Theatre in Wales

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Why We Are Failed by BBC Cymru Wales

National Theatre: Comment

Galwad: Unboxed Festival- Front Row 26th September , Radio 4 , November 17, 2022
National Theatre: Comment by Galwad: Unboxed Festival- Front Row 26th September The record of the House of Commons for last week includes a Select Committee in session:

“Welsh Affairs Committee: Oral evidence: Broadcasting in Wales, Wednesday 9 November 2022.

“Members present: Stephen Crabb (Chair); Virginia Crosbie; Ruth Jones; Ben Lake, Rob Roberts. Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee member present: Kevin Brennan.”

It is thus timely. The Select Committee enquiry coincides with the opportunity to view, close-up, an illustration of the differences in broadcasting standards between London and Cardiff.

The review of the first part of “Galwad”, 27th October, included in its eleventh paragraph a mention of the interviews on BBC Radio Wales and that of “Front Row”.

The critical view has formed. Wales Arts Review: "Galwad" a "catastrophe...dreadful...the cultural organisations of Wales are at odds with the artists they serve."

The genesis of “Galwad” needed four elements particular to Cardiff to be as it was. The nature of the media in Cardiff is one.

Tom Sutcliffe interviewed the director and a writer-mentor on the opening day of “Galwad”. The name of the writer is one to be respected and, out of respect, will not be written.

Tom Sutcliffe and the director, Clare Doherty, both referred to Blaenau Ffestiniog. Sutcliffe pronounced it correctly where the director did not.

The interview lasted for twelve minutes and forty-nine seconds. For the contrast between the quality of interviews between London and Cardiff it is necessary to see what was said in the London studio.

The BBC Radio Wales interview will feature in a follow-up article.

A key difference between the interviewing is that Sutcliffe uses the word “us”. The “us” refers to himself and his listeners to whom he is in service.

This interview was broadcast 26th September and ran as follows:

SUTCLIFFE: Now another start-time for you, eight o'clock tonight, on the 26th of September, as soon as this programme ends, which is not just the launch for “Galwad”, a multi-disciplinary event, one of ten events making up the “Unboxed” festival, but is also the moment when when “Galwad's” real-time narrative begins, as an electrical storm breaks open a portal between now and thirty years in the future.

Over the next seven days, online, on television, and on social media, the story will continue to unfold in live performance and in messages from people who have not been born yet.

[Insert actor voice. The language is flat, badgering and faltering.]

SUTCLIFFE: “Galwad” is a production by Collective Cymru, a partnership which brings together, among others, National Theatre Wales, the Centre for Alternative Technology, Disability Arts Cymru and Ffilm Cymru. I spoke earlier to two of those centrally involved. I began by asking Project and Creative director Clare Doherty to give us a basic premise of the story.

DOHERTY: “Galwad” is a story that posits what if the future made contact over seven days for a week. And how would we listen. Would we listen? How would we respond? Very simply we launch tonight eight o'clock live.

And that story unfolds over this week, concluding in our live event finale in Blaenau Ffestiniog on Sunday evening. So you can follow the live performances on Galwad dotcom. And also there's all sorts of messages coming through. The story is how does this group of teenagers react to these messages coming through.

SUTCLIFFE: And people can get this by signing up, as it were, following you on their social networks and getting messages and texts. Is that right?

DOHERTY: That's right. So it is live online tonight. And you can follow us on Galwad22 for the whole week and you'll see it across social channels. Those messages are coming through in all sorts of ways all week.

SUTCLIFFE: “What does “Galwad” mean?

DOHERTY: “Galwad” means calling.

SUTCLIFFE: Obviously it relates to the future calling. Does it have a sense of vocation to it? An ambiguity as the word does in English?

DOHERTY: Absolutely. It's very much both a calling, but literally a call. We chose it because of this sense of if the future could get in contact with us what would it say? What would it say to us in our present and how would we respond?

SUTCLIFFE: It takes the form of a journey. Where does that journey start and where does it end?

DOHERTY: So the journey starts on Swansea Beach with this beautiful scene where an electrical storm happens and the swap happens for this characters Efa, her forty-six year old self swaps into her sixteen-year old self. And vice versa.

And we follow this character through Swansea Beach, through to Merthyr Tydfil, all the way up to North Wales to Blaenau Ffestiniog, where we have this finale event, her returning to the future.

SUTCLIFFE: If I could bring you in on this. You're the writer. How constrained was your brief on this or did you have a very open brief?

WRITER: I suppose the first thing I should say is that I am actually one of sixteen writers. And as you have heard the project is pushing the boundaries in all sorts of ways and one of those ways is in how the story was built.

