Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

In the Critical Desert of Wales

Unity Festival

Hijinx , Caernarfon , July-11-17
Unity Festival by Hijinx Hijinx is one of a small group of companies of distinction who have passed the twenty-five year mark and moved onward with renewed invention. The company's “Meet Fred” was one of the quiet hits of 2016 and was seen in a lot of places. A weekend festival over summer is an event to be anticipated and cherished afterwards.

The anticipation is in the company's own words: “Areas of the town will be transformed into eye-catching performance spaces, with more pop up venues on The Promenâd and in Palas Print bookshop. Headlining the weekend are dare-devil French circus artists Cirque Inextremiste with a breath-taking balancing act on The Promenâd. Elsewhere in town, they will be joined by German theatre company Blaumeier-Atelier, Seville-based dance company Danza Mobile, and Hijinx’s own pop-up theatre shows ‘The Pods’...Taking Flight Theatre Company will bring a nautical feel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest which will be performed all around Victoria Galeri...a dystopian musical misadventure produced by Hijinx and Theatr Clwyd; raw and un-tamed physical theatre from Belgian company Theater Stap; and a stunning flamenco double-bill from Seville-company Danza Mobile.”

This looks tremendous. The digital footprint that all this left in its wake was caught by the Daily Post on 2nd July.

“A festival with a difference was staged in Caernarfon at the weekend. Spectacular circus, theatre, dance and music acts filled the historic castle, Victoria Dock, the square and Galeri Caernarfon, with many free performances.

The festival, organised by the Cardiff-based community theatre company, showcased the best inclusive and disability arts from around the world. A spokesman said: “Performers from across the UK, France, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Ethiopia travelled to Caernarfon to bring art of the highest quality, made by and with disabled artists, to new audiences.”

Some of the performances were affected by the poor weather on Saturday but the sun shone on Sunday allowing every performance to take place in the open air as planned. Many people reacted to the shows by posting comments on social media. One tweeted: “Loved, loved, loved this show! Great story, awesome music & beautifully performed!”

It does not read as if the writer was even present.

Does the critical wipe-out at the hands of cyberspace matter? After all those who were there have the experience and the memory. It does, and for two reasons. First the performers deserve more. A bit of cut and paste and one hundred and forty character exclamations are just thinly insubstantial. Theatre-makers simply deserve better. The second is more important. There are few market signals for theatre in the way of film or commercial publishing. Arts Councils are capital-allocation mechanisms where demand for capital, like every institution, exceeds supply. Critical feedback is fallible, often bone-headed, but it is better than a world where the blurt and the advertorial reign.

The National Theatre in London has had an unusual 2017 and Rufus Norris is the subject of much cyber-asault, unjustified. He has managed to combine returns-only brilliance (“Love”, “Consent”, “Angels in America”) with theatre-emptying calamities (“Common”, “Salome.”) Either way the Board receives real-world data; take out the critical response and Boards are decoration. This is not just the arts, it is Enron and Lehmann. ACW has a standard of its clients for “rigorous self-assessment of its work.” If a Board has only data from its management, from the blurt and PR spin then it is not going to get rigour.

The situation in Wales will probably never get better. On occasion there is a self-righting mechanism. Alfred Hickling is an occasional visitor to Mold; Steve Stratford is a good substitute and he has more space. A market system for regular reviewing will never come back and it barely existed much anyhow. A decent review is a peculiar form besides with not enough gravity to get support from literature sources. State-supported literature is in a right state anyhow. Literature Wales this week has declared what is supposed to be a major report as “sub-standard, erroneous, under-researched and troublingly subjective.” (The hideous grammar of the Report manages sentences like “However, the Welsh Books Council (WBC) regularly refers that about a 1,000 people are employed within the publishing sector in Wales and that is the only source available.” A report signed off by a Vice-Chancellor manages to turn the world's biggest-selling author into “J K Rawling.” Say no more.)

As to Hijinx I wish I had been there. Yr Eifl is visible on the horizon from the Ceredigion shore. It is around forty-five miles but the journey by road is a five hour long round trip. That too is the nature of Wales.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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