Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A Look-back On Two Years

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Dramatists, Directors, Writers , Culture in a Time of Pandemic , March 3, 2022
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Dramatists, Directors, Writers In Istvan Szabo's great film “Mephisto” an actor confronts a writer. The writer, modelled on Thomas Mann, is in exile in the USA. “It's all right for you”, says the star of theatre, “you can leave and carry on. If I leave I have no audience, I have nothing.”

Writers have carried on. Admittedly festivals and signings have withered but book sales have risen after years of decline. The true cost paid by actors and dancers with scant professional life or livelihood will never be known. But all will know tales of despair and illness.

To write an article each week was not a substitute for life. But it made a point of structure in the event-less weeks of lock-down. In a time of “Monday/noneday” and “Thursday/blursday” they offered a psychological anchor.

Several sequences appeared over the long, long weeks. "Summing It Up" and "101 Nights to Remember" looked back over years of performance. Radio reviews caught voices of the moment. No one was more eloquent than Sir Nicholas Hytner, reviewed January 2021.

“If this crisis has revealed anything, it is the thing that has been missed most, the thing that has caused most pain to a hell of a lot of people has been the absence of what we do together. Some want to watch theatre, some want to watch sport, and some want to dance. It's a terrible, terrible deprivation to millions that they can't dance, or go to a cafe, or go to a restaurant.”

To look again at this sequence of commentary is to reminded of a unique time.

* * * *

Since the re-openings my former pattern has returned, around one night out a week, thirty performances in all. The Torch is on tour this month to acclaimed reviews. Simon Nehan, a formidable stage presence, has been unseen for too long. He performs in Cardigan on 7th March. I shall not be there.

Aberystwyth Arts opened its doors as soon as it was able. At its box office we are welcomed by smiles that, even behind the masks, are manifest.

Theatr Mwldan has remained sealed all day as a public place of entry. Its box office has never re-opened for human contact.

The curators at Aberystwyth in June 2021 gave us an exhibition of 500 all-media artworks made by 148 artists, professional and amateur, during lock-down. The gallery walls in Cardigan have shown no art to its public.

Society has behaved well in the last two years, to a greater degree than the social psychologists had anticipated. The overwhelming majority has put up with all the deprivations. On March 2nd I joined an audience once again, all masked voluntarily, not under legal obligation. I had my temperature checked before entry to the foyer. I, like all, complied.

Theatr Mwldan is a public space financed in the public sphere whose obligation is to the public. Its management should comply with the law and behave as every other venue. Its role is not to be a private issuer of private regulations. The management next week denies access to the triple-vaccinated for “Carwyn”. Even with display of a negative test, until a few days ago there was no entry without showing a utility bill or a passport.

The insinuation was clear; we are all untrustworthy, theatre-goers all suspect as cheats. This extended to children down to the age of eleven.

The atmosphere will not be great with an audience likely to be miniscule. To be present at all is to endorse a management with this attitude to its fellow citizens.

* * * *

As a guide to the articles:

16 April 2021: Diversity in the Productions of Welsh Theatre

"The state of Wales, decades behind England, has great difficulty with diversity in theatre. This is a large topic and not an easy one. Diversity in theatre has different strands."

07 April 2021: Lockdown and the Insufficiency of Watching Television

“The instant availability of everything you want at the click of a mouse turns out not to be the thing you want most; human contact.” Theatre is a place, a seeing-in-a-place. Its origin in Greek, “theatron”, denotes a spectacle or a place for viewing, Eisteddfod” is similar, its root “sedd”, a seat...Its first condition is that it be a place in the company of others. If it is an act of separation, done within a private home, whatever it is it has ceased to be theatre.”

23 March 2021: “Digital” Theatre & the Sensory Deficit

“It contains nonsense like “digital information has the quality of pure computational potential, which can be seen as parallel to the potential of human imagination.” It is entirely lacking in reference to human being, our biology or our physiology.

02 March 2021: Diversity & Action among Welsh Companies

“Writers are everything. If you can change the writer you change everything, they change the kind of story that is being told. “We have to change, who gets to tell the stories, how they are told.”

04 July 2020: Arad Goch, Theatr Clwyd, the Torch, NTW on Theatre & Covid-19

“We kept on a skeleton team but everyone else has been furloughed, including me. In February, we lost part of the metal cladding on our fly tower during Storm Dennis, and as we’re built on the edge of a cliff, the cost of the scaffolding alone is massive…”

02 July 2020: Gary Owen, Wynne Roberts, Siân Gwenllian, Angharad Lee on Theatre and its Future

“In normal times, of course, theatre is a huge net generator of revenue for the treasury. Just the VAT paid by the West End theatres of London is greater than Arts Council England’s subsidy for theatre in the whole of England. And theatre is the foundation on which our TV and film industries are built.”

01 July 2020: The Collapse of Theatre

“The extent of the ruin for the culture of the UK as a whole has been analysed by the consultancy Oxford Economics. The forecast is £74bn drop in revenue for the creative industries, 400,000 jobs gone, 119,000 salaried and 287,000 freelance.”

29 June 2020: Carl Tighe & New Writing in the 1980s

“I sent the script and heard nothing for a year. When I rang to enquire what had happened to it I was told it was at that moment being read, and I was asked to ring back in a week. I rang as requested only to be told that they knew nothing of the script, that it had never arrived at the theatre. I rang back a week later to be told that the script had arrived over a year ago but had been lost and would I kindly send another copy. I sent a second claimed that this too never arrived.”

26 June 2020 The Arts Council Summoned to the House of Commons

In the Palace of Westminster: “After a shaky start before the Committee, WAC just about managed to pull together a creditable performance. By the end of the show WAC had begun to shape up as a troupe of honest, well-meaning chaps, much maligned in the press and misunderstood by clients. However, a number of serious questions remain: Just who is the WAC accountable to? How does WAC decide and administer its artistic criteria?”

23 June 2020 Carl Tighe on the Crisis of New Writing

“Theatre is one of the ways in which a nation is responsible for itself, its history and its future. Without doubt there is a deep and worrying conservatism at almost every level of Welsh theatre. Much of what has passed across the stage in Wales in the fifteen years has been frankly irrelevant to the lives of the people who live here.”

14 April 2020 Responses, Good and Ridiculous, to Pandemic and the Arts

“Digital will be vital – virtual organisations will now come to the fore. Until now there have really only been tentative moves to online engagement, streaming performances and online museum tours.” This presumably is a recommendation that organisations not trouble themselves with filling auditoriums. “Attendance at live events has been falling for years.” No evidence is given. It is false."

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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