Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

One Year On

National Theatre: Comment

Nicholas Davies , The Stage , September-22-19
National Theatre: Comment by Nicholas Davies One year ago a small grenade detonated in the arts of Wales. It was small in one sense, in that theatre is an activity that belongs to a small number of people. But it was not small for the recipients, for whom it must have been horrible. There were twelve further interventions, across the board from different parties, over the seven weeks that followed.

One aspect went unmentioned. It seems harsh that a protest against management should be illustrated with an image of an actor. The actor is manifestly a decent figure, trying to make a living. Actors are different from management with their month-in, month-out pay, holidays and all the rest. It is not his fault that he was commissioned. If it were me I would not have liked it.

If the story is worth telling, it is worth telling in the full. As the anniversary rolled into view it went unnoticed by the Cardiff media. But the Stage in London went for it with a splash of a two-page feature. It is a pity, not because a national company should not be discussed, but because the good news of Wales, which is regular, goes little mentioned. National Dance may have got itself to Tokyo, but that is not interesting enough to be reported on.

The feature is in truth not great journalism. But it is all we have. There is predominantly a fact of omission. The forty writers put several points in their demands. (If a reminder is needed it is a click to the left on the News feed, a click on “2018” and scroll-down.) The demands were spun, quite successfully, as being a whine from writers who were not being commissioned.

But the fifth sentence had nothing to do with nationality; it was straightforwardly about public money and VFM- the issue of Value-for-Money being, at least in declaration, part of the quality framework of the funding body. The Stage too is participant in the spin.

The journalist cites a production number, but it is over-stated. Fact-checking matters. There is no attempt to review the activities that have taken place over the last twelve months. But the article has the benefit of primary sources. They do not feel like one-on-one interviews. Some are cut and paste summaries from statements elsewhere. Nonetheless some actual writers get to speak:

Katherine Chandler: “We [the signatories] met National Theatre Wales a couple of weeks after the letter and it was a positive meeting. NTW really wanted to open up the discussions to the wider theatre community, which they’ve done, and I think they’ve felt that’s been a positive thing.

“There is no literary department or equivalent in any theatre in Wales and I think that’s at the root of all sorts of unnecessary complications for writers. The recent appointment of an associate director at NTW [with responsibility for meeting playwrights about work and seed commissions] is a really positive step.”

Alun Saunders: “A letter of response was soon penned by NTW which misconstrued and misrepresented our discussions and points of suggestion. The narrative then became unconstructive and rather hostile. What seemed to follow NTW’s willing engagement with the creatives did not correspond to our initial points of discussion: that all shows produced by NTW have a Welsh or Wales-based artist as primary artist, that visiting artists and companies need to be world-class, and engaged only to support a Welsh or Wales-based artist, and that any show has to have theatre in it.

"We’re yet to see or hear any true commitment to – or honest discussion of – these three points. There’s not always an acknowledgement that there’s something that needs fixing. Whether NTW was correct in its artistic direction and commitments or not, I think that to have lost a positive working relationship with any portion of Wales’ creative community is a loss and should be constructively rebuilt. This may take some time.”

Tim Price: “Following the letters, the company started working closer with the artistic community [and] has begun to put things in place to secure its future. The company has worked tirelessly to turn things around. The staff of NTW is to be commended.”

Overall the feature is lacking in a sense of fullness. The writer seems to recognise this with a somewhat opaque sign-off sentence: “the next 12 months may prove to be as uncertain as the last.”

The full piece may be read at:

https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/2019/a-year-on-has-ntw-responded-to-welsh-theatremakers-criticisms/

For non-subscribers of the Stage it may be read on the newsfeed to the left.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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