Theatre in Wales

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Lacking Coherence and Integrity-BBC's Arts Review of the Year

Television Arts Feature

BBC Cymru Wales , BBC Cymru Wales , January-03-16
Television Arts Feature by BBC Cymru Wales As an attempt to grapple with a year in the arts- a difficult task by any estimation- this programme leaves an unsatisfactory impression behind it. Although it comprises interviews, film footage, and crosses all the genres the impression it leaves is still one that lacks integrity. The causes are various. For one the presenter has a manifest and genuine enthusiasm for the arts. But this appears to be at odds with the producer. It is an outsourced programme but the producers give every appearance of sharing with their commissioning masters a laddish embarrassment about the arts.

The scheduling itself suggests that it is a reluctant commission. Forty minutes on Christmas Eve is a time when enthusiasts for the arts, particularly young artists, are not going to be at home watching the BBC. The editing therefore, maybe mindful of its probable audience, consistently opts for the popular over the demanding, journalism over art. The tone is set with the opening words that recall the traffic jams in Cardiff incurred by concerts of One Direction and Manic Street Preachers. The year had some notable achievements. The feisty and small Music Theatre Wales remarkably had “the Trial” performing in Magdeburg and “Greek” in South Korea on the same night. The editing chooses Bryn Terfel. From the opera canon and the roles which he has made his own the BBC chooses a long duet with Sting.

This is characteristic. It is not to disparage Amy Wadge but she gets far more time than Tincian, winner of the Radio 2 Folk Awards. In the visual arts it is virtually all Cardiff. “Fragile” is a ceramics collection at National Museum. In Bute Park trees are taped and the coverage is inflated with vox pop from a presumed old news report. It is good to see in Aberystwyth Richard Downing and his “Fractal Clock”, a thing of beauty composed of eight-one equilateral triangles. But a greater length of time is given to photography exhibitions from Chalkie Davies and Andrew McNeil. It is not that either is not worthy of attention but the commentary is almost entirely from a current affairs point of view. Of artistic judgement there is none.

There are interesting topics. Helen Sears exhibits at the Venice Biennale in a former convent. Jonathan Edwards talks about his Costa Prize-winning poetry and Kate Hamer on “the Girl in the Red Coat.” The always likeable Marc Rees speaks about his curatorship of the third “Llawn” festival in Llandudno. The section on obituaries is back to the presenter and she speaks with genuineness of John Davies, Meredydd Evans, Gwilym Prichard , Valerie Ganz and Osi Rhys Osmond. This genuine knowledge of artists throws into relief the sense of rudderlessness of the whole.

In particular this uneven summary, unworthy of the artistic scene it addresses, suffers from two defects. Firstly its editorial selection is skewed by the availability of film from elsewhere. Maybe that is why Brn Terfel duets with Sting rather than sings from “Falstaff.” Secondly, it muddies the producer view with the critical view. If the opening of Pontio is to feature let the voice of a music or architecture critic be heard. But that is probably the point. No-one in BBC Wales actually wants any vibrant or trenchant criticism.

Thus an artistic director is given unchallenged space to declare a play “a real statement of wit that toured theatres all over the UK.” Actually the director broadcast to all and sundry that the production emptied theatres wherever it went. The statement “really engaged people in quite a gritty subject matter” is false and goes unchallenged. A last production is called “one of my greatest joys in five years.” A theatre insider of critical authority reported a travesty of Brecht and a tick-box exercise designed to meet the criteria of a funding council. This uneven review of the year gives too the impression that is has been compiled to meet some programming check-list.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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