Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

"Fighting for its rightful place on the cultural and funding agenda"

On Criticism & Critics

Peter Brook, Mike Bradwell, Manon Eames & Others , Writing About Theatre , December-27-18
On Criticism & Critics by Peter Brook, Mike Bradwell, Manon Eames & Others Press releases and commentary flood in daily. In addition, in a year of summation, I revisited books on theatre. From it all I liked what these writers had to say.

MICHAEL BILLINGTON has set a record for critical longevity. He still has mastery for the right word that sets him apart. His dedication to criticism as an art to itself comes out in the introduction to his compilation book “One Night Stands”.

On the personality: “Critics are haunted, solitary theatre-nuts who cannot be willed into existence by editorial magic.”

And on the role: “Criticism, to me, is not the last word: simply part of a permanent debate about the nature of the ideal theatre...it is a public service to be interpreted, evaluated, and fought for with whatever critical passion one can muster.”

Arts funding in its last reduction is what Lenin said of politics: “who gets what.” The retreat from the dramatist is a means to serve to authority what it values- anaesthesia. MICHAEL BILLINGTON homed in on it in his summary of half a century of theatre, the book “State of the Nation”.

“To create a separate area of theatre that is primarily “visual”, and to endow it with a sanctified purity as many as its apologists do, is simply to create a meaningless ghetto. And it is essentially conservative.”

In the year that the National Theatre on the South Bank celebrated an anniversary MICHAEL BLAKEMORE served up a view from within in his book “Stage Blood”.

A large theatre company differs little from any other large company, except that every production is a jump into the unknown.

“...work, when put in front the public with a sort of blind faith, has to be achieved in the face of the thing which represents its opposite- the guile which comes into play when, in any group, there is an internal struggle for dominance.”

His encounter with two directors from Berlin proves difficult. “They seemed uneasy with what I regarded as the English-speaking theatre's greatest strength- its refusal to draw a line between what was entertainment and what was art.”

He asserts the method that makes for results of greatness. “With my own shows I always had a rough blocking worked out in my head, particularly for busy moments, but I tried to prevent it interfering with the director's most important obligation when he's done his thinking about the play- to give his passionate attention to what is right in front of him.”

In the theatre of Wales new drama shrank with the transfer of responsibility that was enacted in 2007. MIKE BRADWELL, of Hull Truck and the Bush, caught the substitute in his autobiography “The Reluctant Escapologist”

“I am no big fan of workshop culture per se. It has become the practice of theatres both here and in America to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy working on plays that they have no intention of ever producing. Theatres frequently give a play a rehearsed reading or a workshop in order to get rid of it. Producers can then convince themselves that what is in fact an exercise in box-ticking is in some way beneficial to the writer...My idea was to only workshop plays that I felt there was a definite chance of us producing.”

There are reviews and commentary in abundance, from observers and vested interests, but few go so far as to say what it is all for. PETER BROOK had a best-seller, for theatre books, in 1968 with “The Empty Space”. He made a good attempt to catch it.

“There are pillars of affirmation. Those are the moments of achievement that do occur, suddenly, anywhere: the performances, the occasions when collectively a total theatre of play and spectator makes nonsense of any divisions like Deadly, Rough and Holy. At these rare moments, the theatre of joy, of catharsis, of celebration, the theatre of exploration, the theatre of shared meaning, the living theatre are one.”

Theatre in Wales has paid over-attention to higher education staff to the neglect of audience. ROBERT BRUSTEIN was there in his compilation “The Third Theatre” published in 1970.

“We fail the future when we surrender what we know and value for the sake of fashion and influence, and we fail the theatre when we countenance the rejection of language, form and accomplishment in favour of an easy, instant culture.”

MANON EAMES spoke in a manner that was not just for playwrights but for audiences and the vitality of culture overall.

“New writing in Wales has been fighting for years for its rightful place on the cultural and funding agenda, and we have stood by and witnessed a gradual erosion of both the availability of opportunities for writers, and the number of new original works actually making it to final production and performance...Remember the writer, and join the fight for long term investment, support and development of their voice.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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