Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

All Change

My Year of Theatre

Theatre , Wales North, South & West , January-01-11
My Year of Theatre by Theatre My watching of theatre changed utterly this year. The galvanising event was the announcement put out on the National Theatre of Wales website that a New Critics Scheme was being initiated. On 9th February Kneehigh had a first night of “Hansel and Gretel” at Aberystwyth. At 10:00 that morning I had done the hundred miles to Cardiff Bay and was in the foyer of the Millennium Centre.

The panel members for selection onto the scheme were new to me but the Chair was not. I had attended sessions years before where Hazel Walford Davies had joined students with dramatists of Wales. The writers had been Charles Way and Dic Edwards. The other members, Holly Aldridge of Literature Wales, Lucy Davies of the company and Jon Gower from the board were all new faces. I was asked to name a good production of recent times and then a bad one. Terry Hands' “Mary Stuart” easily came to mind for the first. Mention of “the Thorn Birds” caused grimaces of familiarity.

Lucy Davies asked what I thought a success criterion for the National Theatre might be. I had small idea but I knew that “Amazing Grace” had sold 45,000 tickets so replied that a production that reached 50,000 would be a good ambition. My reply gave a generous timescale and suggested within five years.

I differed from the other applicants in having three years of theatre reviews behind me. There was, as there often is, also a stroke of serendipity. I had arrived armed with three quotations. When asked what constituted the principles of good criticism I quoted John Updike. Jon Gower instantly confessed a reverence for Updike of depth and had even spent an afternoon with him on a visit to the Hay Festival.

The induction weekend the next month brought into the room in the company's Castle Arcade premises names I had seen only in print. Michael Billington quoted Tynan. Benedict Nightingale recounted a period of absence from criticism. A university in the USA had tried to teach theatre criticism and it had proved difficult. Lyn Gardner called the collective writers of the London press “male, pale and stale.” Aleks Sierz said “Don't go into this if you think it's a way to make friends.” Hazel Walford Davies lambasted the state of writing in Wales as dire. The experience, followed by the mentoring with Elizabeth Mahoney, was transformative.

The requirement of the programme was to review eight from the first year's productions. It took me to places I had passed by but never entered. The company dominates my list of the top of the year.

The best on tour were Richard Bean's “the Big Fellah” and Vanishing Point's “Interiors.” My top eight of Wales were

Theatre Clwyd Cymru: “Arden of Faversham”

Aberystwyth Arts Centre: “Chicago”

National Theatre of Wales: “The Dark Philosophers”

National Theatre of Wales: “The Devil Inside Him”

National Theatre of Wales: “For Mountain, Sand and Sea”

Curtain Call: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”

National Theatre of Wales: “The Persians”

Equinox Theatre: “Supertramp, Sickert and Jack”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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