Theatre in Wales

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“We Need to Shed these Ideas of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’

On Criticism & Critics

A Critical Retrospective June 2019- 2023 , Years of Critical Commentary , December 1, 2023
On Criticism & Critics by A Critical  Retrospective June 2019- 2023 A Guide, part 2, to the sequence “On Criticism & Critics” below:

16 December 2021 Best critical writing of 2021: Lewis Davies & Gary Raymond

“Good critical writing, whatever the topic, has common qualities: pith, pointedness, verve, and composed with a passion.

"It’s a question of being ignored in your own country and if we are to cede completely to the colonial attitude which seems to have seeped into the process of making the decisions in the Hay locked in bubble."

“Cultural policy in Wales is being nudged away from the tradition which has held for public subsidy over seventy years. There have always been Chairs who leaned towards representing those in power. But men like Sir William Rees-Mogg at least did it with subtlety. The leaning now by the managers of culture is blatant.”

* * * *

"I do not think a cultural magazine, particularly one that receives public subsidy, should see itself as a social justice organisation. A magazine improves the world by doing its job as a magazine. And that is to encourage debate and discussion amongst the readership. I think they should house a plurality of voices, and even when the natural editorial sympathies lean in one direction, an editor should at the very least leave the door open for viewpoints from different spectrums."

"...Magazines are there to challenge ideas, to shine a light in darkened corners, they are there, first and foremost, to encourage and to stir debate. The moment there is fear of the debate, we are lost...it made me worry for the direction of publishing in Wales....I was questioning whether a poetry periodical, particularly one in receipt of public subsidy, should be “fighting” anything at all.

"And I particularly baulk at this idea that a magazine should be a “safe space” for anyone. A cultural magazine should be a place where figures of note are given space to explore ideas and address concerns about art, craft, and yes, society and the world we live in. It should frequently challenge and prod and poke. It should aspire to be anything but a “safe space”.

"Otherwise, you’re a catalogue, not a magazine. At least that would have been part of my side of the debate had a debate been allowed to take place."

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6 May 2021 Equity publishes guidelines for theatre critics

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29 April 2021 David Edgar on the theatre criticism of Eric Bentley

“For that strange precinct we call “art” is like a hall full of mirrors or a whispering gallery. Each form conjures up a thousand memories and after-images. No sooner is an image presented as art, than by this very act, a new frame of reference is created which it cannot escape.”

“Each book is a world in itself”, said Abell, “and a link in an endless chain.”

“But the argument that resonates through his book is that great theatre is in fundamentally the same game as the crudest melodrama. Unlike lyric poetry and the novel, which tend to conceal their base origins, drama wears its guts on its sleeve. Far from being the opposite of cheap narrative, “it is soap opera plus.”

“Brecht wanted to elevate the intellectual over the emotional, to replace a childish theatre with an adult one. There is obviously a good deal to be said for this,” Bentley remarks, “What you cannot say for it is, however, is that it is possible.” And it is impossible because the theatre confronts us with the side of us that is regressive, fantastic, prurient, barbarian- and magical.

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24 February 2021 National Theatre Wales, obsequiousness & drivel language

“Our pioneering artistic practice is questioning: What is theatre? Who is it for? How and where is it made? Who makes it?”

"Recondite, manifestly of no interest to the Welsh public. No other national theatre in the world follows such a line. Yet it was taken up and parroted by the Arts Council among others.

"At a public event “What is the Civic Role of Arts Organisations?” a bona fide community speaker observed:

“If the language we use to describe the arts doesn’t really resonate with the public we are trying to engage, then all attempts by the arts to reimagine the role of culture in society will have little traction. Why should people be interested in something that’s dressed up in a language they don’t find easy to understand?”

"Raymond Williams is ever pertinent. He told us that the state “will attempt to incorporate ‘harmless’ subaltern narratives and cultures but when this is not possible, threatening discourses will be “extirpated with extraordinary vigour”.

* * * *

20 December 2020 Martin Shipton expelled by Literature Wales

“Literature Wales said the journalist had “displayed conduct that is detrimental to our values and interests as an organisation by use of aggressive language”. The organisation did not say which comments, in particular, constituted aggressive language.

“I defended myself by responding robustly to my attackers.”Without giving me the opportunity to explain myself, Literature Wales decided to remove me from the panel of judges for the Welsh Book of the Year awards. I regret the decision, which I find both perverse and contrary to natural justice.

“I have always been a strong advocate for Welsh writers and this incident will not change that.”

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14 December 2020 “Looking Out” Essays by Peter Lord

“Culture is a place where societies speak to themselves. The most ringing cultural action of 2020 in the United Kingdom was the toppling of Edward Colston into the water of Bristol's docks. In Denbigh Henry Morton Stanley stands proud as a figurehead for Wales.

