Theatre in Wales

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Wales at Edinburgh Fringe

National Theatre Wales- Cotton Fingers , Summerhall, Main Hall , August-31-19
Wales at Edinburgh Fringe by National Theatre Wales- Cotton Fingers Three quotations.

Edinburgh is all-absorbing throughout August and press releases are few. But this one came through on 21st August from a Cardiff company with an update on a production.

“To date”, the release read, “it has been performed in 3 continents, 17 countries, 109 cities to over 20,000 people, and has been translated into 10 languages, including Chinese, Mandarin, Korean and Finnish. It will return to Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre for three nights this Autumn, before heading back out to tour across the globe.”

Three Weeks is one of Edinburgh's Fringe review publications: “If you only have time to see one show at the Fringe”, its reviewer once wrote, “it most definitely should be this one.”

And from the Scotsman: “Sometimes, a show appears on the Edinburgh Fringe that is so timely that it seems as though it must have been created yesterday.”

The first quotation is from Hijinx in 2019 about “Meet Fred.”. The company also played Edinburgh. The report below 13th August 2016 is headed "brilliant and hilariously devised adult puppet theatre"

The second and third quotations are taken from the last year National Theatre Wales played the Fringe. The feedback can be read below in the two reports from 2013.

So it should be. National Theatre is there to make an impact in the world of theatre. There is no debate about it. If it goes to the Fringe it should play the Traverse with a production to make an impact- as in 2011, 18th August, below. It goes out to scoop awards. As reminded 27th August its playwright won the first James Tait Black Award for Drama.

This is the twentieth production of Wales from the Fringe of 2019 to feature as a short-form critical compilation. The purposes are twofold. The first is that a record be held in one location. The second is that some of the Edinburgh listings publications do not maintain past records; searches may yield “404: Page Not Found” results.

The order of publication, commencing in the Fringe's first week, has been dependent on just one factor. The summaries required critical comment that could yield reposting. If this production is the twentieth the reason is that no reviewers were in attendance.

Eventually, on the final day of the Fringe, Sunday 25th, Broadway World published

“Aoife is nineteen years old and lives on a council estate in Northern Ireland. After a bored afternoon with her boyfriend Cillian, she discovers that she is pregnant and needs to look into her options.

“This piece from National Theatre of Wales is politically charged as it highlights how although the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal the 8th, abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland. Aoife has to travel to the UK for the procedure.

“Aoife is a tough and capable woman but Cotton Fingers shows that this isn't a light decision and she is deeply affected by it. Travelling alone and on an aeroplane for the first time, this fierce character seems incredibly vulnerable. Expertly played by Amy Molloy, Cotton Fingers makes for an emotional piece of theatre.

“Aoife's reasons for choosing not to have the baby are in part because of her sister who did have children young and is now unable to work. The play examines how poverty plays a part as "rich people have abortions and poor people have kids" because of the cost of travelling to have a termination.

“Cotton Fingers is a hard-hitting story which is sensitively told and beautifully performed.”

This reaction, and the favourable audience comments, is better than the feedback from Northern Ireland. The Guardian, uncharacteristically in its relation to the company, gave it two stars and signed off:

“Highlighting the fact that abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, it prompts the question of who this production is aimed at. By the final coda, a direct address on the implications of Brexit for the possibility of legislative change in Northern Ireland, Aoife seems to have slipped out of character into a public education broadcast.”

The production of 2019 is not the one that played its four performances in 2018. Its length, to its great advantage, is a third shorter. It is clearly a good enough production for the Fringe. But good enough can not be good enough for national theatre.

The other company production this year, below 19th August, is manifestly a winner. Alan Harris is most likely the draw, Dirty Protest having led the way two years ago, below 14th August 2017. And, it should be said, Dirty Protest operates on a vastly more advantageous cost structure in terms of public subsidy.

After ten years anything by the National Theatre of Wales ought to be a major event. 198`words of review written on the final day is not it. As below 22nd August the Unknown Theatre Company, a group of Cardiff teenagers, left a larger critical commentary in its wake.

The critical inattention is not an accident. The critic in Ireland poses a serious question as to who the company is for. But there is the issue of the advertising. The thumbnail in the Fringe Programme carries a lot of weight. The selling pitch in the Fringe Programme ran:

“Aoife's hungry and bored. Cillian makes a mean cheese toastie. As boredom and hunger are satisfied by half an hour in Cillian's bed, Aoife's life changes forever. As social and political upheaval grips her country, can Aoife regain control over her future?”

“Cotton Fingers” competed for attention with 3840 offerings. It had one feature that marked it out. It was the only production whose subject is the grotesque legislative position of women's rights in a part of our country. There was a huge audience of young people in Edinburgh waiting to be sold to.

Ironically the British Council got it right with their pitch in just 47 words.

“Cotton Fingers is a politically charged monologue written by Welsh author and playwright Rachel Trezise. It follows a young woman’s journey from Belfast to Cardiff to end her pregnancy. Since abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland in almost every circumstance, she travels to Wales for her termination.”

But no audience members trawl the British Council site to make their choices of what to see. The crucial window of the Fringe programme was thrown away, the promotion lacking in basic competence. This lacking in competence is not a first. A review from 2018, August 17th, ground on about a Welsh company opting for waffly words and failing to push a play's USP

“Cotton Fingers is presented as part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase 2019.”

Along with Mr and Mrs Clark it was selected not as a Welsh production but as one of thirty best-of-British. The Council preferred it over a James Tait Black Drama Prize nominee. That too is no accident. The company was created as a top-down act of government. The Wikipedia entry is a shameful travesty of facts. It has developed to a place where it has become government's faithful servant. This is an error, because publicly funded arts belong to civil society not the state. That “nation-” bit in the title is the giveaway.

These observations feel laborious in the reading. Nonetheless: there cannot be progress if rigour of thinking is absent. And candour is prerequisite for rigour.

The Guardian review at the Mac, Belfast can be read at:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/may/26/cotton-fingers-review-abortion-ban-travelogue-ends-painfully-mac-belfast

The reviews is taken, with thanks, from:

https://www.broadwayworld.com/scotland/article/EDINBURGH-2019-BWW-Review-COTTON-FINGERS-Summerhall-20190825

British Council description at

https://edinburghshowcase.britishcouncil.org/directory/artist/national-theatre-wales/2019

Four audience members have left favourable comments and can be read at:

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/cotton-fingers

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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