Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Representation of Wales & its Discontents

Arts Policy Report

Writers and Policy-Makers , Arts of Wales , February-17-19
Arts Policy Report by Writers and Policy-Makers There is a ying and yang to everything, no less to the experience of being a theatre-goer in Wales. Exultation, sometimes, mingles with melancholy, also sometimes. The Culture and Language Committee delivered a report to my intray in March 2018. It was read swiftly at the time, the major emotion it elicited being disappointment. It might be left as just another piece of parliamentary paper, or it could be looked at critically for the record of the arts in Wales.

There is a pattern recently of a frustration of expression across the arts of Wales. Whether this is a culture in maturity or just private discontents is moot, although I incline towards the first. Chumminess in public affairs is a mask for deference. The heart that beats without irregularity is one that is heading for trouble.

A part of the discontent has been recorded on this site in the cheerless stream of news events that the letter of 20th September triggered. But other voices are unhappy elsewhere. So my own submission to the Committee (below February 2nd & January 28th) quoted Daniel Evans: “A final corollary of this invisibility- it is not just the news media: dramatic portrayals of Welsh life remain largely invisible in film, music and literature - is that it contributes to an extremely weak sense of national identity in Wales.”

Radio Wales contributed a round-up of 2018 (also below, 2nd January) that signed off by saying that nothing had been resolved. “The nature of the public debate continuously throws a light on a topic that I think is more important than the others that speaks to Wales as a country, not just the bubble of the theatre community. What is Wales? How should Wales represent itself and how should we best serve its culture and artists?”

The invisibility of Wales is a long-standing theme of Ed Thomas, declared with gusto at many a public forum. The same word occurs in the Showcasing Report (below 9th February) “When asking about the shortcomings in Wales, the most commonly cited failing was its invisibility in the field.” Nick Stradling wrote for Nation Cymru on 11th February an article on film that had the headline “While Wales remains invisible on the silver screen no one will know who we are.”

Gareth Leaman wrote for Wales Arts Review 26th January about “a perfect summation of “official Welsh culture” at present: no real representation of ourselves on screen; a superficial idealisation of the natural landscape; exploitation of crumbling socio-political structures. Wales as a hyper-real netherworld in which decaying infrastructure can only be used as props to tell other people’s stories.” None of this permeated the report from the Culture and Language Committee, whose proceedings were reported on at the time (below 18th October 2017, 21st and 24th February.)

Organisations, like individuals, are made of values in tension. They best reveal themselves in their fissures. The foremost fissure is the one that is unaddressed, hierarchy versus network, the two modes by which our species organises itself and its activities. Government is the first, the arts the second.

The second is that art is stochastic, in that the inputs are certain but the outcomes random. Its surging spirit is Dionysus rather than Apollo. If the arts were to have a designer it would be a Gaudi rather than a Palladio. The arts are a chaotic system. That is not meant in the colloquial sense of disorder as a disparagement. The term is descriptive as used in system theory, encompassing both order and unpredictability.

An example in Wales is Tim Price's “the Radicalisation of Bradley Manning.” In England, Nicholas Hytner observed: “If the enemies of arts subsidy had seen two actors walking in a circle with cardboard boxes on their heads pretending to be horses at the taxpayer’s expense they would have had a field day.” That tentative work-out went on to earn the theatre £30,000,000.

The third example of values-in-tension is the lack of confidence in the arts expressed widely by those in authority. So the proceedings included testimony from Yvonne Murphy “My experience of the support out there for culture and arts organisations is that it does not understand the sector...Business Wales does not fit or meet the needs or requirements of the cultural arts sector... We are being seen as a sector that can sort out poverty, education, health, and, oh, can you make some great art, and take you on an overseas visit as well to promote Wales?”

The intrinsic nature of art-making, network versus hierarchy, the elevation of secondary values over the primary goal: none of these issues filtered into the Committee's work. The follow-up piece will seek to interpret why.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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