Theatre in Wales

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Critical Spice From a Year of Small Cheer

Critical Christmas Cracker

Twelve Items of Sparky Comment , Culture of Wales & England , December 19, 2020
Critical Christmas Cracker by Twelve Items of Sparky Comment 2020 was the year when all ceremony was foregone, from the Olympics to the Eisteddfod and every local choir.

With events gone so too most reviewing and critical comment. Although every bookshop was padlocked. publishing managed a kind of life.

Robbie Millen wrote pertinently on the subject of the Booker Prize for the Times:

“One can go from college to publishing without leaving the literary bubble...It has also turned literary activity into a group activity. God help us, it has made writers more collegiate, more homogenised, blander, more self-congratulatory, more supportive- shudder- nicer. Groupthink is the death of thought-stirring writing."

Millen echoed Graham Greene's “splinter of ice in the heart.”

“We need such writers to look at the world through a cold, gimlet eye, willing to put down on paper that unpleasant, truthful thing. We want them to be awkward, to be rude to chuck grenades. To say things that others won't say. To be the cat that walks alone.”

* * * *

With no performance it was a year of retrospection. I came across a speech that Harold Pinter gave on March 4th 1962. It was called “Between the Lines”:

“There are two silences. One when no word is spoken. The other when perhaps a torrent of language is being employed. This speech is speaking of a language locked beneath it...One way of looking at speech is to say it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.”

* * * *

Hanif Kureishi was once a guest on Radio 4's “Open Book”

“I teach creative writing and in the creative writing schools the one thing they don’t teach any of the students I notice is what a pain in the arse it is trying to be a writer and make a living for a long time. And it’s a real hustle.”

Khureishi also on the hazard of being friends with writers:

“Writers are like painters who tend to paint people around them. And often with no clothes on. It’s rather unfortunate for people at times…You can’t live in the world without sacrificing other people for something or other. And it’s too bad for them, isn’t it?”

* * * *

Pinter again. As a young actor Alan Ayckbourn dared to ask Harold Pinter for the backstory on his character. The response:

“Mind your own f***ing business. Concentrate on what’s there.”

* * * *

Nicholas Wright, a good playwright and a great literary manager, on persistence:

“Talent, in my view, nearly always makes itself apparent in a writer's earliest work. But skill and craft don't...Caryl Churchill, for example, wrote about ten plays for the theatre before her first was ever produced.”

* * * *

This appeared in the Arts Council's Corporate Plan so presumably they know what it means. I doubt if any general reader does.

“Where art sits in the world, ultimately that it is the baseline of creativity.”

* * * *

The life-breath of fiction is the tension of apposition. Saul Bellow in 1962, preferring Dostoyevsky over Lawrence, affirmed the necessity of getting oneself out of the way.

“The novel of ideas becomes art when the views most opposite to the author's are allowed to exist in full strength.”

* * * *

Richard Armitage in an interview headed “What I've Learnt” wryly observed a sure-fire rule of the actor's life:

“The best way to get a job is to book and pay for a holiday that is non-refundable. You will immediately get it.”

* * * *

Niall Griffiths got to review three European novels for Planet 240 explosively.

“Until the novels are published that boil with the rage and anguish of living within the Four Freedoms of the single market and the customs union let the truly subjugated have, at least, their particular agonies.”

* * * *

Tom Wentworth appeared in Get the Chance in November.

“Every play should be a combination of dark and light. You can say a lot about the fractured, difficult and tremulous state of the world in a comedy.”

* * * *

Tim Price also spoke for Get the Chance.

“There’s a reason England and the UK generate so much Intellectual Property that sells globally, it’s because of the culture and tradition of dramatic storytelling. To build a theatre culture without dramatic storytelling at its heart is to condemn us to perpetual marginalisation. There’s vehicle to take Wales to the world, and it’s dramatic stories. We shouldn’t be anxious about it.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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