Theatre in Wales

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"Inattention,vested interest, elasticity towards accuracy"

Theatre: The Talk in England

Critical Bouts and Jousts , Theatre & Arts Writing , February 24, 2022
Theatre: The Talk in England by Critical Bouts and Jousts The month of March sees a parade of performance setting off on tour. In a week's time a notable actor returns to the stage of Aberystwyth's Theatr Gwerin. A week with no performance is a time for a short retrospective.

This sequence of articles was written without plan or intention. It responded to particular noise and discord as they flared up. To look back at the sequence 2013-2016 is to see an underlying theme.

The effect of technology hit commentary on theatre. The period saw the final death-knell of the regional press. Its reduction to cut-and-paste from press releases has not been good for civic life or for democracy itself.

Its reflection in the gutting of professional theatre criticism outside London is a small thing but significant. The Guardian kept Alfred Hickling for a while as a broad-coverage north-England critic. His geographical zone roamed from York to Mold. He too was eventually dispensed with. Theatr Clwyd more often than not can mount significant productions that go unreviewed.

Citizen journalism has not filled the gap, thinness and shrillness a weak substitute for attention and a composed response.

(On a personal note rancour raged around the Globe than any other theatre. Kneehigh Theatre came to Wales twice in a better era for touring and did things of wonder. After seeing Wise Children's take on "Wuthering Heights" this month Emma Rice comes over as a kind of genius.)

30 December 2016: More Trouble at Globe: the Groundlings Respond

"The actual viewers of the plays, the Globe's regulars, gave a good kicking...His opponents demur...“has made it clear that it would rather potter around in an artistic cul-de-sac than embrace a wider theatrical world."

29 December 2016: Arts Writing Failing at the Globe

"The commentary displayed the three usual vices... familiar symptoms: inattention to the primary sources, vested interest under a carapace of objectivity, and an attitude of elasticity towards accuracy."

28 December 2016: Unconvincing Audience & Audience Research Part 2

"But most all it confuses cause and effect...The whole deadly jargon “congregational, authentic, immersive, creative/expressive opportunity” looks like the purveyors selling to their payers what they want to hear. Decent consultancy delivers workable actions....This smells powerfully like propaganda, all funded by the Lottery and Arts Council England."

27 December 2016: Several Kinds of Bad

"The first is nonsense...It is an absurd statement for an activity that attracts a tiny minority. Then there are the weasel words...the words are wrong. The party in power is not a “project”. It is a mechanism for power and, like it or not, it is doing pretty well in 2016."

26 December 2016: Audiences & Audience Research- Unconvincing

"It leaves unasked as to who this might be good for. Of course no-one asks the actual makers of art, the performers and the company, as to their opinion..."

30 June 2016: Reviewers Who “Do Not Know What They Are Talking About.”

“The internet has been the main driving force, spreading the pathetic illusion that all knowledge (and therefore all wisdom) is accessible to all.”

29 June 2016: The Nonsense of Challenging the Audience

"This is jejune since it generalises without specificity and secondly a work of art is not a question and answer session...This notion of “challenge” is slippery and never addressed with rigour...As to the whole slippery issue of “challenge” dramatists are the best of voices. Mark Ravenhill: “Art doesn’t educate or inform or make you a better citizen. We belittle it when we make it into information.”

28 June 2016 Death by Workshop

"Young playwrights....don’t have the privileges my generation enjoyed, of their plays being very much mounted as written, rather than filtered through the preferences and prejudices of those in charge of our theatres and TV drama departments. The world is full of people telling you how to people telling you how to rewrite your play. Generally that has a homogenising effect because the advice people give you is based on their experience of other plays.”

31 December 2015: Nonsense about Satellite Theatre

"No matter how complex the sensor of the artificial lens the colours of a Cėzanne or Matisse cannot be reproduced in a digital simulacrum. Analysis of a Cėzanne snip of paint reveals his final colour to be often composed of five pigments in precise relationship. A reproduction is an information item, not the thing itself....the art of film is the edit, the use of discontinuity in space. The art of live dance, theatre and opera is continuity of action within fixed space. The camera can show it but cannot represent it fully."

30 December 2015: Pseudo-events and Audience Myths

"With theatre there is a bifurcation, the work itself exciting and varied, the optimism constant, the quantity abundant. The talk by contrast is, with a few exceptions that shine, dim; groupthink is the rule, monochrome the colour of its culture of comment."...One thing is sure. When an institution begins to discern an inadequacy in its own customers it is sowing the seeds of its collapse."

24 December 2015: Empty Theatres- the Audience’s Fault Part 2

“We all have to fight for audiences these days…If the public wants to see something and pay for a ticket - it comes. If they don't come - don't blame the audience.” Mark Shenton: “It seems outrageous that an artistic director should blame the failure of a play on a failure in the It seems outrageous that an artistic director should blame the failure of a play on a failure in the audience.”

23 December 2015: Empty theatres: the Audience's Fault

"A director reporting his poor audiences. “In Leeds we played to the worst houses we’ve ever had there. The same in Exeter the week before.” “The numbers were inexorable, Exeter 105 a night, Watford 107, Hull, 56. “Even in Liverpool, only 127 a night turned up” writes the interviewer. Why Liverpool deserves its “even” is unexplained.”.

08 January 2015: “Political” Theatre That Isn't

"As an antidote for mission creep “Be clear about their artistic and civic purposes and shout about them in plain and simple ways...Use language that everybody understands instead of advocacy-speak.

"Political theatre, she declared, “little or no connection to any kind of genuine raw data. What tends to happen is a form of confirmation bias, where the writer listens to media reports about things and hears his circles opinions on them, goes and has a think, starts writing…I have yet to see a political play that genuinely analyses actual data properly, without falling into caricature or overt political bias.”

04 September 2013 The Decline in Professional Criticism Continued

"Capital letters are dropped, adjectives are substituted for adverbs, the proportion of space given to the actual work is low. The experience of watching theatre via a static camera is kicked off with a question. “And if collective effervescence is, as Durkheim persuaded us, the live flame that theatre keeps to form the basis of society, how is this not dimmed across invisibly networked planes of grey screens?”

03 September 2013 Accelerating Decline of Paid Arts Writing

"The wholesale dismissal of its entire arts staff by the Independent on Sunday prompted an article “Are critics and bloggers on the same side?”

03 January 2013 Cyber-theatre: the map is not the territory

"There is a smell around the place that it would be nice to get the funding but do without that troublesome entity, the audience, altogether.

02 January 2013 Meredydd Barker on European Theatre; & Discord in Scotland

John McGrath: “It's got just about every cliche of German theatre in it - and it's brilliant!…It was particularly exciting to see that kind of bold, almost flashily irreverent directing with a new English-language play.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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