Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Crisis Return & Big Award for Wales Dramatist

Quarterly Critical Round-up

Theatr Clwyd, Emily White, Tim Price , 4th Quarter 2021 , January 27, 2022
Quarterly Critical Round-up by Theatr Clwyd, Emily White, Tim Price The arrival of a new variant from South Africa in December split the policy responses of England from those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. London's theatre was free to lurch on as best it could. Cancellations of individual performances were frequent. It was a time for under-studies without precedent. An under-study would play a lead role; they too would succumb and be replaced. The role would pass on to a company member. Just one episode is recalled in "My Year of Theatre" 13th January.

Productions with music tended to do well. The average age of London's audience dropped markedly. The ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY posted every morning at eleven o'clock confirmation that its show would be on that day.

In Sheffield the CRUCIBLE managed every performance. At an extreme, for one performance, five out of eight musicians were self-isolating and were replaced.

The VAULT FESTIVAL has in the past posted sparky work by Welsh actors. 600 artists doing 2500 performances were set for 2022 and now there will be none.

At a personal level I had a ticket for an acclaimed new play by James Graham. At twenty-four hours' notice an email announced "the Best of Enemies" was cancelled all week, the rest of the run sold out.

* * * *

It was a quarter that was rocky-to-calamitous for producers in England. The veteran producer David Pugh reported his main show losing £25000 a week.

Elsewhere it was calamity in a different way, a quarter of thirteen weeks of performance reduced to eight. The loss was not just any set of weeks but the ones that bring the revenue. And it should be said it is not just money and livelihoods. The season that did not take place is the one where children get to see performance.

THEATR CLWYD made its announcement on 22nd December in language of both clarity and emotion.

"Following the recent announcement introducing social distancing to help reduce the spread of Covid and the Omicron variant we have been forced to cancel a number of upcoming events. Moving from a sold out performance to one where barely a quarter of those booked would be able to watch leaves us in an impossible position...

"With that in mind we’re absolutely devastated that we’ll no longer be able to share these shows, all of which we’ve worked so hard to bring to our amazing and loyal audiences. These closures have arrived at a time when we and the rest of the creative industries were starting to get back on our feet following the disruption of the last 20 months and their impact will be devastating for all of us – our audiences, our actors, creatives and backstage teams, our community companies and our staff.

"The thing that’s keeping us going right now are the heartwarming messages of support and solidarity that we’ve already received and we know that together we will get through this. We’ll be getting in touch with everyone affected to share our next steps...There is no need to contact our box office – please bear with us, we'll be in touch as soon as we can. Thank you for your continued support and love for the arts."

* * * *

Theatr Clwyd's forecast was that half a million pounds has been forgone. CREU CYMRU, representing professional theatres, arts centres and producing companies, put its estimate overall as eight to million pounds' loss as a result of the Welsh government raising the risk to Alert Level 2 from Boxing Day.

Direct replacement funding was announced. LOUISE MILES-PAYNE, Creu Cymru Director: “We recognise the swift and positive response by the Welsh Government to our continued lobbying since the end of 2021 for financial support for the Welsh arts sector. We were extremely pleased to see the First Minister announce a potential end date to the restrictions on theatres and other entertainment sectors today.

"Alongside the news earlier this week of a further 15.4 million Cultural Recovery Fund, this will go a long way to help a sector hugely affected by restrictions. The Christmas season is an incredibly important part of the theatrical calendar, it brings in much needed income and brings families together.

"We estimated total losses of around 8-10 million for theatres in Wales in this latest round of restrictions. We are grateful for the consultation we’ve been able to have with Welsh Government Ministers and Officials who have listened to our concerns and questions."

* * * *

Theatr Clwyd’s "BEAUTY AND THE BEAST" was reviewed before its closure.

"Its recipe for success", reported Arts Scene in Wales, "stunning sets, couture costumes, laugh-out-loud lines laced with local references, a dollop of double entendre, a smattering of smut, a cup of Cymraeg,tons of talent and a mass of great music.

...A talking Mona Lisa and Laughing Cavalier, accompanied by some familiar rodent puppets, are the supporting cast at the Beast’s creepy castle. The Gaston role becomes Barry Island, played by Ben Locke...performs a great version of "Uptown Funk"with sidekick Bob, played by Luke Thornton....praise for choreographer Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster.

