Theatre in Wales

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Three Points On National Theatre

National Theatre: Comment

National Theatre Wales- Storm 1 , Pafiliwn Pontrhydfendigaid , April 8, 2018
National Theatre: Comment by National Theatre Wales- Storm 1 The article a week back made some comments on the national company visiting Ceredigion. Its last line read “So it was not about us, who actually live here.” Beyond the specifics of this particular production itself there are some general points that suggest themselves. The first of these is the aesthetics behind it.

In the major galleries now it is common to be offered headphones to accompany a tour of the rooms. I always decline the offer because I do not want information. I am there for the unmediated attention to what an artist has undertaken. At a performance event I have worn headphones on an occasion. It was a fussy, shallow experience where the makers' prime interest was novelty. If I am out for an evening it is because I have sought the apperception of actors and designers directly.

But there is a second aspect. Performance is about audience, being a part of an entity larger than the self. Apperception of those around, that commonality of felt experience, is a part of it. Headphones, that make for a myriad of privately located experiences, reduce that commonality of experience.

The second issue is as to who a production is for. It was certainly not the subject matter that determined my absence. One of the great pieces of my last few years had darkness for its subject. “Going Dark”, from Fuel and Sound & Fury, was reviewed in February 2012, opening with a look too the night.

“The night sky has a long tradition in fiction. Saul Bellow used it for the climax of his “the Dean’s December.” On stage, its immanence and fascination have been used, wonderfully, by dramatists from Shakespeare in “the Merchant of Venice” to Thornton Wilder in “Our Town.” George Furth made it the end, or the beginning, of his book for “Merrily We Roll Along.”.“The night reveals what the day hides” ran a line in Hattie Naylor’s script. Certainly it was sheer, and blissful, theatre.

A current that runs through the national company is how regularly it yearns not to be theatre. We are far from the spirit of John McGrath (the 7:84 McGrath) that animated the first production. See below 3rd May 2010. The promotion for this production declared it to be “poetic” and “cinematic.” The second word is simply the wrong one. The art of cinema is the art of the edit. This production, at least by the Wales Arts Review description, was precisely the opposite.

Whether the promotion for “Storm 1” brought in much of an audience from Ceredigion- as distinct from followers from Cardiff- is not to be known. But the production followed another pattern that is familiar. A critic of Wales, Gary Raymond (see below 18th February), was lukewarm, managing to credit the show as “honourable failure”. But the Guardian was also there and gave it four stars.

This is not to fault the reviewer, who is an admirable writer. But she is a visitor in Bont from a distance. The London critics do not look to the audience make-up, the near-certain paucity of people from the county, nor to the cost implication of so few performances, nor to how it fits with national theatre for Wales and the many who long campaigned for its realisation.

But the makers, and the wider arts management in Cardiff, get their endorsement. However, the two factors are connected. The playing for praise from visitors from England, and the validation it brings, is not a feature of Scotland's national theatre. The leaning to English critics, and the general preference for directors from England, links directly to the first observation. That it is not about us in Ceredigion at all.

The Guardian at Storm 1 can be read at:

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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