Theatre in Wales

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Let's Hear It for "Grav"- audiences, words and numbers

Wales Theatre Awards

Wales Theatre Awards 2016 , Sherman Theatre , February-02-16
Wales Theatre Awards by Wales Theatre Awards 2016 The territory of the former Dyfed accounts for eight percent of the population of Wales. It gets itself nonetheless a good representation at the Awards. The Torch, Arad Goch, Aberystwyth’s Arts Centre, the Llanarth Group and Scriptography taken as a whole are indicator of two things. The first is the vitality of the inherent performance culture. These professional companies sit atop a slew of amateur and youth groups, impossibly numerous, who cover the span from drama to opera and dance. The second obvious point is the richness and artistic diversity. Performance in the public domain is, and must be, a broad church.

I have small tolerance for theatre-makers whose pride is to “make demands” on its audience. Bores in art are no different from bores in life. Much the same can be said for those deploy a carapace of scholarship as lobby for selves or mates. Scholarship has its four thousand year heritage. It is predicated on interval between subject and object. It cannot be autobiography; if the word “I” makes an appearance then it is pseudo-scholarship.

The last weekend of July I have the habit of applauding the summer show at Aberystwyth. It is by necessity not a home-grown script. The canon of good and marketable musical scripts is small. The applause is not just for the honed dynamite of Anthony Williams’ choreography but for the audience appeal. If Aberystwyth sells tickets in the thousands to audiences from Carmarthenshire to Gwynedd that is a part, not the prime one but one nonetheless, of the legitimation of theatre’s being in the public sphere.

Admittedly a popular musical is an exception and can draw a crowd, akin to Ai Wei Wei in London who can attract his quarter of a million viewers. But it takes around thirty to forty women and men for an audience to fuse, to become an entity that performers can sense for a short time as a gathering with its own specific voice. If a proposal cannot sell tickets to this modest number then it is a private activity and forgoes that legitimation of support from the collective purse.

Sir Claus Moser was among the illustrious deaths of 2015. He married the roles of outstanding head of the UK government’s statistical service with holding the Chair at Covent Garden. Numbers, as he told a series of Prime Minister, tell us about the world. That is not to say that they tell us everything but they tell us something. When Nick Hytner retired his top-seller had grossed forty million pounds. That in itself is not the only criterion but a nice number or two are part of a span of the accomplishment of national theatre.

Numbers give a degree of sharpness and focus. Strike them out entirely and words run the risk of running astray. A website may have attracted a number of one-off sign-ons in its pioneer days. But if it has a current readership of no size it cannot be described as a community. Politics and journalism necessarily use language with a degree of elasticity. The least that can be expected from culture-makers is that words be handled with care. A performance culture that eschews all numbers looks to be one where there are few to boast about. Art-making is akin to war. Both have their primary objectives- one to gain or hold territory irrevocably, the other to connect to the citizenship of Wales by selling tickets for a great night out. When secondary objectives start popping up the subtext is that the primary objectives have faltered.

The Awards at the Sherman in both Januarys of 2015 and 2016 have some numbers to shout about. The year of Dylan Thomas had its hundred events. Terry Hands took his production out on the road and sold sixty-four thousand tickets. Sales volume is a nice number but there are a range of others that matter. Jamie Rees is on hand in 2016 to deliver a number that really counted.

The host theatre is recipient of both nominations and awards this year. Not a board member is to be sighted, neither to welcome hundreds of theatre professionals nor to acknowledge the awards. But then it is a Saturday night. The Arts Council of Wales, by contrast, is present in the front row. Dai Smith in announcing the best playwright in English award breaks off to say that that the category has been an exceptionally strong field.

If “Grav” did not get that one it got the award that it truly asked for and deserved, the Audience Award. Owen Thomas, Gareth John Bale and Jamie Rees are all on stage. Apart from the personal thanks Jamie Rees reports the numbers from the venues. For fifty percent of the audience “Grav” has been their first occasion of visiting their local venue.

To that experience across Wales and in Edinburgh I can add a personal note. There is wittering a-plenty, both good and not-so-good, about access. Sherman 5 deserves a big shout of acclamation. Peter Doran and Company have with “Grav” walked the walk, not talked the hype, and made something that is entirely on its own. It is also a first for me personally to be in siop chip a few days after the performance at Theatr Felinfach and find the subject of conversation to be a piece of theatre.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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