Theatre in Wales

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“I am the agent of chaos": Round-up & Overview

Brexit Shorts: Wales, Mansfield & Moss Side

Headlong , The Guardian , July-13-17
Brexit Shorts: Wales, Mansfield & Moss Side by Headlong In 1996 one point four million Britons had diabetes. The number now is three million and rocketing. This month a company, Cellnovo, raised seventeen million Euros, its objective to make an artificial pancreas that monitors blood glucose levels automatically and injects insulin as required. The company already has a wearable insulin pump to its credit. There is nothing unusual about Cellnovo as a part of a dynamic culture but there is a difference. The company, which has a valuation over one hundred million Euros is not in Cambridge but in Bridgend.

It is a part of my Wales, not the only part, but a part of Wales in the twenty-first century. It is also a part that has no presence in the arts. It is as if the collective artistship has only a half-participation in the society around it. Coal, steel, farming, grievance, nostalgia; round and round and round it sometimes seem to go. Ironically it is the historians of Wales who appear regularly on platforms at the Hay Festival who say there is more going on, that Wales is simply wider and more interesting.

The opportunity of a five minute film offering from Wales could have been a green light for modernity. James Graham in Mansfield alighted on that most toxic of current figures, the malice-filled Internet troller. “I am the agent of chaos and this is my weapon” says his character Carol “Peeow, peeow, peeow! Chaos. Is. The point.”

Science and medicine are vulnerable in the plucky global trader scenario. The funding, the degree of risk and the collaboration of expertise transcend borders. But instead the Headlong commission is a troop off to a farm, an activity that has nothing to do with ninety-nine and a half percent of the population. It does not even feel that much like a farm. Maybe the makers did some primary research. But its internal architecture feels forced. The price of milk is such a small part of the cost structure of a cafe that spurning a local supplier feels false. Either way it barely seems to touch on Europe. Europe in fact tried to tackle the price-supply issue with the herd quota system back in the 80s.

The truth about the agricultural future was told in theatre by “Hiraeth.” Young people want more and that is before Fox returns from New Zealand waggling his piece of paper that is the death knoll of upland farming. The focus here seems not to be about real people but more a swipe against England. It is cultural impasse- everything that is unlikeable is the fault of London. It is in a sense part-right in that the megalopolis is too close, proximity sucking in so much talent. But this was a commission that should have given more.

The hard truth is that on June 23rd Wales separated itself from Scotland and Northern Ireland and cleaved itself to England. David Hare: “I don’t see what Britain’s idea of itself is now except a regressive fantasy about a place that never really existed.” Wales in its collectivity is a player here. A tough-minded art mirrors the world.

This Guardian-Headlong initiative is an activity in its own right that feels like a turning point. It is clickery taken to a logical conclusion. A strand of theatre- a small one- for a while has been finding its audience an unsatisfactory crew, too apparently passive and too small. Stick a camera at it and the numbers zoom upward. As for the publisher it is logical too. Making little snibbets of film is more clicktastic than reporting art events critically. It is an extension of commentary on news surpassing the reporting of events where advertising is the predominant revenue-earner.

But it depends on name recognition and brevity. The pieces have to last four minutes because that is the nature of the medium. Name recognition matters too. Maxine Peake in Moss Side is interesting. Her protagonist, Dalir, is a sixty year old in a Greater Manchester Law Centre. His cases include an arranged marriage from Pakistan that results in violent beatings and rape. Peake views with disgust the prospect of deportation of Europeans being used as a threat and a negotiation position. It is potent but it is not great art. To be good a script has to get past a binary reduction and an endorsement of one side.

After a declaration of dismay- by now tediously repetitive- at the culture of conformity a message from London. A theatre-goer I trust greatly was at the Royal Court this season. She is an enthusiast, not a reviewer or a vested interest, who goes to see live performance fifty times a year. Her report from “Killology” was that a grenade detonated in the auditorium. Franz K picked on his metaphor a century back now, art as the axe to crack the frozen sea within us.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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