Theatre in Wales

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“Can't wait- this is really exciting stuff”- Why We Are Failed by BBC Cymru Wales

National Theatre: Comment

Radio Wales Arts Show , BBC Radio Wales , November 19, 2022
National Theatre: Comment by Radio Wales Arts Show The article of 17th November showed how the BBC in London went about discussing the biggest cultural event in Wales.

Tom Sutcliffe, in a style that was amiable but persistent, got the facts about “Galwad”. He elicited the cost and asked for the factors for success.

The floundering answers revealed all. This cultural Titanic, wrought by Cardiff's finest, was set upon the ocean wave with nary a clue of what it wanted.

A line by Sutcliffe had an acuteness of prescience to it: “Art is not famously well-made by committees.”

Tom Sutcliffe in London has a broad brief. He is not expected to know the detail of the culture of Wales.

But BBC Cymru Wales is. That is why we, the public, have journalism.

There is a context to the contribution of the BBC in Cardiff to making “Galwad” what it was. Laura Macallister is a figure held in high regard, chosen to co-chair the committee looking into the constitution. Her view of the public broadcaster is publicly written:

"Mostly flabby interviewing and a lack of interest in, never mind rigorous scrutiny of, those who run Wales.”

In dealing with “Galwad” the broadcasters have demonstrated this.

There is not the slightest interest as to who made this event. Weirdly Wales is unique in that a Minister, Lee Waters in 2019, has asked for more media scrutiny.

A submission to the Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales has addressed the BBC in Wales. Dr Russell Deacon:

“There has developed an 'Iron Quadrangle' between the Welsh Government, academia (mainly Cardiff University), Welsh media (mainly BBC) and the Welsh quangocracy, in which individuals either move back and forth between them, serve in both or sometimes all four at the same time."

"Often it's hard to determine who is working for which body and to whom they are accountable, if anyone at all.”

"A culture of secrecy in which there are harsh punishments for challenging, revealing or even criticising this prevails.”

“Galwad” gives much for a journalist to chew on.

* * * *

The organisational structure is not easily interpreted. The commission has been initiated by Creative Wales. This is an agency of the Government of Wales which makes the Minister accountable. But there is another organisation. A first obvious aspect is the elusive nature of Collective Cymru.

It appears to be unincorporated. It has no chair and no directors. It has a twelve-strong “project committee” whose role is “to advise and guide.” But these two activities are very different.

The Chair of the Committee is Sian Doyle. The publicity claims that the Committee includes “independent artists and theatre producers.”

This assertion is false. The Committee has no member with experience in theatre production.

* * * *

“Galwad” is made of two parts. The second is a one-hour television drama “Galwad 2052”. The sunshine suggests filming was done over the hot summer.

Public funding goes where the market does not. Audiences in 2022 are not short of television drama to watch.

The credits for “Galwad” “include:

Marketing and PR: 54 individuals and organisations including individuals with high-paid public sector jobs.

Coming up with the idea: 11 people.

“Engagement team”: 5 people

“CAPs- Community Detonators”: 10 people

“Access Team”: 25 people

The credits for “Galwad 52” list no script editors. This unorthodox way of making TV drama has a result.

It is inert, a high-water mark in ineptitude. A fuller review awaits a later time.

* * * *

The psychological impact of Covid-19 has been profound and universal. It took away our human core as social beings. The Unboxed festival comprised ten projects, some lasting for weeks, accessible from dawn to dusk, at the centre of public transport hubs.

“Galwad” offered two hours of performance. The location was a Sunday in October in one of the least accessible towns in Wales. This is pure National Theatre Wales.

For the rest it was stay at home with a screen. The Chair of the Project Committee is from S4C and is a member of the board of the National Theatre of Wales. The Chair of the National Theatre is a former television executive.

* * * *

Of the ten projects Wales was alone in choosing to offer nothing for children and their families.

The millions of pounds went through the accounts of the National Theatre of Wales.

The theatre record of 2021 is written. National Theatre of Wales was the last company in Wales to perform. The interval after its opposite number in London was six months.

For Jackie Wylie and Rufus Norris the job of artistic director of their national theatres is a full-time one. In the first quarter of 2021 they were deep in the challenge of returning theatre to their nations.

On 15th March 2021 Lorne Campbell registered a new private company.

The occupation given is “writer.” On the credits for “Galwad” he is listed as “Writing Mentor”. The salary for the artistic director of the National Theatre of Wales is a fifth to a quarter above that of the equivalent at the Sherman.

With the Government of Wales in the frame there is much for a journalist to chew on, issues of public interest and plenty to ask about.

* * * *

The credits for “Galwad” are extensive and curious. In London Sutcliffe interviewed a director. Radio Wales chose to interview a “Lead Artist”.

