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National Theatre: Comment

Putting the Voices Together , Culture of Wales , February 1, 2019
National Theatre: Comment by Putting the Voices Together It is apparent by now that the content of the letter of 18th September is set to be left unaddressed in the state-funded culture of Wales.

It is left to online commentators to express vexation and exasperation:

“The fact there aren't actually any productions might also be a problem. The front page consists of job/residency opportunities.”

“Given the subsidy and the tiny audiences for very few public performances it is possible that audience members would prefer the c £5,000 per bum on seat that some of us estimate NTW under its current incompetent management is costing.”

The Stage wrote:

“NTW currently receives £1.6 million per year from Arts Council of Wales. Figures supplied by the Arts Council show NTW attendance was a little over 3,000 in 2017/18, a significant decline on previous years."

The online comment may refer to another period. Since no figures are released in Wales for the public the subsidy per head may be out by a zero and closer to £500 per audience member.

Responding to the letter, a statement from NTW said:

“National Theatre Wales is aware of a letter addressed to the chair of our board...much of the letter’s content is factually incorrect."

“A spokesman for ACW said that it respected the views of those raising questions over NTW and welcomed a debate."

The company had no intent to reveal these declared inaccuracies. The media in Cardiff had no interest in enquiry.

The Arts Council of Wales, which pays the £500 a head, had no intention of comment. The writers who spoke did not want a debate. They wanted action and change. Neither of the Chairmen, Company or Council, was going to do that.

Wales Arts Review on October 1st reflected in the course of reviewing the excellent rethought “Lord of the Flies”

“Currently, Arts Council Wales money going to NTW is subsidising audience members to the tune of around £5000 a head, and it is unimaginable that Harvey or O’Riordan would be afforded such luxuries with their grants from the public purse.”

The Council's public position remains: “NTW has sought to explore what theatre is and can be.” That is of not the slightest interest to the actual citizens and audiences.

The Council's own handbook for presenting companies talks of “producing and presenting a year-round programme of high quality arts activity that achieves high levels of attendance and participation.”

The National Company is non-compliant.

On fiduciary responsibility: “It’s a public responsibility, and public accountability is hard-wired into the Arts Council’s organisational DNA. It’s why we take our stewardship of public funds so seriously.”

The Council takes a critical position.. “And the timely production of “We’re Still Here” did exactly what NTW is there to do – putting relevant, challenging work at the heart of national events.”

False. It challenged nothing.

The nobbling of the regulator is one condition but it is in itself insufficient for the unaccountability of the company. The role of the media has been crucial. BBC Wales in its matey culture does theatre infrequently. Over the last ten years over half of its features on theatre have concerned the National Theatre.

Not once has it sought to offer a review. From the onset it has effectively taken a position of advocate and advertiser. The presence of television executives at the Chair may or may not have influenced editorial policy. The public is not to know.

Again the online commentators took a view. 4th October:: “perhaps one of the problems at NTW is the make-up of the board? Of the eleven, at least two are English, one lives in England, five spent their entire career in England - one with organisations such as English Heritage and Historic England...”

Another condition permits the situation. An oversight committee exists in the Senedd. Its disadvantage is that it too is loth to speak on anything that ruffles.

The best explanation can be seen in another context. In Wales Online Sept 24th 2010 Andrew Davies, Swansea AM, was reported addressing the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action conference:

“Accountability is not an “add-on, or part of a tick-box process…Effective scrutiny can help restore public confidence in the democratic process by engaging the community…In a small country like Wales where “everybody knows each other” and a culture of “cosy consensus” can militate against robust challenge...In my experience, too often our citizens are only marginally involved- if they are involved at all- and in a very formulaic way, through formal consultations and frequently after decisions have been made.”

Look at the contrast with Scotland. Type in Government of Scotland Arts or paste.

“https://www.gov.scot/policies/arts-culture-heritage/annual-culture-funding/”

Scroll down to https://www.gov.scot/publications/annual-report-five-scottish-national-performing-companies-april-2016-march/

See the difference in how government communicates with nation.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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