"...Alice McKenna as Morgiana the Witch and Maya Manuel as Fairy Clogau narrated between the scenes, reciting their rivalry in rhyming couplets...Izzy Neish a quirky and refreshing Belle, with a beautiful tone to her voice that sounded heavenly when duetting with Wesley Charles as the Beast...Phylip Harries plays the dame, Nanna Nerys from Nercwys....nothing short of a delight, raising the roof with his physical comedy, banter with the audience, Welsh lines and beautiful and crazy wigs and costumes...the set a thing of beauty thanks to designer Adrian Gee and scenic artist Katy Salt, all lit to perfection in a design by Johanna Town."

Extracts from full review which can be read at:

* * * *

The switchback policy decisions hit revenue. But capital projects proceed. Theatr Clwyd moves ahead with the large-scale changes to make good its 50-year old building. An exhibition "A Building Made Of Stories" was held. Saturday 15th January it held regulation-compliant building tours. Free family workshops and storytelling were given by SOPHIE WARREN. A new temporary theatre is set to open in late March and the Anthony Hopkins Theatre remains open.

LIAM EVANS-FORD was interviewed for the Radio Wales Arts Show on 14th January. He discussed the mechanics, the funding, the redesign of Theatr Clwyd, the interim spaces. He gave the purpose : "offering stories and comedy and music."

* * * *

EMILY WHITE won the 52nd George Devine Award for most promising playwright for her play "Atlantis." Its theme is real. A village in north Wales discovers it is to become Britain’s first to be to abandon to rising sea. It is the actual fate of Fairbourne. "Atlantis" follows four generations of a family over fifty-three years.

Emily White spoke to Theatre Weekly: "I cannot express how honoured and grateful I am to receive this award after being shortlisted alongside such incredible talent, I did not expect to win and to say I feel overwhelmed is an understatement. The list of previous winners is full of writers I admire and to see my name sit alongside them is a surreal experience."

“Writing this play was my lifeline during lockdown both creatively and financially and I would like to thank Tamara Harvey, Raphael Martin, and Theatre Clwyd for supporting me and my work throughout such a difficult period. I couldn’t have written Atlantis without them.”

The judging panel for 2021included playwrights Luke Barnes, James Graham and Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, directors Justin Audibert and Lisa Blair and actress Kate O’Flynn.

The judge GURPREET KAUR BHATTI said: "One play stood out because of its extraordinary ambition and humanity. Atlantis is at once intimate and epic, fearless and tender, it is family drama and devastating global commentary. This play’s sheer brilliance moved and thrilled every single member of the panel. Emily White is an outstanding talent, and we are delighted to announce her as the winner of the 2021 George Devine Award.”

TAMARA HARVEY: "When we produced Emily’s first play "Pavilion" at Theatr Clwyd, we couldn’t persuade a single national reviewer to make the two-and-a-half-hour journey north. It was the debut play by a female Welsh playwright with big enough lungs that we’d programmed it in our main house but no, the run was too short we were told. So, no-one came – not to Clwyd and not to Newport, where it played for a week at the end of its run with us."

“I felt so guilty. Reviews aren’t everything of course but they are important exposure for a playwright just starting out and I had failed Emily. She was lovely about it – as well as being a brilliant writer, she’s a generous and beautiful human being – but still what kind of artistic director was I if I couldn’t give a writer the launchpad they deserved?

Not just London's reviewers. Radio Cymru Wales' arts coverage would never dream of reviewing a major production by a new woman dramatist.

The reasons are solely geographical. Emily White is from Powys.

* * * *

An established playwright meanwhile TIM PRICE was prominent even in this time of reiterated crisis. "Isla" was at Theatr Clwyd in the autumn (below 31st October) and was playwright for one of London's few major openings. The company for "Force Majeure" included SULE RIMI. The critical response was in truth variable but Kate Kellaway greatly liked what she saw:

"Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund’s 2014 film, is, on the face of it, begging not to be adapted for the stage: it involves a majestic alpine landscape and skiing – and that’s just for starters.

"It is also an uncategorisable, ambiguous narrative that risks being misunderstood and that, in the wrong hands, could have turned out to be a snowy bellyflop. But it’s precisely because of its high-risk content that this show is a triumph and a wonder to behold. Director Michael Longhurst and his tremendous cast have pulled off a dazzling production that entertains and unsettles, and Tim Price must take a bow too, as his adaptation is even more nuanced than the film."


Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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