Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Behind the Scenes: Kully Thiarai

Radio Arts Feature

BBC , Radio 4 & iPlayer , February 15, 2018
Radio Arts Feature by BBC Self-belief matters. But it needs to brush shoulders with self-awareness and self-critique. To start any company requires a flood of conviction. But companies evolve; a second stage is wholly different from a first.

The relationship between BBC Wales and its theatre is unhelpful. BBC Scotland is a participant in CATS, the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. BBC Wales does not participate, does not attend, and does not report. In its place its occasional foray into theatre has been principally one of promoting National Theatre Wales. To an outside eye it reads as though television executives are in a gaggle of mutual support. The tone was set early, in 2010. Documentaries on theatre are rare but in that year 30 minutes of documentary were broadcast. Its tone was one of stupefying sycophancy, Green Bay its helpful maker.

“Front Row” on Radio 4 has on occasion run features but never seen a production. So Wales gets no critical attention in the way that London does. There are dozens of companies worthy of Radio 4's attention. True to precedent, or the power of PR, the BBC picks out National Theatre Wales for boosting.

True also to form not a single Welsh voice is fit to comment on its own theatre. Lyn Gardner reliably is on hand to wheel out the usual blandishments- community, international artists etc. Not a voice is permitted to speak about the rich indigenous tradition of performance.

Lyn Gardner: “I think it can be a burden having “national” in the title. One of the things it does is that it has to be all things to all people. It has to reflect national aspirations and also it somehow has to reflect what is held in high regard. One of the things that National Theatre Wales has done is neatly to sidestep a lot of those expectations and a lot of the way that it has done that is that it has gone out and genuinely embedded itself within communities and also how it has made us rethink how theatre might be distributed and where it might happen.”

So Rhyl gets a show called “Lifted by Beauty: Adventures in Dreaming”. Naturally not a writer or director of Wales, like the commentators of Wales, is fit to be involved Would the equivalent companies in Scotland or England take a production with that title to Inverness or Scarborough? Of course not. Because it would be roasted. Here the small cabal that run things knows that no-one will notice. And ultimately nobody in Cardiff cares in the slightest that the citizens of Rhyl has a piece of performance art dumped on them and are robbed of theatre.

But then the word “theatre” is absent. “Work” and “piece of work” predominate. “The nation is our stage.” Difference seems very important. The interviewer has an interesting view. “The idea of nation seems a preoccupation with Wales, its cumulative effect is a real lowering of horizons.”

The response includes: “it feels like it's carrying a chip on its shoulder about what it is and who it is and part of our role is to keep the horizons visible and the horizons are visible beyond our borders...our voices need to be heard out there and our voices need to be garnered and celebrated here. I'm interested in that interplay and that's what national means to me.”

39:15: “I suppose my question would be “what is a playhouse, what is a theatre, and who is it for?...about having a relationship with the place and the people that it sits amongst and if it doesn't speak to that then what is it for? We become bereft if we don't think about it in those ways.”

42:27: “I want to make work that's not easy but that people feel somehow they get an emotional connection to, the importance of it mattering to those watching or taking part or being immersed in a process done with generosity and integrity and a commitment to valuing who they are in that experience.”

This is so unexceptional. The interviewer, instead of pointing this out, says after a pause. “It sounds to me in a way that you are describing social work.” Director: “Theatre is social work, isn't it?” We are a long way from the axe that cracks the frozen sea within. “Yes, social work it is.”

The editors have made some slips in their role which is in essence advertising the company. At 21:53 a genuine voice of Rhyl slips in: “A lot of people came from Cardiff last night to watch it. And Liverpool. And some local people? I don't know.” 24:26: “hopefully keeping it Welsh, that's what I want it to be.”

The programme was broadcast Wednesday 14th February, Martin Williams producer.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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