Theatre in Wales

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Political Theatre: Then and Now

At the Sherman

Theatre Uncut, Award & Reading , Sherman/ The Other Room , July 12, 2018
At the Sherman by Theatre Uncut, Award & Reading The Commentary section on this site has a piece by Peter Lathan on political theatre. Its writing, dated 5th May 2002, was prompted by Dic Edwards' “Franco's Bastard” at Chapter. The critics liked the explosiveness on stage. Three protesters threw stink bombs at the stage one night. We could do with its like again.

Lathan's topic is the distinction between political theatre and propaganda, his choice of example Anouilh's “Antigone.” He ends with “Who is right? Anouilh doesn't really tell us: he presents the situation, the dilemmas faced by the protagonists.” Lathan would approve of James Graham. “I’m more interested in trying to understand people I don’t necessarily agree with”, he says, “try to understand their motivations and why they feel what they do.”

“Real political theatre”, ends Lathan, “assumes a maturity and an ability to think in its audience: propaganda seeks to beatify the side it supports and demonise the other. Real political theatre promotes understanding: propaganda stirs up hatred. Real Political theatre make us examine our feelings: propaganda intensifies them. Real political theatre is difficult, hard and uncomfortable: propaganda is easy and self-indulgent. The place for propaganda is the hustings, not the theatre.”

The category of political theatre is blurry. It is more commonly taken to mean drama themed on a public issue. But true political theatre- much rarer- is about the activity of politics itself. In “Waste” the public issue itself is arcane but its treatment of political process gripping. The same applies to David Edgar's “the Shape of the Table”. The best political theatre to be seen in 2017 was J T Rogers' masterly “Oslo.” The best political theatre to be seen in 2018 is written by Schiller. It is all there in “Mary Stuart.”

Political theatre is part of the mix in Cardiff's theatre of 2018. From the distance of west Wales the four producing theatres of Wales look, in different ways, to be on a bounce in 2018.

From the Sherman: “Sherman Theatre is proud to be a partner organisation, alongside Young Vic Theatre and Traverse Theatre, on Theatre Uncut’s Political Playwriting Award. The award sets out to find the next generation of political playwrights that want to explore the big issues that affect our lives today."

The reader-judges are strong names: Hannah Price, Emma Callander, Rachel O’Riordan, Kwame Kwei Armah, Orla O'Loughlin. Political theatre in Wales has long suffered a deficit; this is a good development.

Othneil Smith was at the Other Room for Theatre Uncut for Wales Arts Review. He opens with a paraphrase of David Mamet: “the problem with conventional, issues-based political theatre is at least three-fold: it is inevitably undramatic since it contains no surprises; it denies the multifacetedness of real-world situations; and since it will play exclusively to people who agree with the points it is trying to make, it achieves nothing other than to compound audience members’ self-satisfaction at holding the “correct” opinions.”

The Other Room, a trail-blazer for women, “gave the floor exclusively to female directors.” Smith's coverage avoids narrative spoilers. The plays on show were Cordelia Lynn’s “Confessions” (director Becca Lidstone), “A Coin in Someone Else’s Pocket” (author Suhaiymah Manzoor Khan, directors Umulkhayr Mohamed and Radha Patel), Atiha Sen Gupta’s “Who Runs The World” (director Siobhan Lynn Brennan), Vivienne Franzmann’s “Nobody” (director Bridget Keehan), Sabrina Mahfouz’s “The Power Of Plumbing” (director Cassidy Howard-Kemp) and Sharon Clark’s “Mortar” (director Angharad Lee).

From a hundred miles' distance the vitality of Cardiff's performance scene awes.

How to enter the political playwriting award:

Othneil Smith in full at Uncut rehearsed readings:

Peter Lathan on “Franco's Bastard”:

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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