Theatre in Wales

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Lecturer Intervention Revisited

National Theatre: Comment

National Theatre , Culture of Wales , January 15, 2019
National Theatre: Comment by National Theatre “Maybe a truly National Theatre should aspire to reaching beyond creative arts lecturers. Just saying.”

That was a commentator online.

Last autumn writers, actors and directors took a view on the national theatre.

To small effect as the Board stood firm. The Arts Council sidestepped it and describing the critique as a debate.

The article below 17th November reported an intervention from a lecturer in England. The writer did not declare whether he had been put up to it by the company. The consensus was that he had.

The article here refuted the author's argument on three counts and closed with a promise to return to rebuttal. There are four salient factors.

The first is the posture regarding publication, remarkable for a writer who lays such importance on being within a university.

“Wales Arts Review seemingly have [sic] no shame for precipitating this by publishing that letter without critique or context”, he writes. “A little bit of research tells me that that in a number of respects that letter was as factually accurate as a Trump Twitter rant; and yet, it was published without context by WAR, taken at face value by The Guardian, The BBC, Equity, other artists, as well as a Hollywood actor, audiences...”

Like the Chairman the writer adopts a lordly position. He feels no need to inform his readers of those parts he believes inaccurate.

Dramatists of Wales- women and men who actually work within the arts- have in the teacher's telling no right to express a view. Wales Arts Review should have suppressed their letter. This pro-censorship stance is remarkable for a purported representative of a university.

A second point is the wilful irrelevance of the content. The letters to the Board were about the programming and the dearth of productions of now. The article evaded this and referred solely to the company of seven years ago.

Given the irrelevance of the content the treatment of the company at that time is itself contentious.

The company mission is not complicated; the clue lies in the name. National theatre does theatre for the nation. The article picks out four of the inaugural year's thirteen productions. They have one thing in common, the company turning away from Wales to provide material for theatre studies people.

No other national theatre cares a hoot about them. No other management has the slightest interest of narrowing its appeal to the tiny group of people who teach theatre studies. The events he selects have four things in common. They all had a mighty cost to audience ratio. They were poorly received critically. They ranked formal novelty over emotional content. All four were intrinsically designed to keep out audiences of Wales.

The third point is the quality of the writing. Wales Arts Review is a general publication aimed at the interested reader. The writer delivers stodge:

“If our national companies occupy a pre-eminent role in the cultural life of Wales, they do so only because they should represent a pinnacle in creative endeavour resulting from their interaction with a wide range of other talents, creators and creative producers in national life. We want to encourage this involvement so that it feels within and beyond the country, that the work of our nationals is ‘minted’ in Wales.”

This is so tortuous. A paragraph is required to note that theatre involves different people.

“It’s about relationships, enfranchisement and the right of the people of Wales to be able to experience equally, and in inclusive fashion, the best that the arts can fashion”

The whole point of the letter was that the company had abandoned theatre and was depriving the people of Wales of seeing any theatre at all.

“Any public discussion about the role and function of NTW needs to keep the plurality of the theatre-making experience in mind and be open to dialogue with the entire creative community in Wales, and its diverse and dispersed audiences.”

What the author means is anyone's guess. The argument, such as it is, is pitched in the main at the level of abstraction.

“The company’s productions act collectively and individually to decentralise and destabilise the very notion of Welsh national identity. The emphasis has been redirected away from the exclusive and divisive question of what it means to be Welsh, towards a more inclusive questioning of what it means to live, work and create in Wales in the second decade of the 21stCentury...proposed a collaborative questioning of place as an alternative way of exploring nation, language and history in Wales.”

Or in other words they put on shows in different places.

The shows themselves had no connecting tissue. As a real theatre personality said at the time “They stitch together a collection of locals and call it national.” Thus Michael Bogdanov.

Fourthly, the intervention comes without declaration of interest. The doctoral thesis, on which the author rests his authority to speak, says: “I had a company supervisor at NTW: John E McGrath.”

The relation of supervisor is one of great closeness. That the relationship goes unmentioned itself speaks.

As a piece of scholarship the “doctorate” is risible. Normal scholarship entails distinction between subject and object. Here the scholar is “a pedagogical dialogue partner.” The intention is to “extend theory of invention.” The humanities in parts of universities are in decay. The “doctorate” hangs on names of greatness like Bakhtin, Deleuze, Merleau-Ponty and proceeds to a mish-mash of pictures and meandering biography.

It makes reference to the theatre movement known as "Reality Trend" and remarkably manages to mis-spell two out of three words in “Theater der Zeit.” The study of national theatre includes lines like:

Page 156: “On one occasion, having been given chalk, I scrawled “Happy Birthday” on a wall in an alleyway close to the seafront. On my return, I went back to the alleyway and found that the letters could still be read. I then decided to stand next to them to see what memories might emerge.”

Later: “I'm looking at my feet and the concrete beneath them through the screen of an iPod.”

More chalking ensues, this time on a pavement of Aberystwyth.

Volume two includes 100 photographs including several selfies of the author. Two DVDs are part of it. The reader learns:

“In the knowledge that my ears stand in for the ears of a future listener, I increasingly allow the human voice to lead my attention. I move towards the speaker hanging from the cobwebbed roof of a platform at Shrewsbury, I attend to the sounds of the locomotive “orchestra” and the move from place to place.”

This is drivel as scholarship. The National Theatre was a sponsor of it.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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