The initial brief, which is why I was so keen to be involved, is that this whole project is inspired by the ground-breaking and inspirational Well-being of Future Generations Act that came into being in Wales in 2015. It places and enshrines the rights of future generations. It's an extraordinary piece of legislation and I was attracted by, I suppose, the challenge of how can you help an audience create an emotional relationship with it.

SUTCLIFFE: As you say sixteen writers are involved. Art is not famously well-made by committees. So how does that work?

WRITER: I suppose you're right. If you approach less on the idea of a committee and more of a hive mind then that might slightly more compatible. But you know it hasn't been without its challenges. How it has worked is that we've built a world both here in 2022 and 2052 peopled by certain characters.

As writers we share those characters, certain attributes of the world. The future world, this is a world which is one point eight degrees above pre-industrial levels. It is a world where parts of Cardiff and Swansea are under water. It's a world in which chocolate is a rare luxury. In which those challenges have been met with hope. So I suppose those ideas which the writers have shared.

SUTCLIFFE: So it's not pure dystopia. You've said there's an element of hope in your vision of the future as well.

WRITER: Absolutely.

SUTCLIFFE: Chocolate as a luxury will sound like a dystopia to a lot of people. The logistics of this must be extraordinarily complicated. You're moving every day. You're filming every day. How does that work?

DOHERTY: It's an amazing feat. And tapping into the hive mind. I think one of the remarkable things about I guess is that they allow you to experiment. We're taking the extraordinary strength of the Welsh film industry and putting that together with decades worth of site-specific practice by National Theatre Wales, youth-centred practice and expertise from the Centre for Alternative Technology.

You bring all those things together and you say “how can we make something that is new, that is fresh?” That has single-shot immersive cinematography at the heart of it, to immerse the audience right in the heart of it. How do we ground in the communities and across all the different places and make sure that is authentic. That has meant we are working with over five hundred people across Wales and it is a feat.

SUTCLIFFE: The critical thing there is what it delivers. Because this is a challenge for the audience, isn't it, they have to learn to encounter the story. So what do you think is the artistic pay-off with this, as it were, splintered way of telling a story through different media and different forms?

DOHERTY: What it gives us is story-telling for our new age of social media and streaming. What that means is it connects you to the story, to the emotions of the story, and the characters, in a way that is not possible in a way that is not possible if it is a set TV drama, to be consumed upon a single screen.

As an example it is a little like, think of your favourite drama series, “Stranger Things” or “Sex Education”, and those characters kind of like bleed into your social channels. You find out little aspects of them, clues or episodes about them.

SUTCLIFFE: What are your expectations of it? Do you have a target for the audience to reach?
This is one of the “Unboxed” projects. There has been a lot of debate about value. What counts as success for you?

DOHERTY: Well above all with “Galwad” we set out with this project to make a project that has a real impact in terms of story-telling. And that is innovative and ambitious is what it tries to achieve.

You could take that from an economic point of view. You could ask what is the economic impact of culture and the arts. In our case we've put three point million into the freelance workforce at a time when it is absolutely desperate for that investment.

SUTCLIFFE: Is that your budget? £3.1 million?

DOHERTY: No, our budget is larger than that.

SUTCLIFFE: What is your budget?

DOHERTY: Our budget is larger than that...That was specific to that...Our budget was six million.

SUTCLIFFE: Six million for the entire event?

DOHERTY: Yes. In terms of that impact and really thinking around what success might look like. Ultimately it's story-telling and the quality of what's being received. I'm beginning to see come through in the film-making that we've done. It's a trilingual performance, Welsh, English and BSL, which has never really been done before, and I think the quality of the performances are incredibly exciting to witness.

SUTCLIFFE: That's a very subjective measure obviously and, of course, art has to be judged subjectively, it always is, but are you getting any sense of an audience responding already? And at what level?

DOHERTY: Yeah, so far, our reach is really exciting to see. Just last week, when the trailer was announced, we had one hundred and fifty thousand views of that before it had even begun.

SUTCLIFFE: Do you have a notion of how success should be measured at the end? Beyond enjoying the process of this entirely new way of telling a story?

WRITER: I certainly am. On one level the first measure of success is if it works, you know, this is a hugely aspirational and very ambitious project. It it works that is one level.

SUTCLIFFE: I suppose my question is how do you tell whether it has worked?

WRITER: I suppose for me a number of things. One if it manages to set a precedent for a new way of telling stories. The second for me goes back to that point, the emotional engagement, whether it triggers a vital conversation over what happens over the next thirty years.

That, I suppose, is linked to the third point for me, which, you know, is if you look at our current situation in terms of the climate crisis and our failure to act, that has been a story of a failure of narrative, on the level of the species, for thirty or forty years. And I hope you know that we will all try to pull the levers we have access to, and for me, that is story. With something like “Galwad” I hope that we are helping, contributing to redress that balance.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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