Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

These Claws Could Do with Sharpening

The Wolf Tattoo

Company of Sirens , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , July-11-18
The Wolf Tattoo by Company of Sirens No other art form is so regularly, and stridently, held up for denunciation for its deficiencies as is theatre. Three young people from the streets around me were thrilled this spring to speak to Akala after a gig. Akala does not get critiqued for his failure to attract- sorry, engage with- the Dreamboats and Petticoats audience. So, in 2014, Tim Couch wrote a newspaper article denouncing a theatre “mired in realism.” In theatre's history realism fractured in 1896. The whole counter-realism tradition of Jarry to Wedekind to Kaiser and beyond has its best anatomist in John Peter with his book “Vladimir's Carrot” published in 1987.

The point of the counter-realism tradition is that the writer has to work harder than the jobbing naturalist. Words have to be deployed akin to the paint, for instance, that Augustus John brought to his portrait of Dylan Thomas. Stand close and the surface is blurts and dashes of pigment. Stand at a metre's distance and it is a chunky woollen pullover. Company of Sirens' production, which came to Aberystwyth after a longer run at Chapter, has a strong team: young physical actors, strong design and lighting. It has action but at less than an hour's length it hangs heavy, its impetus sagging on its lexical limitations.

Buzz Magazine saw it as set in a post-apocalyptic world. Not so: its world is not “the Road” , its young men and women having access to power, mobile telephony,Tesco. To project to an alert audience an alternative world requires a nimbleness of suggestion in the writing. See, for instance, “the Nether”, which Company of Sirens bravely brought to Cardiff last year. It is fine for human beings on stage to be placed outside naturalistic setting but they are in need of a linguistic vitality. Michael Billington puts it as one of his five red lines for theatre. It is the reason why Sophie Treadwell's “Machinal” is revived once a generation and is currently again in London. That was why John Peter's book put Vladimir in his title.

“What the f***?” and its variants are here displayed as evidence of masculinity. The repetitiveness is monochrome. David Mamet has a lot to answer for. But Mamet's language is always a motor for dramatic impetus.

Elements in the action lacks logic. One character is repeatedly telling another to go see a third with no reason why she cannot do it herself. Tattooing is an art achieved slowly. Graf's bad temper and impatience with his tattooist do not make sense. Lines of generalisation feature: “not happy in his own skin”, “you shredded his skin”, “he didn't understand life”, along with an odd anachronism “what loony-bin are you out of?”

Knife crime is an issue of terrible seriousness. It is, in particular, a London issue. Frequently it is the lead on the regional news that follows the main news at 10:00. It is particularly a London issue because that city has a particular make-up of age, demography, politics. The head of an organisation who works with young people in Tottenham, diverting them from street to gym, appeared on Newsnight earlier this year. He criticised the media for part-complicity in slackness of facing up to the issue. In particular, he said, the racial issue was unmentioned out of a kind of reverse prejudice. These were his words; I was simply the observer of a TV interview.

Race, like much that animates our modern world, is an unmentionable in the theatre of Wales. To look at that aspect of our world of today a visit to the Door in Birmingham is required. Wales will never produce a Roy Williams, a Rachel De-lahay, a Suzan-Lori Parks. But then the Birmingham Rep has the dramaturgical figure of David Edgar to get his city onto a stage and to the Royal Court. David Edgar has no truck with any contamination from the West Midlands Tourist Board.

The gender roles here are Victorian- there is more modernity of women in “Rhondda Rips It Up!” The wrapping of a theme in a package of metaphor is a way for drama to pull its punches. Young men who resort to knifing have been realised brilliantly in the theatre of Wales. It was in “Bruised”, reviewed 23rd May 2012, where the dramatist got it the right way round. The art of theatre is inductive, the general being illuminated by way of the particular.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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