Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

“Humanity is the Strength of our Theatre"

Critical Christmas Cracker

Joan Littlewood, Simon Callow, Richard Eyre etc , Writing about Theatre , December 28, 2018
Critical Christmas Cracker by Joan Littlewood, Simon Callow, Richard Eyre etc From the deluge of a year's reading these seven writers came my way. They stood out for two reasons, for clarity and for truth.

SIMON CALLOW is a steady author of enduring books on theatre. On January 21st he wrote a profile of Michelle Terry. He caught her first encounter with Shakespeare. Get the Chance reported much the same spirit in an interview with Matthew Trevannion.

CALLOW's article read: “It was the language that shook her- not understanding it all, but feeling it, being stirred by it, the words on her tongue sending exciting messages to her brain: “I think cognitive awareness is overrated”, she says.“What matters is being open to the vibrations, emotional and sensorial, of the words.”

Michelle Terry's successor is thriving in a new role that matches her gifts. CALLOW used his words with care “That sort of riotous cabaret she was purveying did justice neither to the space nor to the plays.”

Discussion of theatre in Wales tends to earnestness at the expense of seriousness. The result is the ascendancy of fog over light. RICHARD EYRE, in interview with Kalina Stefanova, got to the heart of it.

“The humanity is the main strength of our theatre. The point of the medium is the relationship between an individual or group of individuals on stage and a group of individuals in the audience.

“Everything in the theatre is about relationships. It's also about human scales. You are committed to the scale of the human body and voice. Any theatre that tries to defy that, and a lot of German theatres do, takes away the essence of what theatre is. British theatre is thoroughly and damagingly pragmatic but it's finally humane.

“The great strength of the British theatre is that it has consistently managed to combine the intellectual high ground and the common taste. Another strength is the power of the actor: the actors here are more powerful here than anywhere else in the world.”

GOETHE wrote in a letter to Johann Friedrich Rochlitz in 1787, “there are three kinds of readers: one, who enjoys without judging, a third, who judges without enjoying; another in the middle, who judges while enjoying and enjoys while judging. The last class truly reproduces a work of art anew; its members are not numerous.”

The same goes for audiences. On occasions I have been at performances where Goethe's third category predominated, events that invariably depressed.

Virtue of intent is too frequently muddled with accomplishment of outcome. On 11th August V S Naipaul died and the obituaries were cautious. The reason was that here was a writer who may have been great but was questionably a good person.

WALDEMAR JANUSCZCZAK tackled the issue head on.

“To put it crudely: can bad people make good art? Intellectually, it’s not much of a conundrum. Art is one thing. Bad people are another thing. The two should not be yoked together in a false equation. But art has never been an arena in which intellectual positions must be supported. It’s an arena that privileges the senses and the emotions. And in that foggy stadium, the question of good and bad humanity receives conflicting answers.”

Art criticism in Wales at times can soar to equal the best anywhere. NIGEL JARRETT got Shani Rhys James' exhibition in Mayfair perfectly.

“Close up, the pictures boil with the heave, jostle, and shove of paint. Therein lies most of their seductiveness; it’s a property employed often and long in the modern figurative tradition, from Van Gogh on the Continent, to John Bratby and Frank Auerbach in this country.

“Link that to the consternation of the portraits and something starts to build. Tension of subject-matter and agitation of medium are equally balanced in successful expressionist works. Perhaps Rhys James’s achievement is to keep us guessing, forcing us to identify in her pictures whatever sombre states apply. Then, at the point where we feel as seemingly under the cosh as the portraits proclaim, we can accept her honest documentation of coping stoically, if that’s what is being set down.”

JOHN LOGAN's play “Red” was revived to acclaim in London. The playwright gives Mark Rothko a line that stands for all great creation. “Painting is ninety percent thinking, ten percent putting on the paint.”

Observers in Cėzanne's studio reported that the interval between brushstrokes might last as long as 20 minutes.

JOAN LITTLEWOOD added the third element. She read Shelagh Delaney's play “The Lion in Love” and wrote a letter to the author that included “Playwriting is a craft not just inspiration.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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