Theatre in Wales

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Summing It Up: A Guide

Summing It Up

Summaries 1-9 , The Arts of Wales , June 14, 2020
Summing It Up by Summaries 1-9 The history of the world has pivoted. It is now in two parts; there is a Now and there was a Then.

The months of winter, beset with flood, are a time and a place that are far-off. Over the first 72 days of 2020 I saw ten performances. From them I wrote reviews of Music Theatre Wales and Mid Wales Opera on their tours to Aberystwyth. I interspersed these with summary pieces.

A lot of performance, a lot of books and quite a few visual artworks have come my way since 1991. I have been on and off at conferences and lectures. I have seen, heard and thrown questions at many public figures of Wales. On 27th February I saw and heard Mark Drakeford on a platform for an hour and half; in person he is a substantial figure. ("I have had one meeting with the Prime Minister and said there was a very real chance he would be the last one of the United Kingdom. Did he really want that to be his epitaph?")


In April the sequence of articles that attempted a summary of the years was paused. Personal factors led me to trawl the catalogue of past reviews and to sift the ones that most made their mark. The process occupied the mornings of the groundhog days of April into June. To revisit the articles from before is a journey that is familiar if far behind. But they seem right. The sequence is certainly discursive. That is a smarter way of saying rambling. But then “Tristram Shandy” rambles, but we read it still.

The content in the first nine articles runs:

5th January: Geography of Wales, Water and Culture.

“The histories of Tyneside and Taff-side have more factors in common that unite than separate them. But it is “Billy Elliot” that plays worldwide. Its Broadway gross is $183 million alone. There is no “Billy Evans” storming the world theatre.”

12th January: Migration

“All the peripheral territories of Europe are losing people...Wales cannot escape its demographic destiny. Cardiff has added 70,000 people in the last 20 years. Since 2014 five out of six new jobs have been created in Cardiff.”

19th January: The Sociology of Hill Countries.

“The downside of this disaggregation is a less fervid urban culture. There is no great novel of the city of Wales. The great urban novels are made in societies with lowlands with their higher stratification. There is no equivalent to Bellow's Chicago or Doeblin's Berlin or Jeff Torrington's Glasgow... The arts that conserve the status quo fare better than those of social and political critique. Drama has a tough time.”

31st January: History and Culture.

“The novel and the drama lack a richness of soil in which to flourish...theatre is the art of fissure. The lack of confidence within government in culture means that this is anathema. The mines of France got “Germinal”and the stockyards of Chicago got “the Jungle.” Readers of Wales do not get to read their equivalent.”

February 9th: Localism and the Politicisation of Culture

“This is art as political outreach, as the Arts Council subscribes to Welsh Government political strategies...In Wales, art now must contribute to education, to empowerment, to social mobility, or it is not worthy of subsidy from the public purse... This is noble, but also ignores the genius of the unintentional.”

February 16th: Nation & State

“The contrast with Jennie Lee as Minister for the Arts. “The situation is not like that here. The Government is overt. “The Arts Council’s aims should reflect Welsh Government policies.” But the arts are the domain of civil society. State is not nation.”

February 23rd: The Beneficiary Doctrine

“Organisations exist within an ecology. When internal complexity fails to mirror external complexity they judder; and worse...Organisations are artifices, teleological, formed to benefit certain people, specific and nameable...No organisation should serve more than one set of homogeneous set of intended beneficiaries- that is, the person or persons for whose benefit the organisation was originally formed or for whom it now exists should be unequivocally defined and limited to one set, class or category of people.”

February 29th: Confidence and Using the Right Words

“On March 6th 1940 The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts made a formal request to the Treasury for financial assistance. The language in the Memorandum was clear: its first clause committed the organisation to the “preservation in wartime of the highest standards in the arts of music, drama and painting”. To what purpose? That was equally clear. “The widespread provision of opportunities for hearing good music and the enjoyment of the arts generally.”

March 8th: The Fragility of Criticism in Wales

“Culture without Debate: A Welsh Malaise?” The truth is, there is a need for strongly refined responses to the arts and society, and these can be attuned by the critic, the expert. Remember that the role of the critic is not to tell you what to think, but is to challenge your ideas – give you the opportunity to reassess, to change your mind, to strengthen your position.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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