Theatre in Wales

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Drama- Or Not- in Wales

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Carl Tighe's Critique , Theatre of Wales , June 23, 2020
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Carl Tighe's Critique Commentators on the theatre of Wales are few. For a period Jeni Williams wrote regularly and cogently. She had a platform in New Welsh Review which had for a while a theatre supplement. Fifteen megabytes of writing can be read on this site, New Welsh Review being the fifth-from-last item on the menu to the left. The writings of long-term, and paid, critic David Adams can be read in summary in the link below 15th April 2019.

Carl Tighe, in memory below 7th June, was active in the theatre of Wales in the pre-digital age. His legacy is unique in a body of commentary that combines observation of detail, critical trenchancy and a writerly gift for telling phraseology.

Thus of a play-writing competition of weight that attracted no winner: “Ninety percent were written by retired English gentlefolk of the ‘Look-you’ school, while the other ten percent were by overseas Welshmen salving their consciences in a syrupy linctus of aberrant mythology.”

Tighe's “New Writing in Wales” is a synoptic 9300 words in length. Available to a present-day readership it has been divided into its main parts. It can be read in full on the Commentary section of this site June 1st to 9th.

Should writers of today feel discouragement at plays unread here is a reminder of another era: “A script of 30-40 pages may now cost an author up to £10 in photocopying charges, and it is not pleasant to think this is money down the drain.”

Cumulatively Carl Tighe paints a picture that is far from the theatre of the recent era. Authors are there for truth and myths are good for demolition. So “Under Milk Wood”, banned by the BBC in Wales, was produced on stage in America, Edinburgh and London, before it ever received a production in Wales.

The aspiration for theatre is set high:

“Theatre is one of the ways in which a nation is responsible for itself, its history and its future.” The period gets its summing-up: “Without doubt there is a deep and worrying conservatism at almost every level of Welsh theatre.” “Much of what has passed across the stage in Wales in the fifteen years has been frankly irrelevant to the lives of the people who live here.”

Intentions are good but results are odd: “The appointment of a playwright to the post of writer in residence at Clwyd, with a specific brief to foster new work, seemed cause for rejoicing at the time. However, just over a year later, with the post vacant again, it seems nothing much had changed after all.

“One writer sent a script to Clwyd, received an enthusiastic response, was then told the script had been lost, that it had been found, that it was scheduled for production, then that the production had been dropped and finally that the script had not even been read yet and that a writer in residence was no longer employed by the Theatre. It is not possible to say what went wrong, but the net gain would seem to be zero.”

As for the content “English language theatre in Wales has relied on English theatre and English plays. That is the quandary. Until we come to terms with the idea that a Welsh National Theatre company must be founded on the bedrock of good theatre writing by playwrights in Wales, the whole effort is little more than a cosmetic exercise of no substance at all."

The word ecology is not used but Tighe, a playwright, understands context and its dearth:.

“The way out of the situation lies not necessarily in simply producing more new plays, but in the more difficult task founding and rooting a tradition of theatre writing where none existed before, in the creation of an infrastructure whereby playwrights in Wales may grow, experiment and develop.

“Playwrights like all writers, work within a tradition. Their work stands in relation to what has been written before and the audience it has created. The history of theatre in Wales, or rather the lack of such a history, thus leaves the contemporary playwright with a wide variety of problems, and, in spite of the risks, it is as well to articulate the knotty and contentious puzzles that arise."

And he does not gloss over the issue of quality.

“Writers, but playwrights especially, can only improve if they have an outlet for their work. The reluctance of the theatres leads to an unfortunate and crippling circle of failure: playwrights often write badly because they lack experience; they lack experience because Welsh theatres are reluctant to get involved in new work unless there is a guarantee that it will be a success; because they cannot gain experience, the playwrights cannot improve the quality of their work; they remain inexperienced, they don’t improve, they don’t gain employment and the theatres feel fully justified in staging Scandinavian, English, even Hungarian works."

He was in Wales to see the building of Clwyd, the Torch, Theatr y Werin, the Sherman.

“Since the modern Welsh theatres were built in the 1970s, there has been a large scale failure to create an audience for new work. Even now, with well established audiences for the classics and the standard examination texts, there is still a general reluctance o break new ground. In the 1970s the factor that the planners and campaigners for Welsh theatre left out of the calculations was what exactly would go into these buildings. And that is precisely the factor that is missing from all talk of a Welsh National Theatre. A National Theatre must have something distinctive to say for itself – preferably something that is unique. A National Theatre must have good quality writing. Without playwrights there can be no Welsh National Theatre.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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