Theatre in Wales

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In Memory

Gareth Miles in His Own Words , Theatre, Television & Cultural Activism of Wales , September 7, 2023
In Memory by Gareth Miles in His Own Words Gareth Miles was interviewed in New Welsh Review at length in February 1997.

In selection:

On S4C:

“I had always been a writer but the Fourth Channel enabled me to be a professional writer. Indeed it was the Channel that made it possible, for the first time since the end of the nineteenth century, for a Welsh writer actually to earn his living as a full-time writer. But it goes beyond simple remuneration. It involves the question of attitude.”

On early days:

“When I was still a student I was interested in European plays. But I should add that, in the 1960s and 1970s I was also writing articles on politics and current affairs nearer home for “Y Faner” and “Tafod y Ddraig”, the newsletter of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Cymraeg, and writing two collections of short stories. So I was from the beginning interested in different genres as well as different media, at home as well as abroad, and experimented with them.”

On his first plays:

“The first play I wrote was “Diwedd y Saithdegau” in 1982. It was a one-acter developed from a short story. David Lynn helped me develop it into a two-act play, and then, working with Gruff Jones and the actors, we developed it into a stage play that was in the event of production quite well received.

“My next play was “Unwaith Eto 'Nghymru Annwyl” in 1984. I was a founder member of Hwyl a Fflag, the company that encouraged and performed new writing. I always worked with writers and directors who helped me shape the work I was engaged on.”

On writing for stage:

“Initially, my background was literary, and I did need the help of experienced theatre people to teach me the language of theatre, because it is a different language, a different deployment of language from the expectations of a more “literary” work.

"Since I earn my main living writing for television, and since the two media are so different- however similar they may superficially appear to be- I still need the advice of a director who thinks solely, but creatively, in terms of theatre. This is what helps me eliminate, control, writing that is merely televisual or too specifically cinematic, and to concentrate on what is possible or challenging in the theatre, as theatre.”

On languages:

“I'd prefer to be thought of as an “internationalist” rather than “cosmopolitan”. I think it was probably due first to my father's influence. He was a miner's son from Pontrhydyfen and had an internationalist outlook on life.

“Saunders Lewis and his Francophilia was certainly another influence, but possibly in a different, even opposite, direction. He wanted of course a monoglot Wales, but I myself consider that to be unobtainable. The only way to avoid the compromise of bilingualism is to be trilingual or polylingual. I do think it is so important for writers in a small country like Wales to have at least one other world language beyond English. I went to France after taking a degree in Bangor in English and Philosophy, and became fluent in French.”

On classical theatre:

“The “Bacchai” was commissioned by Dalier Sylw. “Hunllef yng Nghymru Fydd” was an original reworking of the Antigone myth. I've always been interested in Greek theatre and I reacted again when against the spurious hand-me-down I received as a young person: that the great Greek writers were above politics and were “universal.” They were intensely steeped in the politics of their time. Also, my interest in the Greek classical theatre coincided with my investigation of the “Mabinogion” and other Welsh classical myths.”

On nationalism:

“I believe that the role of theatre is political in the Greek sense of the word. What are the important matters for theatre to discuss? In “Hunllef yng Nghymru Fydd” I ask questions about the nature of Welsh nationalism. I used to be a Nationalist but I would now regard myself as a patriot. That is an important distinction. For the Nationalist the nation is the essential unit of social organisation, and every individual's first allegiance is to his or her nation. If he or she rejects that, he or she is a traitor. The survival of the nation is the sine qua non, which means anything can be justified.”

On the place of theatre:

“I do think that theatre has an important democratic role to play in society. The bar is an important place in a theatre because it is very often there that you can see whether the play has been a success or not, if people stay on to talk after the performance. The important thing is that they have been charged and excited. Going to the theatre, unlike going to see a film, is a collective experience and in that sense theatre is a democratic form, a vitalising forum, unique and therefore important.”

On aesthetics:

“I do think Naturalism is the enemy of Art. The “Bacchai” production by Dalier Sylw was a much needed reaction against Naturalism. And they wouldn't have been able to do that had they not had the text. Theatre needs a text and a story. I do not have a high opinion of Brith Gof. Theatre is a text interpreted by an actor for an audience. Non-textual theatre is not theatre; it is exhibitionism and indulgence.”

On the arts of Wales:

“I think with regard to Welsh-language theatre, that for a people who pride themselves in the Arts, the Welsh are not much interested in aesthetic values, and they are interested in poetry only as long as it promotes the Welsh language politically. In a country like England or France, where you have a real ruling class instead of the professional media bourgeoisie that we have here, there are people who want to know what is happening in the world. They want left-wing plays as well as right-wing plays. They need the Arts to understand the world.”

He was also interviewed in New Welsh Review in October 2004. In selection:

On criticism in Wales:

“It disappoints me that the present generation of young theatre critics inhabit the same well-upholstered cocoon and lack the intellectual and ideological tools which would enable them to analyse productions with rigour and precision. They have nothing but kind words for any Welsh-language play that is fairly well performed and has a worthy subject.”

On Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru:

“In its brief history so far, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru has done much to distance itself and Welsh language drama from the bitter company sectarianism and parochialism of the past seven years. Our aim must be to develop a National Theatre which gains European and world-wide respect. There remains much to be done. “

Gareth Miles 19 April 1938 – 6 September 2023

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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