Theatre in Wales

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A Travesty of the Arts-BBC's Arts Review of the Year

Television Arts Feature

Wildflame , BBC Cymru Wales , March-01-17
Television Arts Feature by Wildflame The annual retrospective of a year in the arts was shown late night in the last days of 2016. It has sat waiting to be watched for week upon week. This procrastination is not usual. Its deferral was due to the low expectations it engendered. The 2015 effort was reviewed a year back, 3rd January 2016. But BBC Cymru Wales is the biggest cultural organisation and it deserves to be critically noticed. Lord Hall announced last week an extra eight and a half million by 2019. As an institution it is covered by the Institute of Wales Affairs but it is at a technocratic level of structures and output levels. “Figures provided by the BBC to the IWA confirmed the narrowing of genres...the data covering the period ...Arts and music output was also limited, amounting to just 12.9 hours during the same period” is characteristic. This is good but it is rare that the programmes receive any attention.

There are exceptions. Wales Arts Review excoriated the documentary on the Somme in which the BBC fronted a celebrity sportsman. A spiky voice on Wales Online looks to the hereditary principle. BBC Cymru Wales, he says, models itself on the governance of Kazakhstan. Jon Gower was on a public platform at Machynlleth's Museum of Modern Art 5th November and declared that the BBC did not make programmes that he wanted to watch. But then citing Owen Sheers' “the Green Hollow” he undermined his own assessment somewhat.

The criticism of the 2015 round-up centred on the disjunction between presenter and producer-editor. She was informed and engaged in the arts. The editors' criteria for screen time were news items and celebrity recognition. Thus the tribute to Bryn Terfel had him singing “Roxanne” in duet with Sting. However, the programme did cover a wide spectrum. But its form weakened it. Selection of footage from throughout the year biases the coverage to English-language news items in Cardiff. If the 2015 programme was inadequate then that for 2016 is worse. Its representation of the vitality and diversity of artistic activity in Wales is a travesty; it is an insult to the artists.

Ironically the two programmes open in exactly the same way with news footage from Cardiff. For 2015 it is a traffic jam in Cardiff with footage of the Manic Street Preachers. For 2016 it is a sports item with footage of the Manic Street Preachers. The sport-themed coverage runs and runs. One single trip is made Gogledd-wards. From then on it settles down to a stitched-together series of news items from the year. The presenter who knows her stuff is reduced to a voice-over. The music is the usual jingly jangly stuff borrowed from a 1950s Pathe newsreel film.

The visual arts is reduced to Cardiff and Artes Mundi. The Eisteddfod has Will Gompertz for whom the event is new. The re-opening of the Glynn Vivian has no interview with a curator. There is no look for instance at Evan Walters. It prefers to focus its interest on Leonardo da Vinci. Music is the Festival of Voice in Cardiff. The Corporation plugs its own Cardiff Young Musician of the Year. The commemoration of Aberfan skips Owen Sheers or “the Revlon Girl” and does the Cardiff oratorio. Shakespeare is the Russell T Davies “the Midsummer Night's Dream” made in Cardiff. A pop-up festival at Cardiff University features. Admittedly the programme does manage to get to Caerphilly for Tom Morris and Abertillery for a French photographer.

As for performance Wales in this telling has no dance at all. Jo Fong, Caroline Finn, Darius James, Gwyn Emberton are all non-people in the BBC gradation of things. From the forty-one productions that were honoured and applauded at Taliesin this last weekend just one gets a mention. That is “In Parenthesis”. It gets its place in the critical round-up because news footage from the year is available. Theatre coverage is exclusively given over to “City of the Unexpected.” It was a very large event. But eighty-nine companies were nominated for the Theatre Awards of 2016. As with the other categories proximity to the BBC offices should not be the determining criteria for attention.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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