This is how BBC Radio Wales undertook its service to the public. The interview lasted seven minutes, one half the length of that in London. The speakers are likeable and the names will not be written.

The artists involved in “Galwad” are not to be blamed. The three million members of Excluded UK suffered dire disadvantage during the pandemic.

This was broadcast on 23rd September.

INTERVIEWER: A story of contemporary Wales that offers a glimpse into the future “Galwad” blends live performance and drama to form a new kind of cultural event bringing together talented Welsh performers, live-streaming on our screens from 26th September.

Tell us more. A member of the original team. This is something mind-blowing.

INTERVIEWEE: It is mind-blowing and it is often very difficult to describe. I remember in the original brief if they wanted something that was unashamedly forward-thinking. Right. We as a nation are audacious, ambitious and aspirational.

That's why I thought this is an amazing opportunity to really put Wales on the map. Broadcast this unusual project to the world., I've just hotfooted from Blaenau Ffestiniog, I was on the street and it's emanating from the slate scree slopes

There's a real buzz, incredible, and I genuinely believe that we are doing something new here, managing, showcasing this incredible talent. It is rooted in our pioneering site-specific theatre...from Brith Gof and we're revisiting that, blending that in there and fusing that with our extraordinary broadcast ability.

INTERVIEWER: So what will people see on their screens?

INTERVIEWEE: You can follow the story online from Monday. We're collaborating with Sky Arts. You can follow it on their social media platforms. And then you can just follow it. It's in real time and you can follow it.

I'll give you a little glimpse. On Monday it begins and a massive electrical storm breaks dramatically across Wales and its epicentre is Swansea and the impossible happens. As the storm cracks time slips and the future calls. Hence “Galwad”.

And then it's about a sixteen-year old girl from Merthyr who claims that messages are coming through from 2052 and that during that swirling storm over Swansea she swaps with her 46-year old from 2052.

A journey across Wales over seven days, she and her amazing group of friends who are extraordinary young actors who are all from Wales, of Wales or who have trained in Wales, they're absolutely amazing and they go with her as they battle with that dilemma on what to do with the future, when you are faced with the future.

What does 2052 have to tell us? Will we listen? And in a way she's a bit like Dorothy but the yellow brick road has been replaced by the kind of tarmac A470 which of course will still be there in 2052.

And the Emerald City is the magnificent slate of the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. And it's extraordinarily exciting. And we start in Swansea. We end up live from Blaenau Ffestiniog. And I remember NTW's “Passion”. I think it was Judith Mackrell the critic who said Port Talbot was the happiest place in the world. And I am confident that on October the second Blaenau Ffestiniog will be the most fascinating forward-thinking place in the universe.

[Editorial note: the critic cited was Lyn Gardner]

INTERVIEWER: You talk about the National Theatre of Wales, the site-specific work, the experience that's really been developed, going back to Brith Gof, the experience that has really been worked on for a few years with NTW. That has taught us an awful lot, hasn't it?

INTERVIEWEE: That was wonderful. And the origins of National Theatre Wales, the brilliant mind of John McGrath, he wanted to root it in Brith Gof and the pioneering work. We've developed from that. We've always been brilliant broadcasters. Now because of the talent, because of the global reach, the incredible programmes made in Wales. This is an opportunity to really integrate that together....

INTERVIEWER: It's going to be fascinating viewing. And, as you say, it's from the 26th we can start to engage....the involvement of the technology and all the live performance. That can be a bit of a nightmare.

INTERVIEWEE: It's an extraordinary challenge. We obviously have an amazing team. This is one-shot, these scene. It's like ninety-nine percent rehearsal, one percent execution. It's certainly aspirational. The thing is. We've got this opportunity to showcase Welsh talent. And “Galwad” draws on all that and its manifestations from the epic

INTERVIEWER: Can't wait. Really very exciting stuff.

* * * *

Gary Raymond's article for Wales Arts Review on “Galwad” is headed “Deafening Silence: The Weakness of Wales" and includes "the cloistered corners of Wales’s cultural moneypit are patting themselves on the back over this artistic Bog of Eternal Stench they put up."

He ends “A strong and vibrant critical culture in the arts is an obvious place to start ensuring a culture has the foundational conversations to be the best it can be.”

“Otherwise, it’s just free marketing and propaganda.”

This is the record to date. BBC Cymru Wales has served its public with marketing and propaganda.

As above “Galwad” includes the hour long television drama that is yet to be reviewed.

"Bereft of all artistic quality" below 27th October

Interview with the director below 17th November

Notifications of error and items for correction welcome at editorial@theatre-wales.co.uk

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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