Theatre in Wales

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National Theatre Foundation: the Last Phase

National Theatre: Comment

A First Year & a New Critics Programme , National Theatre of Wales , December 18, 2009
National Theatre: Comment by A First Year & a New Critics Programme 5th November 2009: Production Release

There will be Aeschylus in the Brecon Beacons, a passion play in Port Talbot starring Michael Sheen and games on the beaches of north Wales. After being talked about for decades, a National Theatre of Wales was launched today with a tiny budget but enormous ambitions.

The first programme announced features productions, month by month, from Bridgend to Barmouth.

Like the National Theatre of Scotland, there will be no permanent theatrical home for the Cardiff-based organisation and it promises to stage productions in unexpected and unusual places.

Getting to the launch has been a long journey. Dai Smith, the chairman of Arts Council Wales, said: "We have been putting our toes in the water for too long. It was inexcusable, outrageous, that we did not have a national theatre for Wales. It may be 100 years late, but better late than not at all."

The most striking example of a straight, theatrical event in the programme is a lost John Osborne play. The Devil Within Him was written when Osborne was 18. It was censored, performed twice, then forgotten until it was discovered last year in the Lord Chamberlain's archives.

NTW producer Lucy Davies called it "an absolutely extraordinary play where murder mystery theatre meets 1950s Royal Court." It will be performed in Cardiff next May, with the blasphemy added back in and tells the story of a disturbed young man growing up in a small village 40 miles from Swansea.

The NTW is also tackling the recent teenage suicides in Bridgend, with a piece commissioned from Welsh playwright Gary Owen – though the NTW's artistic director, John McGrath, said it may not finally be about suicide. "I've told Gary if he ends up writing about old ladies on the moon, that's fine."

McGrath had no qualms in tackling the subject. "Even if the whole thing was a complete media hype, a random gathering of statistics, the story affected young people and what theatre can do is look at it in a different way."

One of the more unusual locations in the programme will be the "German village" on the army ranges on the Brecon Beacons. Audiences will be brought in by troop trucks to watch a version of Aeschylus's war play The Persians. The season will kick off in March.

The writer Alan Harris and McGrath have been visiting miners' institutes and community centres, and the six best stories will be presented back to the communities as part of a project called A Good Night Out In The Valleys. NTW also plans regular collaborations and it has asked the group Hide and Seek, which creates outdoor adult games, to create a game on the beaches of north Wales during July.

The launch in Cardiff was a statement of intent. It was broadcast live online with contributions from some of the artists via an internet chatroom and, in the case of teenagers from Bridgend, a Skype link. In April 2011, Welsh born actor Michael Sheen will return to Port Talbot to revive the town's Passion Play, with the poet Owen Sheers and using the local stories.

There is a lot riding on the plans. The NTW has a budget of just £3m for the first artistic year – that includes the two years spent planning and recruiting – and what it gets from the Welsh assembly in future years may depend on how good their strike rate is in year one.


* * * *

On November 5th 2009, John E. McGrath, artistic director of the National Theatre Wales, announced its inaugural programme during a multi-media web-cast, reflecting the company’s determination to embrace the new technology in a bid to engage with artists and audiences.

Later that evening, on BBC Radio Four’s flagship arts programme Front Row, whilst interviewing McGrath, Mark Lawson twice raised the spectre of placard-waving Welsh-speakers protesting at the new company’s work being performed in English. This suggested a metropolitan determination to cling to outmoded perceptions, and a shocking ignorance of the fact that a national theatre operating in the Welsh language – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru – has been in existence since 2003. Mercifully, the Guild members whom McGrath addressed at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre on 2nd December, in a meeting chaired by Roger Williams, were somewhat better informed.

The announcement in 2007 of the establishment of the National Theatre Wales - funded by the Welsh Assembly Government with an initial grant of £3 million - followed hard on the heels of similar developments in Scotland, and brought to an end (or at least moved into a new, constructive phase) a debate which had been raging for over half a century. The company’s first-year programme boasts an ambitious range of work, commencing in March 2010 with Alan Harris’s A Good Night Out In The Valleys, to be staged in a number of South Wales workmen’s institutes; and climaxing with Hollywood heavyweight Michael Sheen’s takeover of his home town of Port Talbot as he revives the traditional Passion Play alongside poet Owen Sheers in April 2011.

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9th December 2009: Critics Programme

Together, we are looking for a number of new critics to participate in a training programme of seminars and workshops, whilst following and critiquing the journey of National Theatre Wales’ first year programme of shows.

To find out more about this opportunity and to receive an application pack, please email:

Applicants will be asked to submit a current CV with covering letter plus a 500-word piece on any work of art in any chosen art form. Applicants must live in Wales.

The deadline for applications is noon on Friday 22 January 2010

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed during the week beginning: 1 February 2010

Taster Weekend of training seminars and workshops: 20-21 February 2010

Press Night for the first National Theatre Wales show: 12 March 2010

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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