Theatre in Wales

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Why Living 100 Miles from Cardiff Is Indispensable for Criticism

On Criticism & Critics

Critical Writing , The Arts in Wales , October 1, 2019
On Criticism & Critics by Critical Writing The last quarter of the year has begun. It is the last quarter too of my writing on performance in, of, or about Wales. As such, it is a time to attempt some summings-up of what it is all for. This first topic seems the most obvious.

“Oi!” ran the cry from the side of a busy road. This was a few years back. It did not happen often and was even more unexpected given where I was. I was in Cardiff, a city where I am usually a stranger. The shouter-of-”Oi” was instantly recognisable. The cry came from a theatre director, around a long time, regarded with respect, and well liked personally.

I send a few Christmas cards, not many. In fact the number of recipients is exactly the score that social scientists predict for my age and circumstance. The number is not large and not one of the recipients makes, or has ever attempted to make, a living from the arts. My conversations with those who do attempt such a life-course happen, not frequently but from time to time. But the conversations are always brief, a couple of minutes the norm.

So too it was that time in Cardiff. “I read your review of...” began the shouter from across the road. We were by then standing on the same side. There is no point in recalling what the review was about, except that it had been a thing of large cost and an object of adoration by the Welsh establishment- it was not the National Theatre of Wales.

“You write what we all think”, said my pavement companion, “but no-one ever says.” And that was it. A few words of thanks from me and “what are you working on next?” The usual two minutes were swiftly up and we went our different ways.

Roll forward eight years and I was on a public platform in the spring of 2019. It does not happen very often, only the fifth time in a dozen years of critical writing. My host on this occasion had kind words to say about the legacy. To which I had a reply. If the writing had any value, it came about owing to one condition.

The accumulated word-count on this site is equivalent to “War and Peace”, plus half as much again. Every word was typed out a hundred miles distant from Cardiff. Or not quite- some were written on the train, as it laboured its one hour and fifty minutes to do the sixty-five miles to Carmarthen. If the land between Teifi and Dyfi were not my locale, the reviews would not have been as they are.

I hardly ever enter Chapter and when I do- perhaps once a year- I see clumps of part-recognised faces deep in conversation. If I were a Canton resident I would gravitate towards the place with a buzz to it. Part-recognition would turn to familiarity and then most likely beyond.

Friendship is the highest of human values. It trumps frankness. Indeed a feature of friendship is that affection usually precludes candour. There is an exception in those few long-lasting and deep friendships. But we are more often hedgehogs, rather scared of intimacy. But criticism without candour is a weakened being. It is evasive and periphrastic. I can read these qualities in the few review platforms that exist in the south. Distance is beneficial.

The benefits of distance can be seen in the other platforms that have a bite to them. The politics of Nation Cymru are strident but they have a point of view. The writing has a pizazz to it for which a location in Bangor must help. Likewise Jac 'o' the North may be objectionable on many counts. But he conducts laborious single-minded, probably obsessive, forensic journalism that no official media embark on.

I reported on a theatre event at Glynllifon in 2012, “Eich Parc, Eich Dweud!” Abdul Shayek was at the helm and did a good job. Glynllifon ought by rights to be a place of glory and in 2019 is shuttered and ruined. It takes a critic, and one who cares, to provide the explanation.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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