Theatre in Wales

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“To identify as a Welsh playwright is to own up to being...”

Critical Christmas Cracker

Joan Littlewood, Jeff Teare, Gary Owen & Others , Theatre and Writing , December 23, 2018
Critical Christmas Cracker by Joan Littlewood, Jeff Teare, Gary Owen & Others From the many words encountered in the year ten writers and directors left some that echoed.

JOAN LITTLEWOOD wrote for the magazine “Encore” in October 1961. Theatre is collaboration and there is no closer tribute to the art form of fusion.

“I do not believe in the supremacy of the director, designer, actor or even of the writer. It is through collaboration that this knockabout art of theatre survives and kicks. It was true at the Globe, The Curtain, The Crown, and in the ‘illustrious theatre’ of Moliére and it can work today.

“No one mind or imagination can foresee what a play will become until all physical and intellectual stimuli, which are crystallised in the poetry of the author, have been understood by a company, and then tried out in terms of mime, discussion and the precise music of grammar, words and movement allied and integrated.”

On 15th May the Sherman Theatre announced itself in partnership with the Young Vic and Traverse for Theatre Uncut’s Political Playwriting Award. The intention was declared: “The award sets out to find the next generation of political playwrights that want to explore the big issues that affect our lives today.”

RACHEL O’RIORDAN: “Theatre now, more than ever, has a role to play in the world. We need, as a society, to interrogate how we see ourselves, how we define who we are and why we behave as we do. There is no more powerful medium through which to do this than live performance; immediate, visceral connection with words, with bodies and with each other can impact on us all.

GARETH PRICE published a memoir “The Broadcasters of BBC Wales 1964-1990”. He described “Bowen a'i Bartner” as containing the most violent scenes to be seen to date on Welsh television. Of the writer he made note of “his cherubic face and polite manner.”

I came late to the acceptance speech made by ORHAN PAMUK for the Nobel Prize for Literature. It contains 26 sentences that begin “I write.” His last reads “I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.”

PEGGY RAMSAY wrote a letter of 26th August 1968 which advised against over-intellectualism: “there should remain something of the child to communicate with a mixed body such as one finds in an average audience.”

JEFF TEARE was editor for two collections of plays, “New Welsh Drama” (Parthian 1998) and “New Welsh Drama II” (Parthian 2001). He asserted the primacy of audience.

“The theory's fine but the practice? That's down to the audience...As far as I'm concerned new writing in itself has no intrinsic value (surely we've already got enough plays?). It's only real validation lies in the degree to which it re-invents theatre for new audiences.

“Well, if by re-invent we only mean form, then no if it's only about (or pretending to be about) the same old rubbish.”

The Arts Council professes concern about the breadth of participation in the arts. It should hold a mirror up to itself. JEFF TEARE was the last director to take a non-white dramatist from Wales to London, an event that happened in the last century.

On arrival in Cardiff “the first thing I did with the Company in 1995 was to set up a multi-cultural writers workshop and my first actual production with Made in Wales was a showcase of these writers' work.”

Theatre is eclectic. ANN TRENEMAN filed a diary account for the Times of June 15th 2018 of a visit to “Phobiarama in a tent between Central St Martins school of art and a giant Waitrose disguised behind warehouse bricks. The show involved sitting in a dodgem-type car in pitch darkness. Voices shouted about Brexit and refugees and, soon, giant bears began to lurk beside our cars. I was not afraid, only amazed that people pay £35 for 40 minutes of this.”

JOHN TUSA made a radio documentary, broadcast 16th August, that revisited a time of his life 62 years earlier. Its subject was the regional opera of Germany. He included “the management that is not always thinking the whole time about its public is a bad management” and admired “that sense of responsibility, the company that creates a bond with its own town and its own region.”

He signed off with a last line of uniqueness “I feel grateful to my 19-year old self for being so curious. So I say to my 19-year old self “thank you very much.”

MARINA WARNER returned to the vexing topic of virtue in a speech delivered in June to the Royal Society of Literature:

“Striving to be good is not the same as good writing. Engaging in fictive truth-telling is not the same as winning gold stars for conduct. A student asked me the other day. “Does a writer have to be virtuous?” When I was that student's age the question would have been “Does a writer have to be an outsider, an outcast, a delinquent?”

Last word to GARY OWEN for candour. In 2018 he was a second time nominee for an Olivier Award and winner. In the late-in-the-year podcast podcast from Chippy Lane he pointed to the chronology “there's big gaps between 2004 and 2009 and 2010 to 2015- in one sense I was writing shit plays that didn't get put on.”

As to the challenge of making drama in Wales “When I say to identify yourself as a Welsh playwright is to own up to being an idiot I'm not entirely joking.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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