Theatre in Wales

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Keynote Speech at Critical Gathering

On Criticism & Critics

Critical State of Play , Wales Arts Review Critics Round Table , January-22-19
On Criticism & Critics by Critical State of Play 11 years of theatre have left a lot of words in their wake. They had an accompaniment in a very much smaller quantity of spoken words. This ratio had two reasons. The first, often repeated, is that spoken opinion is in any case over-valued. The makers of performance in Wales are most deserving of an attentive ear and eye in the auditorium.

A second reason is the nature and the opportunity of occasion. In November 2018 I declined an invitation to comment on the theatre of Wales on Radio 4's “Front Row.” The theme was inappropriate. Twice I preceded the presentation of an award with a few minutes' of spoken tribute of theatre and its makers. On one occasion I appeared on the Dora Stoutzker stage on a critics' panel as part of National Theatre Wales' “New Critics” initiative.

Just one occasion called for a longer, fuller address. The brief was to articulate why we have criticism at all. The place was the Wales Millennium Centre, the event Wales Arts Review's 2nd Critics Round Table, held 14th November 2014.

It was spoken in colloquial language to a live audience but a written version followed. Re-reading it for the first time in 5 years it still rings true. The thinness of notice given to much artistic endeavour across the country is still valid. The arts of Wales are deficient in memory and a culture without memory is a feeding ground for shrillness.

The first part went:

“Criticism in 2014 matters. It matters for particular reasons, of which three come to the fore. Although they are distinct they share an element in common. They all tend to inattention, inattention to the work itself.

“The first, the loss of the local respected reviewer, is the most obvious. Two economists from Cambridge were tasked recently to make a study across seven hundred different occupations in the USA. Their conclusion was that forty-seven percent of jobs are at risk over the next fifteen years of replacement by automation; by extension Britain. In this respect our world of reviews and criticism has been in the vanguard.

“Jonathan Raban in 1987 published “For Love and Money”, a compilation of reviews, essays and occasional pieces. He was helped by facilitating factors. “The Listener” had an editor who possessed both funds of some generosity and an eagerness to cultivate fine occasional writing. Raban was able to quit a lectureship at Aberystwyth’s English Department, move to Islington and make a living as a man of letters. It was not an easy or a stable life, but it was feasible. His was the last generation for which the choice would have been possible.

“It is not up to critics to boost their own importance. Look to the artists themselves. “Crucial for us” says Michael McCarthy of Music Theatre Wales in a public forum at the Critics Round Table. Boswell caught Doctor Johnson on the topic when they journeyed together to the Hebrides in October 1773. “A man who tells me my play is very bad”, opines the Doctor, “is less my enemy than he who lets it die in silence.” When Anthony Trollope received his first review he reveals in his autobiography that he read it so many times he could quote the whole of it in its entirety.

Original Source: http://www.walesartsreview.org/critics-roundtable-2014-keynote-speech

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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