Theatre in Wales

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Locating the Audience: How People Found Value in National Theatre Wales

Theatre Critic Book

Kirsty Sedgman , Intellect Books, Bristol/ Chicago , May-22-17
Theatre Critic Book by Kirsty Sedgman This is a book of interest on several counts. Firstly, it is an evocation of a good summer of a good year. 2010 was the year of the National Theatre of Wales' inaugural season and the core of the book summarises audience responses to two of the peak productions. Marc Rees' “For Mountain, Sand and Sea” in June at Barmouth and Mike Pearson's “the Persians” in August on the Sennybridge training area were reviewed in glowing terms on this site. These two chapters for those who were there awake memories of affection and respect.

The framing is an academic study. The bibliography is extensive covering two hundred and fifty references. It ranges back to Carl Tighe and David Adams in the last century. Dedwydd Jones is given a respect that is not really deserved. His was a voice that was idiosyncratic but being neither a theatre practitioner nor a scholar it was a voice of self-publicity. Chapter two is a comprehensive survey of the intellectual and cultural setting that preceded the foundation of the National Theatre of Wales. Roger Owen, Heike Roms, Anwen Jones, Gill Ogden, Ruth Shade and many others are all brought into the narrative. As a matter of record the company was incorporated on September 8th 2008 as a result of a coalition agreement in the Assembly. The company is a result of government decision. The Wikipedia entry “founded by a community of theatre makers and practitioners in May 2009” is an alternative fact. The authorial tendency can be seen in the low-sense “with no permanent theatre building, but instead based on an accumulated body of practice.” As a whole the entry with its incompleteness, misspelling and unreliable punctuation is not a good piece of cultural reportage for Wales.

Kirsty Sedgman describes a challenging methodology. Marc Rees, Mike Pearson and the company did not wish that response forms be distributed prior to the performances. It was a right decision. The data was collated from a mix of questionnaires after the event and face-to-face interviews. The audiences were too small to generate samples of high statistical validity. The interviews were not guided in a formal Bayesian manner. Nonetheless, these chapters make for intriguing reading not least for the questions and ambiguities that they present.

Around two hundred inhabitants from Barmouth and its locality saw the production. One interviewee expressed dissatisfaction in wanting a more formal history. She was confused by what appeared to her to be a structural disjointedness. But that is to do with expectation not being met. For those with prior knowledge of Marc Rees and his collaborators the experience was joyous. Overall the residents as a whole were less impressed than the visitors and theatre-going regulars. While Sedgman herself borrows the rhizome analogy from Deleuze and Guattari the voices she captures have their distinctiveness. “I felt guilty about the merched y wawr serving me tea and cake” says one “and still wonder whether they got paid and hope they did from an ethical standpoint.”

The book provides context to “For Mountain, Sand & Sea”. Marc Rees spent a period of time running what were called “Story Shops.” Residents were invited to share their memories and images of Barmouth. The information was then used as inspiration for the action on hill and alley, beach and railway. The results were highly visual such as the performer in an ape mask brandishing a bone in slow-motion to the “2001: A Space Odyssey” theme. To some of the interviewees the treatment of their town was oblique. In a later comment the writer has added “they tended to be those with little experience of this kind of avant-garde event. A cluster of audience members came precisely to see known stories performed in understandable ways.” The conclusion is “that when local expertise conflicts with NTW’s professional theatrical expertise, it often loses the battle.” But that raises the question of who the company was aiming primarily to please.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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