Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Lessons from a Critical Year

On Criticism & Critics

My Critical 2019 , Theatre in Wales , January-12-20
On Criticism & Critics by My Critical 2019 A year ago, January 7th 2019, I wrote a piece headed “the Wrap Begins”. It comes across with hindsight as stylistically ponderous and rambling. The lack of an editor here is not good. But it is well-intended with three themes at its heart. One is the hazard of repetition; the path from repetition to inducing tedium is short. A theme that is over-aired is coverage of the arts. A year ago: “chunks of the culture of Wales still go unrecorded. A proportion of artistic activity takes place, unknown to any beyond the makers and participants.” “Mae dim byd yn wedi newid” ran the heading of another piece written on Mayday.

Another theme is advertising. I like advertising. At least I like it when it is freshly composed, informative and purposeful. I care little for half-alive phrasing that is just reheated cliche. I dislike purported trailers that are put out on Youtube and are content-free. I like companies with a sense of purpose and I like companies which think that theatre is for audiences. Christmas Eve to New Year is holiday and, true to form, my inbox on New Year's Eve was empty.

Except for one email.

There was the Other Room with a big bold statement. Some might think it brash- to talk numbers might even be undecorous, even un-Welsh. Well, I am a theatre-goer not a grant-supplicant. I go out to see theatre, not pious on-message palliatives, and I like it. Without repeating the full message, and the tone of exuberance, some of it read:

“3 Brand new plays in violence series/ 36 Participants in our Young Artists Festival/133 Performances/ 17 Productions/ 36 pieces of new work in development staged as part of Seen and other dedicated events/ 7 R&D's hosted in TOR by independent artists/ over 200 artists worked with/ Over 3,400 audience members in Wales etc”

There is an element in TQM that suggests emulating Best-in-Class. Culture funding in Wales could benefit from more application and rigour of TQM measures. The Other Room kicked off 5 years back with small cash but a big aim at least to have the best customer and communications platform in Wales. So too it was in 2019.

As a converse of openness a press article stated in mid-year that the Sherman six years ago was operating on 28% of capacity. That is a shocking figure, and so makes it hardly surprising that Cardiff City pulled its £161,000. What is revealing is that it was published in a London newspaper, the Standard. Whether it is true or not cannot be known. There is not a breath to be heard in Cardiff's media. Sam Marlowe is a writer to be reckoned with. Her verdict was declared: “the Sherman had completely lost its way.”

That was not quite the party line put out here that thought: “Sherman Cymru remains a leading producing house within the cultural landscape of Wales and the UK.”

It is a view. It is also a view that uncritical rehashing in the media here of what boards put out is not a good way to get a culture of vibrancy. And it is not the way it is done anywhere else.

(This site has recorded the Sherman over the period since. The Standard gave the rise in seat capacity sold as 28% in 2013 to 70% in 2018).

A skim back through the pages of my critical year has yielded a surprise or two. Articles on general topics have proved more popular than reviews of productions themselves. “Grav” in London was not surprisingly the most popular show. But the tribute to Keith Morris received more readers. So too did the piece on having no friends in the arts, October 1, which was put together without much preparation. I am surprised at the interest shown when I revisited David Adams and what he was saying in 2003.

All of which suggests there is an interest in broader pieces beyond individual reviews, and thus an incentive to continue when an interesting topic suggests itself.

Postscript: the Sherman issued a press release November 15th 2019. It comprises seven pages and is complete and compendious. Above all it is written for the general reader and is stripped of industry jargon that bedevils purported public communications elsewhere.

As a best-in-class template it should be emulated.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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