Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A Cornucopia of Dylan and Much Else

My Year of Theatre

Theatre, opera and dance in Wales , All Venues Wales , January-01-15
My Year of Theatre by Theatre, opera and dance in Wales 2014 marked year four of deficit-reduction. Somewhere there may be a definitive count and record of performance in Wales but, if there is, I don’t know it. The number of productions in Wales jumped by around ten percent in 2014. I go out to some kind of staged performance once a week. As a rule of thumb I used to reckon that I had sight of a little over half of Wales’ output. No more; so much so as to make any summary attempt of the year both highly partial and incomplete. Nonetheless…

The enthusiasts who contribute to this site see much, but not all, of the work. New companies appear constantly. Carmarthenshire’s Familia de la Noche did their “Greatest Liar in the World” in Pontardawe and Edinburgh and got not a single Welsh review. “Y Negesydd” was probably the best new drama of the year but its timing, at least in the West, came amidst a blizzard of touring productions. Come Saturday night in Mwldan and this reviewer was plain drained.

Some regulars had a sabbatical year. There was no Mappa Mundi this September. Volcano took their unclassifiable and bewitching “147 Questions About Love” to Edinburgh. Louise Osborn returned with the well-received “Maudie’s Rooms.” Mid-Wales Opera opened their year with a captivating “Acis and Galatea”. When it came to their flagship production in the summer the music was scintillating, but as for direction it was a no contest against Messrs Young and McCarthy.

The RWCMD provided young musicians and a co-production credit for “Acis and Galatea”. The College has always performed a service in selecting revivals of great interest but in 2014 it made another jump beyond its teaching and training mission. In a few days in April more new drama hit its various stages than the rest of Welsh theatre put together managed in the year. “Pomona” went on months later to the Orange Tree and featured in at least one Best of the Year list by the London critics. The event also brought the Royal Court’s literary manager to Cardiff. The display of his elusive role, as rich and impressive as it was modest, pointed out the impoverishing effect of the absence in Wales of a figure of equivalence.

Dylan Thomas in 2014 was everywhere, the Great War less so. The Armistice Weekend performance of “War Requiem”- RWCMD again- was reportedly overwhelming. Of the Dylan-inspired productions I saw seven and they were far from all. “Under Milk” toured as both theatre and opera. Marc Rees and Jon Tregenna spun a magical variation in Laugharne itself but its appearance, a handful of days over a Bank Holiday weekend, was all too brief.

One of my favourite moments of the year had Matthew Bulgo- and he had a good 2014- looking both puzzled and a little bit pleased “Is this an opera? Are we in an opera?” he asked towards the end of “the Future for Beginners.” It was one of those moments that only theatre can do. Performance in Wales always scores high on formal venture and a speaking actor paired with a soprano must be unique. It was a lovely show, visually arresting, that did not quite live up to the philosophical ambition of its theme.

Innovation of form is to be applauded but 2014 was the year in which Britain toyed with its biggest constitutional earthquake since 1922. The stitched-up inequity between the governance of Scotland and Wales is deep. I don’t sign up much to the Billingtonian line that theatre is the mirror of the nation. But nor do I think a collective theatre culture need be inclined quite so much to gentle grass-eating, heritage-hugging.

When it came to Referendum Day an impromptu collection of performers took to the WMC stage. Theatre in Scotland, as expected, exploded with passion. Rona Munro’s trilogy was universally acclaimed as one of the year’s best. I was at just the first, “the Key Will Keep the Lock”, and its status is fully deserved. As for the response of theatre in Wales to the national spectacle of referendum and separation it just rolled over and continued in deep heritage-adoring and seminar-aspiring slumber.

There were notable revivals of plays from Philip Ridley, Frank Marcus, Gary Owen and Rodney Ackland. Stephen McDonald’s “Not About Heroes” has been an admirable regular from Frapetsus (see review 14th November 2011) and has been seen all over Wales. Its selection in the Great War commemoration year at Mold was reportedly heart-breaking. For the other centenary the company did the Dylan Centenary proud. Its “Under Milk Wood” attracted an audience of sixty-one thousand over its tour, of which twenty-six thousand plus were in venues in Wales. That is good. Good numbers legitimise theatre’s occupation of the public zone.

It is a commonplace that Welsh theatre has a scant theatrical canon. But 2014 saw an admiring monopraph on J O Francis written by Alyce von Rothkirch of Swansea University. The admirably re-energised Sherman hosted Scotland’s national theatre with “In Time o Strife” and Francis is deserving of a revisit. Blanche McIntyre reprised her superb production of Emlyn Williams’ “Accolade”. It looked to this reviewer like a key play, of great courage, and somewhat ironic that Williams should be feted in a theatre a hundred yards from Buckingham Palace.

If the Sherman, Ffwrnes and RWCMD all raised their game 2104 was not all good. The Muni closed its doors with sadness. “Y Chwalfa” looked superb in prospect but did not happen for reasons outside the producers’ control. Welsh theatre’s promotion of its collective appearance in Edinburgh is one of undiluted shambling chaos.

Theatre is replete with heroes. There are no doubt many in the many productions I did not see. Gwyn Emberton recreated “My People” as dance. But he was reworking boldly from a prior source. Ultimately a vital theatre lives in both visiting its past and making the new. Tim Price scintillated at the Royal Court, his progress towards its triumph a hard course of many years.

There was one show that was as unlikely and bold in its provenance and premise as it was enthralling in its execution. It also had a generosity of spirit in taking theatre out to venues that had never seen live performance before. My heroes of the year have to be Max Mackintosh and Buddug James Jones.

The top half-dozen of my year are entirely personal and partial. But they have two features in common. They are all exercises in collaboration- no look-at-me actors, directors or writers. (I once, when young, saw a film actor of greatness who had lost all idea how to act in a theatre.) Secondly, they understand and respect form. Aristotle rules.

There was hardly a week in 2014 when I was not cheered by actors and singers, singly or in a group, and I am grateful to all of you. These were the six that went the deepest

“And the World Goes ‘Round” Richard Burton Company

“Gwyn” Cwmni'r Frân Wen

“Hiraeth” Buddug James Jones & Company

“Oniegin: Gaeaf Gobeithion” Opra Cymru

“The Trial” Music Theatre Wales

“Under Milk Wood” Clwyd Theatr Cymru

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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