Theatre in Wales

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And That Was 2014- Commentary from Wales

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Planet on New Writing and Yr Helfa , Theatre in Wales , January-06-15
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Planet on New Writing and Yr Helfa The four editions of Planet that made up the magazine’s publishing year amounted to six hundred and forty pages. From that total fifteen were devoted to theatre. Issue 213 featured an article (pages 128-133) entitled “2014: A Year to Nurture New Writing.” It is a three-part article, starting with a summary of the company Dirty Protest, moving to the production of Katherine Chandler’s “Parallel Lines” and ending with a page of summary.

The author is a playwright and overall the writing has enthusiasm but lacks critical sharpness. Dirty Protest is a remarkable company, driven not by grant or public funding but by a group of theatre practitioners-cum-comrades who reacted to the absence of any new writing scene of vibrancy in Cardiff. It is a pity therefore that the writing on the company reads so much like a bloodless lift from a PR hand-out. “Has worked with over a hundred new and established writers” reveals little. Is the activity script-reading, dramaturgical advice? More needs to be told.

In the context of theatre care needs to be taken with the term “attracts sell-out crowds on a regular basis”. Crowd does have a meaning and its use here has a ring of hyperbole to it. As for the core motivation that brought Dirty Protest into being the writer states “Sherman Cymru’s role is to develop and champion the work of Welsh and Wales-based writers, and yet with its broad artistic remit, new productions are few and far between.” Here is a characteristic of Planet’s approach. It is journalism but its writers never get on the phone. Ring ACW and the Sherman and ask why and what. Critical writing lives on primary encounter.

“The National Theatre of Wales, despite working with writers” says the article, “have an approach that is inclusive”. Without elaboration the adjective has no meaning. The article concludes limply noting that a pair of leading practitioners “believe Wales could benefit from a model similar to Playwright Studio Scotland.” As for the writers “they need to see their work produced not only in Wales but throughout the UK and internationally.” That is feeble.

Too much of Planet’s writing lacks urgency, a reason being that it does not exceed information that is in the public domain. Helle Michelson and Mike Parker in the same issue, on “Y Gwyll/ Hinterland” and the M4 relief road respectively, are instances of how the writing should be.

Issue 216 featured a writer with a difference. National Theatre of Wales’ “Y Helfa/ the Gathering” had a reporter from a faming background with her own one hundred and forty-eight acre sheep farm. The article is under-edited with erroneous commas breaking up sentences. As a report it is in the current style overly solipsistic with the word “I” appearing a dozen times. In place of establishing a critical argument the third sentence runs “I had forgotten how different the geology of North Wales is to the landscape of my home.”

However, the critique is well argued. The first conclusion is the deficiency of the director. The concept of the length of the walk necessitates constant movement and thus no engagement with the elements of performance. “The opportunity to watch a lone figure dressed in white…was short-lived, as we were ushered onwards up the path once again, all opportunity for autonomy removed. I felt frustrated with the work.” Near the Gladstone plaque the Deiniolen Silver Band was playing and “yet again we were rushed forward.” Of the interventions in the landscape they “lost their charm, as we were in constant motion and unable to engage with them.”

As a farmer the writer lamented the absence of any farming voices. “I expected an engagement with the complexities of living and working in such; comments on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy or the problems implementing the Glastir…“The work was superficial in its engagement with the farm.”

The same issue of Planet featured an article on the impact of devolution on the writing of poetry. The author included a comment made to her by Tim Price. “it [devolution] has liberated us as artists from having to eternally interrogate “what it means to be Welsh”. With the Assembly we have an institution dedicated to that question; it isn’t a question left for artists to ask. So, in that sense, there’s a new outward-looking approach to theatre. Sometimes it feels like Renaissance Italy when artists were finally allowed to stop painting Jesus.” His is a voice always of interest which, from the introduction to his collection of plays, deserves to be heard more.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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