Theatre in Wales

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The View from Row K- Cheer and Celebration, Dance and Song

The Other Room: the First Five Years

Wales Theatre Awards 2016 , Sherman Theatre , February-01-16
The Other Room: the First Five Years by Wales Theatre Awards 2016 The Wales Theatre Awards is the theatre community in gathering. This last Saturday of January is a particular time of year. The seasonal shows have been cleared away, there are rehearsals a-plenty at work but the first quarter shows and tours have yet to begin. If there are actors, composers, designers, directors sufficient to fill the Sherman there are always exceptions. It is a nice irony that the hosts themselves are not present to step up on to their own stage. The reason, says presenter Nicola Heywood-Thomas, is the very best there could be. Rachel O’Riordan and Sophie Melville, winners both, are a hundred and twenty miles away on the South Bank.

A declaration of interest; my own presence is not disinterested, being one of the three dozen across Wales whose views-literally- have merged to arrive at the selections. In the two previous Januarys I have had a short once-in-a year-only stint on the platform. But 2015 was different. I saw a goodish proportion of Wales’ theatre output but missed many of the productions that filtered through to their status as worthy of acclaim. These would have been unchanged had the wheels of the proverbial bus knocked me out of the process entirely. I am just a viewer, mid-way along Row K, come for the show.

And it is a show, with a touch of the impresario in the organising. Reviewers are not entirely mole-like creatures in the dark, the eunuchs in the seraglio, in Alan Bennett’s metaphor. The evening opens with dance from Faith Prendergast, Daniel Whiley and Karl Fargerlund-Brekke of Sweetshop Revolution. The second half opens with Angharad Morgan singing Puccini to piano accompaniment by Rhiannon Pritchard. The choice for the closing is inspired. A whole bevy of young singers from RWCMD’s opera course joins in a multi-part fugue from Verdi’s “Falstaff.” It is not just the work of a master from a late and great age but performance filled with the joy of doing it.

The tone is set from the start. “Is it 2015 or 2016?” bellows a voice from mid-auditorium. The volume and clarity suggest it is the voice of an actor. The presenters handle this enquiry with tact, precision and professionalism. Indeed, it is not a concept of great complexity. Yes, the event is taking place in 2016 but it is not the intention of the organisers that awards be handed out to work that is yet to be performed. The qualifying period is December 2014-November 2015. Thus “Saturday Night Forever” comes in just too late for consideration. It is for “Arabian Nights” rather than “the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” that Alun Saunders steps on stage to receive its award in Rachel O’Riordan’s absence.

It emerges that the 2015 Awards of a year back occasioned an article in print. The presenters have themselves some fun with it. A writer in 2016 should step with care. The key to maturity, it is said, is to marry the wisdom of the adult with the freshness and the enthusiasm of the child. The presenters set the tone. It is one of authority, derived from long professional experience, but deployed with lightness. Like all involved they are there on a Saturday night in the conviction that truth in art is not subservience to those who hold the fattest public relations budget. Media professionals also know how to use the right words. Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis are recipients of the last award, their second of the evening. The presenters’ words that follow are carefully and accurately chosen.

There are other absences of significance beside the company of “Iphigenia in Splott.” Terry Hands’ award for the lighting of “Hamlet” is received by Lee Haven-Jones. Bizzy Day is a name so great it should be copyrighted. She is part-architect in 2015 of the work that took best production, best director, best male actor and best English-language playwright. Producers matter. A year ago the similarly young producer for “Hiraeth” stood on the Sherman stage silent behind her performer-creator front-person. It is just a year but Bizzy Day is a presence who matters in the theatre of Wales.

The Chapter representative took time to applaud the Other Room for its award in London, just the night before, for Fringe Venue of the Year. A reviewer who gets to see something every week develops an ear for the fine gradations of audience response. The applause for the Other Room of course has artistic respect in it. But it has that extra too. It is the same as that for Theatr Pena or for Eddie Ladd, that dimension of warmth that is a community expressing affection. Karen Young was allowed a snippet of television time on Christmas Eve and she got it absolutely right. Theatre’s big stories of the year are a movable feast but 2015 was the year for Cardiff. It was the Sherman and the Other Room that did it. In that sense the deliberations of the thirty-six probably do speak for the community of makers whose art they see.

When Emma Rice took on the leadership of the Globe a few months back she issued, to splutterings in the press, a forthright statement as to her intentions on gender balance. This counting has not been done before. Of the productions that made the nominations lists in this year’s theatre categories two-thirds had directors who were women. Maybe there are other countries where this has happened. The best revolutions are the ones that happen so quietly that no-one notices.

There are issues of gravity on theatre’s future which deserve to be looked at in another place. For this occasion there is many a moment to remember. I like the elderly gentleman with walking stick who rises to his feet with a roar of acclamation for an award, which is to his liking. Taking Flight gather to receive their Best Ensemble Award with a few words that their director is in the foyer. If it sounds a little casual the reason is apparent in her late hurried on-stage appearance. There are infants of many a size but Elise Davison’s companion is of a tininess that suggests a very recent arrival.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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