“The essay on Thomas Evelyn Scott-Ellis- a crucial figure also for the theatre of Wales- is bold on psychology. “The fact that de Walden chose to express this ancient relationship between wealth and art in the context of Wales owed much to a sad and isolated childhood which engendered in him a deeply felt need to belong to a place and a people.” While Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey, plunged into making a strange art of his own de Walden at Chirk Castle played the role of patron.”

25t September 2020 Political Theatre

Brecht- “Wanting to show lust for power, must show how politics or business works. But writers are less interested in how things work.”

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1 May 2020 A Culture Without Debate

“Wales has, since devolution in 1999, lost its identity rather than modernised the one it already had. It spends millions of pounds on Dylan Thomas or Roald Dahl bypassing investment into artists that are alive and, by that very fact, more relevant.”

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25 January 2020 Wales Arts Review on awful, misogynistic Welsh film

“The broadcast critical opinion for Radio Wales ran: “Likewise I felt completely out of step with the Welsh Baftas undoubtedly the worst film I have seen to come out of any country in the past decade....a desolate dumping ground of stilted dialogue, forced colloquialisms, and garbled sentences. I lost count of the times an actor is forced to add an isn’t it? at the end of a line, or a bach, or even a cariad. None of the actors seem convinced by these little tags.”

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12 January 2020 A call for bolder, more candid advertising and promotion

“The Sherman issued a press release November 15th 2019. It comprises seven pages and is complete and compendious. Above all it is written for the general reader and is stripped of industry jargon that bedevils purported public communications elsewhere.”

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17 December 2019 Michael Billington: a great writer of theatre

“Hindsight is connected to insight. No art- like no human being- is born bereft of context. “Always connect” indeed, and connection is crucial to criticism.

“Theatre “has nothing to do with hardware, hydraulic stages, scenic decoration or conspicuous displays of expenditure; but everything to do with narrative, language, ideas and physical skill.”

“He confessed his own personal leaning, in a line characteristically both dense yet succinct, as being “instinctively drawn to plays which display moral ambivalence, are rooted in close observation, blend the tragic and the comic and exude the life and energy that Baudelaire thought were the preconditions of any work of art”.

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13 October 2019 Looking at greats Gary Raymond “What is a critic?”

“His real rendezvous is with posterity. His review is a letter addressed to the future...Any art can only be truly valued if it is evaluated. I was asked on a radio show recently, ‘Isn’t everybody a critic?’ Well of course everybody’s a critic. But not everybody is a Critic.”

“We need to shed these puerile ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and announce to the world that Welsh art – its literature, its theatre, its painting and sculpting and circuses and music and cinema – it is a conversation you’ll want to join in with. Spinoza said that man’s duty, when surveying the world, ‘was neither to laugh nor to weep, but to understand.’ Now is the time to nail that above the doorway.

“A Critic is an investor into a culture. As artists we invest in the culture of Wales, not latch onto it; we are working to build it, to brighten it...The eternal conversation is the thing, and you are mistaken if you don’t think Wales deserves a part in it.”

* * * *

10 October 2019 Dai Smith on being frightened or cowed into silence by cosy nonsense

“Public Intellectuals have, too often, been seen as Public Inconveniences in Wales. By which I mean that we are often frightened or cowed into silence by the cosy nonsense that promotes the Idea of Team Wales or attempts to issue Brand Identities centred on spurious notions of Celticism or hands out badges for linguistic Good Behaviour.

“Cultural criticism would be a threat, an exposure of the comfort Welsh blanket with which we are so ready to drape ourselves, all cwtched-up and myopic in the hold-tight, don’t-let-go arms of Mam. I think there are, indeed, cultural reasons for our relative impoverishment...a lack of such essential figures, as Cultural Critics or Public Intellectuals, to a country’s well-being as a functioning Democracy in a broader sense.”

“Ed Thomas picked up this echo with “A minority culture is defensive and it’s easy to be defensive from one perspective.”

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01 October 2019 Criticism and the importance of distance

“You write what we all think”, said my pavement companion, “but no-one ever says.”

“Friendship is the highest of human values. It trumps frankness. Indeed a feature of friendship is that affection usually precludes candour. There is an exception in those few long-lasting and deep friendships. But we are more often hedgehogs, rather scared of intimacy. But criticism without candour is a weakened being. It is evasive and periphrastic. Distance is beneficial.”

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08 June 2019 Critically Speaking Site & Crowdfunding Launch

Jafar Iqbal: “All artists, companies, venues and arts organisations depend on critical feedback to guide their process - one can't function properly without the other. I believe I provide balanced, constructive, high-quality criticism; but in 2019, there isn't an organisation willing or able to monetise that hard work.” That is true; he has been Cardiff's best regular critic.”

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01 June 2019 Simon Schama & the four elements of criticism

"Critics move across four levels. They home in on the detail. They know their aesthetics intimately, confident in their judgements on form, content, meaning, expression. They have facts at their finger-tips: the life, love, money, or the lack of both, the context of history, the critical climate. And they yoke the first three to personal response. Jejune critical writing, that is swamped with the words “I” and “me”, makes a categorical error, that the subjective takes first place."

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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