Theatre in Wales

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Boosting Writers and Writing: South

Why Homemade Theatre Matters

Drama of and for Wales , Sherman Theatre 2020 , February 10, 2020
Why Homemade Theatre Matters by Drama of and for Wales “Wales doesn't export enough to the world.”

That was Graeme Farrow of the Wales Millennium Centre on Radio Wales' Arts Show January 31st.

Sometimes things come together. A week before, Radio Wales' first Review Show of 2020 was discussing comedy in general and television's “the Tuckers” in particular.

One of the critics took a firm view; it was not enough for TV comedy of Wales to be good enough for Wales. It should compete with the best on network television.

And beyond. I remember an encounter with a software engineer from Bavaria. He asked me whether I knew a television series called “Matthias.” It took a short while to realise that “Hinterland” had ironically not transferred to German direct but had had its title changed. He told me it had a cult following among the tech crowd.

This ambition is welcome. But then I am a writer who uses phrases like the theatre of Wales suffering a balance of payments deficit. A stream of author royalties go eastward. This ought to be at the heart of discussion of cultural policy; somehow I doubt whether it gets onto an agenda. Whether “the Tuckers” is funny or not for a home audience is one aspect. The second is how much overseas sales it earns.

The brio and spirit of announcements for 2020 from the Sherman cheer. It also puts right an absurd anomaly. The theatre of Wales has not a strong literary manager since the policy wrecking ball sent the admirable Bill Hopkinson packing, the culture of Liverpool being the beneficiary.

A thumbs-up then for:

“Joe Murphy will lead on Sherman Theatre’s desire to embed a literary department at the Sherman to further enrich the canon of Welsh plays and to ensure a more diverse range of voices are heard in Welsh theatre. Sherman Theatre is actively seeking support to make this plan a reality.”

An export-orientated theatre culture needs robust and transferable home-grown product. (A theatre company of Wales has been playing a European capital since the beginning of the year. The critical notices have been good. Audiences and critics all done by a self-starting company- naturally that means not the slightest interest from the Cardiff media.)

More initiatives from the Sherman matter:

“Sherman Youth Theatre continues to develop the theatre makers of the future. 2019 has been a hugely successful year for Sherman Youth Theatre which has seen a highly regarded production of Ageless by Benjamin Kuffuor for the National Theatre Connections Festival and a hugely popular and irresistible staging of The Bangers and Chips Explosion in the summer.”

This sounds good:

“The Sherman’s “Unheard Voices” programme for writers will ensure that unheard voices become heard and that new writing in Wales is more reflective of its diverse range of voices. Each year Sherman Theatre will champion the voices of a different group. The first year of the programme will be dedicated to connecting, inspiring and empowering an all-female group of writers. The group is open to any Welsh or Wales-based female playwright.”

There are not enough women dramatists in Wales, although 2019 at Edinburgh was encouraging.

Writing for performance is a long game and a demanding craft.

“The Sherman’s “Introduction to Playwriting” initiative aiming to introduce young people aged 15-18 to writing for the stage will continue in 2020. Playwrights Branwen Davies and Matt Hartley will continue to support the participants.”

I saw Matt Hartley's “Deposit” in 2015; the participants are in good hands.

Political theatre is structurally weak. A state needs to have some politics as a prerequisite for a theatre about politics. The most interesting co-production is the Sherman with Theatre Uncut. Lisa Parry's “the Merthyr Stigmatist” was short-listed for Theatre Uncut’s 2019 Political Playwriting Award in which the Sherman was a partner.

Lastly, amidst the fog about theatre and its public engagement the Sherman 5 Programme does stuff. People who don't usually see plays see plays. The programme continues, made possible by the award of a More and Better grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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