Theatre in Wales

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The Best of Shows in the Best of Years

My Year of Theatre

Companies of Wales , Wales All Over , January 1, 2019
My Year of Theatre by Companies of Wales Status comes in two forms. There is status by attribution and there is status by activity. The retrospective survey of 31st December reported on the burst of activity outside Wales. If a company bustles it will be noticed. If it performs outstandingly it will get awards. If it gets awards the nature of the conversations change, or should.

Neil Docking won Best Play Award at the Off West-End Theatre Awards. All awards have their omissions. “The Revlon Girl” in Wales took a route that meant that it was, in retrospect, under-valued by the Wales Awards. But what matters is what happens at the live occasion. As reported here, 5th March, “the reality is that audiences in Wales, Scotland and London were moved to tears.” That is what matters.

“The Revlon Girl” was a nominee for the Olivier Award in its category alongside “Killology”. The double-O partnership had been there before, in 2016, but this time Gary Owen and Rachel O'Riordan got to step onto the stage and hold the statuette. Gary Owen earned a unique accolade from the critic Maxie Szalwinska- “shaping up to be one of the most necessary playwrights around.” “Necessary” is a good one. An Olivier is the tops. After an interval of 5 days BBC Wales managed a single paragraph of acknowledgement on its website.

Kaite O'Reilly won the Elliott Hayes award for outstanding achievement in dramaturgy for “And Suddenly I Disappear”. The Other Room won the 50/50 Award for Gender Balance from the International Centre for Women Playwrights. Mari Izzard won the first award from the Violet Burns Playwriting Competition. Theatr Clwyd won the Theatre UK Best Musical Award for “The Assassination of Katie Hopkins.”

The musical was subject of a critical evaluation courtesy of Radio Wales. On “the Review Show”, 4th May, Steph Power got the provocation in the show's name right: “Playing her at her own game, with the clickbait in the title.” Kate North: “hugely ambitious on what it set out to explore and to do.” Gary Raymond: “conveyed that sense of bombardment, that din that happens.” It was not perfect formally: “too long,..riot scenes a bit tame”, but Steph Power gave it the credit that really mattered: “it's great to see political musical theatre coming out of Wales.”

“The Review Show” was a welcome addition to cultural life in 2018. It has a demerit. The broadcaster cannot keep its hands off it, with a tendency to shove its own products in at the expense of other art forms. May the producer and team in 2019 tell the television mandarinate that if it wants to air its own product, then make the scheduling fortnightly.

Certain words have been so over-used in the age of cyber-anger to have had their meaning thrashed out of them. “Democracy” is taken not to refer to what it is, a fragile construct centuries in its formation, that incorporates among other things a separation of powers and loyalty in opposition. So too “unaccountable”, thrown about as a short-hand for “people I don't like.” In fact, all organisations give account of themselves in some degree somewhere. But the tenor of communication from arts companies has altered in the last couple of years in Wales, and to the good. Subsidy from the public purse now also means communicating with the public.

Unsurprisingly, it is the young artistic managements who are setting the pace. The divergence in quality of public reporting prompted my article, 10th January, “Big Contrasts in Public Communication.” The Other Room took top spot from its first season but others are following. There is no reason why the funder should not oblige all recipients to do so. The January article included “Is this significant? It matters and for three reasons. Firstly the companies project pride. Secondly it is an acknowledgement that they operate within a public space. They are in the public domain but theirs is not a private dialogue conducted with arts council, sponsors and others.”

Mid Wales Opera is taking opera to venues that have never seen it, and told us. “That's all folks”, read the public statement, “we’ve finally reached the end of our fabulous tour of “A Spanish Hour”. “16 venues across Wales and the Borders/ 13% of our audience had never seen an opera before/ 33% had only seen an opera once or twice/ And an incredible 40% of the audience travelled less than 5 miles to see the show/that’s keeping opera live and local if ever there was!”

Chippy Lane was another new media voice. The dialogues could be tauter and tougher, but that is a reviewer's perspective. As an initiative entirely self-generated it is to be applauded and the tone is infectiously upbeat. The company delivered an exemplary end-of-year summary of what it had done in 2018: scratch night, education, the media coverage, Sophie Melville joining as a creative associate, the whole lot. The Other Room likewise told its story that included 10 productions, 200+ artists playing for 3,800+ audience members.

In 2018 I saw performance in Aberaeron, Aberystwyth, Aberporth, Cardiff, Cardigan, Carmarthen, Edinburgh, Furnace, London, Milford, Mold and Salford. But Cardiff is now a bubbling brew of theatre in a way and a quality that it was not when I started. Leeway Productions is a small company and even so got into one of Britain's Best of Year lists, as did Motherlode.There was a production in Ceredigion I missed by choice, others I missed for unfortunate circumstance. I was in Summerhall for the opening of “Lovecraft.” which did not take place for personal reason. I was at the Torch on the day when the barn-storming Frances Henshall was with a surgeon.

There was much in 2018 that I missed in both senses, for reasons of geography. So my top ten is no more than a personal selection. Harriet Walter put it as well as anyone in her latest book. “When we sit in the audience we don't just watch a fait accompli, we are part of the event. We remember the play as a personal memory. It is something that happened to us. “

These were events that happened to me, memorably so.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” Theatr Clwyd & Partners

“Eugene Onegin” Mid Wales Opera

“Home, I'm Darling” Theatr Clwyd & Partner

“How to Spot an Alien” Theatr Clwyd & Partner

“Lord of the Flies” Theatr Clwyd & Sherman Theatre

“Rhondda Rips It Up!” Welsh National Opera

“Sugar Baby” Dirty Protest

“Tree and Wood” Jony Easterby & Collaborators

“Tremor” Sherman Theatre

“Woman of Flowers” Theatr Pena & Taliesin

References: the Sherman wins an Olivier

Mid Wales Opera on tour

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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