Theatre in Wales

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Theatre in Wales: Comment

Aberystwyth Arts Centre & Joio/ Hartshorn-Hook & Associates , Underbelly Med Quad Edinburgh /Trafalgar Studio London , August 28, 2016
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Aberystwyth Arts Centre & Joio/ Hartshorn-Hook & Associates The companies of Wales have had a good Edinburgh of 2016. The number, as represented by the excerpts posted on this site, looks to be a high. The quality of response is enviable. The Fringe is a bear-pit of over-supply and some of the late-arriving shows from lesser-known companies went bereft of feedback. Avant and 3 Crate’s “Killer Cells” came and went without leaving a digital footprint. Rogue’z Theatre Company’s “the Winter Gift” visited Louise Brooks, G W Pabst in the Berlin of 1928 but missed a review.

The Fringe site distinguishes audience response from professional reviews. In fact they are not professional in the sense that the authors draw regular pay for regular practice. But they get into the papers or sites that confer some sense of authority. Scotsgay used to be one of the most reliable, its cogent judgements extending far beyond LGBT-themed performance. “Saturday Night Forever” did not have the strength of a big-brand company to push it. Joio is unheard-of and Aberystwyth for most a far-off place. Reviews count and the production fell victim to a shoddy piece of writing that shamed the name of its publication.

To paraphrase Tolstoy’s observation on families all good writing is good in its own way and all bad writing is alike. The least an observer can do is give the makers of art an attention that mirrors in a very small measure the diligence and integrity that has gone into its making. Instead the default mode of the Cybersphere is narcissism. Thus the observer from Scotsgay made no reference to acting, theme, direction, lighting, design or sound. In its place he inserted a rampaging solipsism. The words “I”, “me” and “my” featured thirty-one times. The review hovered on the borders of illiteracy with misspellings and the omission of capitalisations. He abruptly termed the play’s dialogue “clunky”- the wrong word for a monologue anyhow- but was too indolent to back his assertion with an example. The only bright spot was the candour of confession in his dismal outpouring “please bear with me while I try to write something when I don’t know how to.” Better then to follow the old precept: “if you have nothing to say then don’t say it.”

Delme Thomas went on to scoop an award. The Stage found him “utterly absorbing…ultimately this is Thomas’ gig.” The writer made reference to Kate Wasserberg’s direction as “economic”, an absurd description. Author and Stage editors do not know what the word means. “Economical” was presumably intended but even then it says little. Just possibly Thomas’ performance might be a fruition of working with a sympatico director.

The writer for “Broadway Baby” was impressed too with Thomas but aware that the play was a revival from the last century. Performance changes with context. The Fringe is a bigger and more demanding context than Chapter. If “Yuri” or “How to Win Against History” hit it in Scotland then that’s the real thing. “Broadway Baby” looked for the universals in new writing “to say something new, to be original, to shock me and not let me sit contentedly predicting every turn in the tale long before it happened.” There is a play, LGBT-themed, that does just that but it was four hundred miles south.

Jon Brittain’s “Rotterdam” emerged via Theatre 503 and came to the Trafalgar Studios for the summer. It has been discussed and worked on in drama schools. It will surely reappear. Hannah Goslin from the Wales-based Get a Chance site has given it five stars. It is hard to overstate the brilliance of its accomplishment. First there is the fizz of the dialogue but the author writes visually. He deploys visual metaphor trenchantly. The casting is both challenging and superlative- the subject is transgender. Thematically it is of now. “Saturday Night Forever” is a gay relationship destroyed from without. But then at its time of writing it was closer to Clause 28 than marriage.

“Rotterdam” is about relationship like any other, where playfulness, inconstancy and seduction all play their part. But most of all it does what new writing is meant to do. It feels like collective and colossal bravery on the part of all, writer, actors and director, a boldness that a revival cannot achieve. That sense of bravery does not happen often. It was there a couple of years ago in Scotland when a show handed out Welsh cakes to its departing audience. It was there this Spring in the audacity of the staging of “Constellation Street”. “Rotterdam” takes its audience into territory where there may be factual but small prior emotional knowledge. That is what new writing is for.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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