Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

When the Arts Council Went to the House of Commons

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Carl Tighe on Dramatic Storm , Theatre History of Wales , June 26, 2020
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Carl Tighe on Dramatic Storm “History is just one thing after another.” That was the line Alan Bennett gave Rudge, one of his History Boys, with a spicy adjective added. The playwright borrowed the line from the great historian Herbert Butterfield who put it as “history is one bloody thing after another.”It is, but it is also subject to recurrence. Theatre in Wales seems to operate on a public storm every eighteen years.

The tempests of 1999 into 2000 passed me by at the time. The history shows a storm of remarkable rage. The Western Mail, 17th December 1999, reported a peer calling for resignations in Cardiff.

An arts venue chief lodged a case for libel in the High Court.

An Open Letter to the Arts Council, 26th January 2000, was signed off “yours despairingly”.

“We have given advice, pleaded, protested, cajoled, shouted ourselves hoarse and all but gone down on bended knees to beg you to stop what you are doing.”

Blaenau Gwent's MP intervened: “I think it was decided beforehand who was going to be successful and they then adjusted the scores to fit their prejudices. Someone has got a lot of explaining to do.”

To read about it now decades later the level of rancour is vivid.

The cause was a leaked document. In another decade another leaked document raised another storm.

It is another era, pre-digital, so that a hunt reveals nothing. Carl Tighe was there to file his report as an activist for the Theatre Writers Union. It may be read on the Commentary section 25th June.

Its essence: a man from the inner circle with no background in theatre gets a knighthood and an arts chairmanship for his retirement. He forms an inner circle and pays no heed to his own officers. The plan to reduce theatre across Wales meets opposition.

The Welsh Association of Performing Artists and Equity protest. “Equity”, wrote Tighe, “estimated that the plan would result in 50% job losses for actors and TWU calculated that it would result in 50% job losses for actors and TWU calculated that it would mean a 95% reduction in work opportunities for playwrights in Wales.”

“The paper was titled “Priorities into Practice”...the demonstration and the attendant furore all led to the setting up of a House of Commons Inquiry into the workings of the WAC by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs...Not only does the document provide useful insight into the fiasco of last summer, but also provides some revealing glimpses into the Welsh arts bureaucracy.”

In the Palace of Westminster:

“After a shaky start before the Committee, WAC just about managed to pull together a creditable performance. By the end of the show WAC had begun to shape up as a troupe of honest, well-meaning chaps, much maligned in the press and misunderstood by clients.”

“However, a number of serious questions remain:

Just who is the WAC accountable to? How does WAC decide and administer its artistic criteria?

What is WAC's relation to the community it is supposed to serve?”

Carl Tighe's account in Commentary section or at:

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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