Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A Year That Felt Special (Part 2)

My Year of Theatre

Theatre In Wales , North South & West , January-02-12
My Year of Theatre by Theatre In Wales The funded companies produced work at their best fit to hit the world. But they also produced theatre, or bits of theatre, that sat there like suet. I know the symptoms. The eyes wander, they run around the venue’s architecture, they start watching other members of the audience to see if they are absorbed or not. There’s no favouritism here. Theatr Clwyd Cymru, the Sherman, the Torch, Volcano, National Theatre of Wales, the National Youth Theatre, they all produced stuff that hung heavy. Theatr Genedlaethol didn’t, but they are undergoing their review and did not produce that much.

The right to fail is paramount. But when it doesn’t work, a common factor is detectable. The professional writer is the disposable member of the creative team. It can be done for a number of reasons, economy (false- how about sacking the lighting director for once?), aesthetic ideology (misguided), fashion (we’re all susceptible to fashion trends), hubris (no comment.)

“The fetishization of the figure of an absent but despotically controlling eye... masterminding every inch, every second” is a fashion statement. It’s a view, but I just don’t believe it. A director, actors, a writer, a designer, others assemble in some dreary rehearsal space. Each new creation is a nerve-inducing, collective leap into making something new. The melodramatic “fetishization” just doesn’t smack of the real thing, of a witness who has been there.

There is a honourable record of actors turning themselves into masterly writers. Hywel John’s “Pieces” in 2010 received an enthusiastic reception. The odd writer, within limits, has done a decent job in directing a show. But I am just unconvinced by directors who extend themselves into writing. It doesn’t happen in England or Scotland. Late in the year came a piece of heavyweight support. “Writing of any kind”, says John Caird in his monument of a book “Theatre Craft” “requires a measure of untroubled space and time, both commodities in short supply for a Director.”

I wasn’t at Edinburgh. I didn’t see “Fragments of Ash”, “Muscle”, “Richard Parker”, “Barber of Seville”, “Katya Kabanova”, “Salsa” and many others. Of the touring shows I saw “Woyzeck on the Highveldt” and Analogue Theatre but missed “the Container”, Forced Entertainment, and a lot else. I was absent from ninety-five percent of “the Passion.” Seventy-five seconds of television time were given over to the ghosts beneath the pillars of the M4. The images looked superb and emotive. Members of the audience wept. Personally, I prefer a Christ who is divine rather than loosely allegorical. The corporations that truly oppress tend not to carry clubs and guns, but to be soothingly telling us that everything is all for our own good. But that’s art. It hits in all kinds of different ways and I was only present for a few hours. The rest is the memory of others.

Richard Eyre in “Utopia and Other Places” wrote of “the “untranslatable” element in the theatre, the part that isn’t a surrogate for television, that isn’t prose to be read standing up, the part that can’t be translated from stage to screen; the part that is, in a word, theatrical...the unique properties of the medium- its use of space, of light, of speech, of story-telling; its theatreness.”

In the performances spaces of Wales in 2011 that untranslatable quality took on many a form. It was Anthony Hunt’s rubber-limbed Benny Southstreet. It was director Mathilde Lopez having a Latin American mineral magnate come on stage as a sinewy creeping jaguar. It was Volcano and the Clarks staging cosmetic surgeons in the practice of their dark art. It was an opera where the hero’s opening line, addressed to the conductor, was “What the f*** are you looking at?” That was Music Theatre Wales and “Greek” which collected an Outstanding Achievement in Opera award. It was the band playing tinkly music as Oliver Wood, in a seven year old’s party frock, sits down, then breaks all audience expectations with a deep pitched tenor.

The best of the year? It is a mix. Originality, vision, accomplishment, feeling are all in there, along with a good dose of pure personal preference. If I had the chance to see the work of 2011 all over again, my first five, alphabetical order only, would be:

Mess up the Mess: “Click” directed by Sarah Jones

Mid-Wales Opera: “Madam Butterfly” directed by Stephen Barlow

National Theatre of Wales: “the Village Social” directed by Ben Lewis

Sherman Cymru: “The Sanger” directed by Amy Hodge

Theatr Clwyd Cymru: “the Taming of the Shrew” directed by Terry Hands

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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