Theatre in Wales

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National Theatre- a Summary

National Theatre: Comment

Summing Up National Theatre , the Arts of Wales , December 28, 2015
National Theatre: Comment by Summing Up National Theatre A summary article on national theatre appears below 8th September. My last line is personal. “The National Theatre of Wales has brightened my life.”

The company has a presence: “the legacy of John McGrath is that the company has an identity. But its second artistic director comes to an institution that not only has a track record but one that is interesting and itself.”

But the retrospective summary has a caution. “That does not mean that its all and every action need be divinely brilliant, no more than those of a human being need be. But the company is there, to be wondered at, to be applauded more often than not, to be argued over at times.”

The company has vulnerabilities. Corporate cultures reveal themselves in how they talk about themselves. Linguistically the company has separated itself from theatre, preferring the term “project” over “production.” It has not achieved a show that is national in the sense that the nation has had common experience of it.

There is management inattention in not sticking to theatre. It has a follower in the Guardian but has maintained a distance from critical response in Wales. It asserts the producer view over the consumer view. It parades every action and production as perfection. This helps nobody, least of all the company. It is not the way the universe works, variation being the condition for dynamism.

One other reviewer has attempted a synoptic look. An article in Planet 205 “Performing Wales” dealt substantially but not exclusively with the national theatre. It is a substantial piece, over 3500 words, and the author is Dylan Moore, like myself a beneficiary of the company's New Critics scheme in its opening year.

Moore opens in Kerala, a guest at a literary festival organised by Wales Literature Exchange, the British Council and Wales Arts International. He looks back to a 2012 conference held by the Association for Welsh Writing in English titled “Performing Wales: Theatre, Art, Identities.” He recapitulates the issue of definition once art is outside the Fro.

“Is the piece of work about Wales? Set in Wales? If not, what is it that makes it Welsh? Does merely having been created by a person from Wales or living in Wales make it Welsh? And does any of this really matter? Historically, the challenge has been to get noticed.”

Moore notes that the most regular authority cited at the conference was inevitably Gwyn Alf Williams. He notes the prestige competitions: Cardiff International Poetry Competition, Cardiff Singer of the World, Artes Mundi, the Dylan Thomas Prize. But with a caution: “it soon became clear that throwing money around and inventing prestige was not necessarily the way to attract attention to our own arts scene, nor did it lead necessarily to selecting and curating the very best from abroad.”

And so to national theatre, a mention of some of the first year roster albeit uncritically: “theatre as art installation (“the Weather Factory”), theatre as game-play (“the Beach”).” Neither ran for long, were in far-off places and thus received no critical response. And the old shibboleth: “check the website. National Theatre is a community.” Not so. It is a corporation.

His summary of the Year of Thirteen: “In a sense, all the productions were ghost stories. There was an emphasis on summoning up the past, from the nostalgic reminiscences of miners' institutes and workingmens' clubs in “A Good Night Out in the Valleys”, through the abandoned stacks of Swnasea's Old Library in “Shelf Life”, to the chapels that have become pound shops in “For Mountain, Sand and Sea” at Barmouth.”

As for the close of the long article Moore and I part company. Criticism lives from the eye applied close-up. I have small trust in the view from the helicopter. Thus I am unconvinced by the conclusion. “But there's more to this new immersive brand of theatre. Nationality itself is a performance; that much is true everywhere, in Hay-on-Wye or Hay-in-Kerala; in the Brecon Beacons or Port Talbot or Edinburgh. In Wales, now that we have the means, we are rediscovering- and, yes, remaking- ourselves. The country is being refashioned politically and reimagined culturally. Community is at its heart. All of us- if we want to be- can be part of the performance.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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