modestly he omits the fact that he was once on one of those lists that prove either prophetic or embarrassing in later years. His name was on a Royal Court list of fifty promising theatre voices. It was a result of the early apprentice work, the first struggling writing that went back and forth between Aberdare and the wise dramaturgs at Sgript Cymru. As part-author his name makes first appearance on this site in a review of September 1st 2007.

To make anything that matters is to encounter pain. Price recounts rawly the authorial crisis that “Protest Song” brought about. The dilemma is genuine in that even a one-actor performance needs its dialectical heart. When the dramatist at last grasps his solution he has become the larger writer for it.

Not all the introduction convinces. The motive source that he identifies might be better understood as a class than a national factor. “We are a generation that understands visual grammar far better than text” demands a refutation that begins with physiology, but that belongs to another place.

The coverage of the plays includes the odd comment from the critics. “Salt, Root and Roe” is “a piercing account of sisterly love and the agonies of Alzheimer's” But the same play also invites the Telegraph: “its mixture of the whimsical and shocking, windy Welsh garrulousness and sudden moments of intense feeling, is undoubtedly distinctive.”

Lastly, there is the paradox of plays on paper. The pages of print are Plato’s shadow in the cave; the real thing is elsewhere. Scene thirty from the National Theatre of Wales’ production of April 2012 is four pages long. It is less than a couple of hundred words and is indeed evocative. But its realisation at the hands of director John McGrath fused it into an image to last a lifetime for those who were there to see it. That is what performance is for.

The three hundred and seventy-three pages of “Plays:1” comprise “For Once”, “Salt, Root and Roe”, “the Radicalisation of Bradley Manning”, “I'm with the Band”, “Protest Song” and “Under the Sofa.” The last is a nine- page monologue, a part of a Paines Plough's season “Later” held at the Trafalgar Studios.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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