Theatre in Wales

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A Look-back At Verbatim Theatre

Verbatim Theatre

Sherman, Three National Theatres, Out of Joint , Theatre of Wales and England , April 21, 2022
Verbatim Theatre by Sherman, Three National Theatres, Out of Joint Verbatim theatre has expanded considerably since its first inception at the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn. It has had peaks like "Stuff Happens"- Out of Joint and David Hare on the Gulf War- and "London Road"- Alecky Blythe and Rufus Norris in Ipswich.

Theatre in Wales scored a notable high with "Deep Cut", a script started by Sgript Cymru and continued by the Sherman after its absorption of the new writing responsibility.

Verbatim theatre works when it cleaves to the specific. It sags when it leans towards the general and, still worse, the allegorical.

“Our Generation” this year, below 14th April, worked because it followed a narrative arc. We are interested in how lives turn out.

By contrast from 19th March 2017: “Verbatim theatre works where the subject is specific. That is why “Deep Cut”, “the Permanent Way” and “London Road” grip. When the subject is general it falters. That is why “Little Revolution”, “Sgint”, “Our Country” are blurry. A play about veterans that is played by veterans is likely to work, a play about bankers without any bankers not."

A guide to the reviews here:

24th June 2019: Book Robin Belfield “Telling the Truth: How to Make Verbatim Theatre”

“Verbatim theatre is a strand with a thirty-year heritage to it. At its best it has the whack of drama, albeit not its richness. At its far-from-best it is faux-theatre offering sogginess and evasion. Robin Belfield's book is both compact and comprehensive, billed by its publicists as “a practical guide to creating and producing verbatim theatre, by an experienced theatre maker and practitioner.”

28 December 2017:“We're Still Here” National Theatre Wales

“ Views from Wales diverged. The production was disorderly, the directors chopping and changing. It was humourless and structureless. It has no women and the steel men were reported as being “terribly clean”. It was without any dialectic “audience just talked at”. One veteran of theatre did not care for its slagging-off of the government of Wales.”

19 March 2017: “Our Country” National Theatre

“Heritage theatre, performance art, it's-all-England's-fault theatre, pageantry and safety-first nostalgia does not want to know. In 2013 Tim Price had an allegorical Wales cowering in a box and sobbing with a plea to England is “I’ll do whatever you want. You have to look after me.” That was theatre with clout. In 2017 official art has moved from timidity to a culture of cowardice.”

16 May 2015: “Couch, Touch, Pause, Engage” Out of Joint & National Theatre Wales

“Lyn Gardner has written of “performances that seem simply designed to confirm everything we already know about the world and ourselves.” “Crouch…” would have been stronger- and outgunned television- by getting into the minds of the other side...the world of rugby, whose rituals take in the eating of cat food or sheep’s brains, is little touched upon. The inner torment was solely caused by the environment- in scores of other livelihoods sexuality has been a non-issue for decades. Theatrically it would have got its power by getting into the minds of the watchers screeching their homophobic abuse.”

26 July 2012: “The Two Worlds of Charlie F” Bravo 22 Company

“The story follows a simple trajectory; recruitment, training, action, hospitalisation, recuperation and aftermath. Sheers’ script is without sentimentality or mawkishness, as it has to be. A soldier strips down to his boxers. An instructor takes a marker pen and begins to draw on the exposed body just what an IED will do. It goes on, and it goes on. Time and again the production exposes the legacy of pain.”

06 March 2012: “Sgint” Theatr Genedlaethol

“The music is an irritant. It is used not as an augmentation to the action but is played as background to the words being spoken. The production overload makes for an inconsistency that is inappropriate for the genre. At the opening of “Sgint” the cast of nine move around the stage and take up different positions with folded arms. They then unfold their arms, move, take up another position. Some leave the stage. It is languid stage action that is not just lacking in point but lacks all connection to what is to follow.”

29 March 2011: “Outdoors” Rimini Protokoll/ National Theatre of Wales

“Half an hour is spent in preparation and waiting. ID needs to be shown, signatures given, a gender and age form completed. Another form is related to audience research. “How relevant is this to the people of Wales?” it asks. The audience for 22nd March, twelve in number, included three theatre professionals, at least three performance researchers; the remainder performance students.”

29 October 2010: “The Power of Yes” National Theatre

“The most curious thing about it is that a play about banking, the biggest play-writing commission of the year, has no bankers in it. But then it never seems very interested in its subject. Early on it tries to show that the pre-wrecked RBS had grown bigger than Britain itself. But it completely muddles the difference between GNP and the value of the entire national assets. It is symptomatic of the lack of engagement with the material that the name of novelist-guru Ayn Rand is mispronounced throughout. Baroness Vadera is also mis-spelt in the programme. The programme also misattributes to Ms Rand the phrase “creative destruction”.

02 August 2008: “Deep Cut” Sherman Theatre

“Philip Ralph’s play shows, in detail, that independent forensic investigation rendered the official causes of death simply incredible. There is a now well established strand of “judicial theatre”, most closely associated with London’s Tricycle Theatre. “Deep Cut” is a proud addition, researched with colossal diligence, imaginatively constructed, and passionately played.”

Picture: Rhian Blythe in Wales' best, “Deep Cut”.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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