Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Sixties Revival Revealing


Black RAT Productions & Blackwood Miners , Theatr Mwldan , October-26-18
Loot by Black RAT Productions & Blackwood Miners A revival is bivalent, being both an event of the present and an evocation of the past. In my past Joe Orton holds a unique place. Unlike any other theatre or film figure, the place and the day in which he entered my awareness are quite clear. The place was a wooden cabin at the Black Rock beyond Porthmadog, a source of sweets and comics.

On a summer's day the press had a story on which to feast. Celebrity and violence, the newspapers screamed their story luridly. It is in the nature of parents to endeavour to protect young minds from the hideous. It is in the nature of children to smell this a mile off and scrutinise the tabloids all the more closely.

This episode is only mentioned because Orton-the-life has out-shadowed Orton-the-artist. He was not the first playwright to die prematurely and violently, Marlowe and Lorca being just two others. But the life of Orton has taken on larger dimensions with the posthumous publication of the diaries and the film. Stephen Frears and Alan Bennett made a potent combination and their film stands up well.

Posterity is a winnowing process, and fifty years is not a long interval of time. Some artistic reputations from the 1960s are rising sharply, Pauline Boty an instance in the visual arts, Ann Quin as a novelist. Boty features in Ali Smith's 2016 novel “Autumn.”

“Loot” in 2018 reads superbly, the language jumping off the page. But performance is another dimension. Orton is funny on the page and isn't on stage. The audience gives it some chuckles and there is a reliable vitality to the production. But another comedy is playing the other side of the Preselis from Cardigan. Christian Patterson's Frances Henshall is a brilliant barnstormer of hilarity.

There have been warnings. “Loot” had a rocky outing at the Tricycle in 2008. When Clwyd put on “Entertaining Mr Sloane” Dic Edwards, in interview with Hazel Walford Davies, said “it isn't funny any more”. And that was in 1998.

The reasons are straightforward. Look at the difference with Johnson's “Dead Funny”, revived in 2017. That too is not funny any more, but there is nuance of character, and sadness. The actors have something to do beyond display high energy and linguistic flourish. Fifty years is not a long time but it is not likely that Orton will take a place alongside Marlowe and Lorca. More likely he will come to be valued in the manner of Benjamin Robert Haydon. The diaries are acclaimed but the artwork is not.

There is an addendum of seriousness. Comedy is being celebrated this month by BBC Wales. That is good. Wales runs a healthy exchange with the rest of the United Kingdom in stand-up and a likely balance of payments surplus. This is not the case with theatre comedy. The melee of the Fringe is opportunity for stand-ups to try theatre. Failure is the norm, the craft of theatre requiring a tough apprenticeship. Richard Bean is an exception, serving long years as a stand-up before crafting a line of theatrical dialogue. So this season more royalties flow from Milford to Stoke Newington.

This is not to make any criticism of the Torch's programming. The venues, and by extension audiences of Wales, are starved of home-grown product. It goes back to the cultural policy of Wales, lordly in its nature, being asserted but undiscussed. One aspect rests on a categorical error, that seriousness entails earnestness. Thus, Scotland can revive “the Slab Boys” with pride while Alan Osborne cannot be revived.

There is supposed to be a debate on theatre. Debate is not a hug-in, full of respect and sensitivity. Jargon and periphrasis have no place. It is rigour, fearlessness and clarity of expression which address the issues and that has yet to materialise. As long as that debate fails to start, played out on a public platform among all the interested parties, it is a fulminating boil. As such this site will return to it regularly and repeatedly.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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