Theatre in Wales

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"It's great to see political musical theatre coming out of Wales”

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Reviewers of Wales , Online and Radio Wales , July-03-18
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Reviewers of Wales Timothy West and Prunella Scales wrote a short book in 2005. “So You Want To Be an Actor.” Lee Strasberg it was not. Its message to young aspirants was succinct. Go out, experience the world as widely as possible; it will all flow into your art. If actors are advised to feel the world widely then the message must be trebly so for writers. There is a book of Wales selling nicely this season. In the Lonely Crowd author Gary Raymond speaks to John Lavin revealingly of its genesis. The author met people- “gangsters, wide boys, bar owners, outcasts, hideaways, would-be-playboys.”

Dramatists should mix broadly and so should reviewers. I spent by chance a half-hour of this blazing season in conversation with a career manager for cemeteries and mortuaries. The sector, she said, had three representative bodies- pun unintended- for historical reasons. In their representations to government their views sometimes overlapped and sometimes diverged. It was an arrangement for discord and put me in mind of criticism in Wales.

Print has died. Planet occasionally gets to theatre, but its reviews are months late, often composed of stodge. Online, four regular voices have established themselves. Get the Chance, Wales Arts Review, Arts Scene in Wales and this site are different, part-overlapping, part-divergent. Like the representative bodies for the mortuaries they are also divided. “Toxic” is the adjective chosen by one for another. This division does not matter; all human activity runs this way. Disdain and contest are markers of high passion.

Two of the sites could benefit from better editing and proof-reading. Lucy Rivers is cause for highest admiration in the theatre of Wales. She deserves that Gagglebaggle not be spelled Gagglegbaggle. Editors should work harder and strike out the solipsism. Reviewing is an outward activity focused on an external object or event. The word “I” has a place but should be deployed sparingly. Pages 19-23 of New Welsh Reader 117 manages to get the words “I”, “we” and “my” in 57 times. Solipsism thrives on misbegotten notions of authenticity. Not so; it is an indicator of dead writing. The worst writing award for sheer childishness for the first half of 2018 goes to pages 30-33 of Planet 230.

And a new outlet for reviewing appeared. Gary Raymond put it succinctly to John Lavin. “The Review Show is a new monthly discussion about the arts in Wales, using the tried and tested roundtable format of shows like The Saturday Review on Radio 4...I think it also stands as a marker for a change in attitude from BBC Wales to the way arts is covered here. I was given a very clear brief, and it was to deliver a serious, thoughtful, engaged, but accessible show about the arts... Serious and accessible. Discussion that is worth listening to for it’s own sake, whether you have any interest in the subject or not.”

Performance on radio has nothing to do with cleverness or even knowledge. It melds succinctness, relaxation, enthusiasm and a sense of closeness. The second programme 4th May was the most accomplished of the three to date. It had a fizz and a vitality to it, helped by having good things to see in Shani Rhys James, “the Split” and “the Assassination of Katie Hopkins”. If the budget for travel was stretched then it should be increased. The arts in Wales are not contained within the Canton-to-Splott axis.

Good radio can do what print cannot. It is dialectical. Andy Field in his tribute in May to Lyn Gardner wrote “Lyn is a critic of sparkling wit and intelligence, of righteous political and ethical convictions, and perhaps most importantly of vast, unquenchable curiosity and enthusiasm.”

Ethics are an important substrate of criticism. The trio who were at Theatre Clwyd viewed the production at all these levels. Steph Power homed in on a theatre piece about clickbait using it for its own purposes. It worked- more London broadsheets were at the show in May than have been at Mold in the whole of the last year. Kate North: “hugely ambitious on what it set out to explore and to do.”

Gary Raymond liked its capturing the cacophony of online comment- “conveyed that sense of bombardment, that din that happens”- but did ponder the ethics. “Veers into dangerously apologist territory that stands for a toxic ideology” he observed. “Is there a danger of mainstreaming extreme views?” he asked. Extreme politics “works by normalising words and attitudes.” It is a question worth the asking and indicator of a mature criticism. Since then of course a straightforward case of contempt of court has been distorted into martyrdom.

The show was too long. The riot scenes were too tame, the stage was at times cluttered. But Steph Power: “It's great to see political musical theatre coming out of Wales.”

Critical print is no more. The Guardian has given up on Wales entirely. Charlotte Higgins is good- her several books on the classics are to be recommended. But she has not got the quotable name of Lyn Gardner. The departure of the Guardian is no bad thing overall if it prompts home-grown critics. So all praise to Carolyn Hitt and Colin Paterson for getting it off the ground. Its re-commissioning for a second run is a given.

Raymond and Lavin are in conversation at

https://thelonelycrowd.org/2018/07/01/an-interview-with-gary-raymond-john-lavin/

Declaration: the boosting of friends in Wales is endemic and shameless.

Colin Paterson is a complete stranger to me. I have had one email and one conversation in person with Carolyn Hitt. Gary Raymond does not get a Christmas card from me but I am admiring of his gusto, his tenacity, his spleen, his sulphur.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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