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Arts Council of Wales Review Vindicated

National Theatre: Comment

Public Statements and Others , Media of Wales and England , October 13, 2023
National Theatre: Comment by Public Statements and Others The history of national theatre in Wales goes back more than a century. Aspects of that history can be read in articles below written by Anna-Marie Taylor and Michael Bogdanov in the last century.

2023 is a year of significance in that history. On 27th September the Investment Review issued by the Arts Council of Wales determined that the national theatre had lost the confidence of its nation.

The reason is simple. It has been the only national theatre in the world to have expended effort on a wide scale, and its public subsidy, to not perform theatre for the benefit of its nation.

This was not easily done. It required the directors to break with the articles of association that govern their actions. It required the directors to not abide by the conditions under which the company benefits from charitable status.

The article below 1st May 2019 was headed “Mae Dim Byd yn Wedi Newid” and recorded the deviation from legal requirement.

The article of 26th January 2023 below was titled "National Theatre Wales Show Has to Have Theatre In It": Ignored” and listed some of the non-conforming activities:

Stand-up comedy
An audio-poem
A Mural
Song-writing
Photography
Radio
Landscape art installation
A boat ride
Cooking event
Gallery exhibitions
Documentary Film-making

* * * *

Companies House and the Charity Commission determine the legal activities of the directors. The conditions for public subsidy in Wales entail conformance with the handbook that governs the holding of national company status. It entails conformance with the quality documents of the Arts Council of Wales.

The article below of 2nd February 2023 is titled “Quality Standards & Compliance Waived by Arts Council.” It relates that these were not adhered to. It relates that conformance was waived by the former management of the Arts Council of Wales.

The article specifically asked for commentary from both theatre company and funding body in order that it be correct for the public record. Corrective requests were absent, a presumed attestation to accuracy of content.

* * * *

The article below of 9th March 2023 compared the language and public communications between two large subsidised arts organisations in Cardiff. That of the Wales Millennium Centre was characterised as having “Character, Clarity, Candour”.

The study of the language of the National Theatre of Wales included

“Its length at 158 words is economical. It should have been 159 words but a word was omitted. It is a company tradition that public statements not be proof-read.

“...As for clarity the phrase “2022 had us stepping into our role as change-makers” is obscure and of no meaning to a public readership. As it does not feature in the Articles of Incorporation the Board should instruct the management that the phrase be deleted.”

* * * *

Public communication in the first era was voluminous, the artistic director John McGrath taking an active and regular part. Public communication in the second era has been characterised by economy, signalled by the excision of the community forum part of the website.

The new website has a search function. Interestingly, a search for the first management team yields “No results have been found for John McGrath” and “No results have been found for Lucy Davies.”

The directors report securing Ł40000 from the Esmee Fairburn Foundation for redevelopment of the online community pages.

The search function displays “No results have been found for community pages.”

As an example of the quality of its communications the archive includes in its production record “Hail, Cremation” as having been performed over two weeks. This is wholly false, the production having received no public performances.

The annual return, with the signature of Sir Clive Jones dated 18th January 2023, reads on page 7:

“Our entire operational system is set up to be open and engaged with the public. Our online presence aspires to be the leading National Theatre resource, based on a truly interactive and conversational relationship with the public...we run a social network site where members can speak to one another, react to the work..It is a home for our audiences in the absence of a building.”

* * * *

Lorne Campbell has made few appearances in the media. The last two weeks have seen more appearances than in the prior two years.

On 27th September he featured on Radio 4's arts programme “Front Row”. Regrettably the interviewer had not researched the company and took the comments from an artistic director at their face value.

The interview included:

“What we can take responsibility for is about the vision, the quality of work that we provide and the way that we think imaginatively and openly about how we go into a very different future."

FACTCHECK:

On production quality the company has performed for one week in the last 10 months. The article below 29th June 2023 recorded its reviews:

“The soupy headache of the play’s irregular narrative...heavy without enough levity...themes beaten into you repeatedly while at the same time, not explored with enough depth to uncover new ground.”

“...the script is underwritten and superficial....so many aspects of intersectional identities and experiences of oppression that it leaves all of them unexamined in favour of a series of strident vignettes...lack of subtlety to the protagonists’ experience...hollow and cliched.

"...the script’s ham-fisted insistence on rehashing already well-trodden avenues...crowds out any opportunity for the characters to become more than generic stand-ins for a series of topical issues...cannot make up for poor writing"

The article below of 31st December 2022 read:

"...the productions of Wales that mattered in 2022 across a span of reviewers. Many of the names were familiar, some were new.

"The National Theatre of Wales was mentioned not once.

"Nor did the national theatre make the end-of-year lists of 2021. The records for 2019, 2018, 2017 are the same, national theatre not making the top 10 lists.

"Not a production of the national theatre has been strong enough to be included in a best-of-year retrospective since 2016. The entry that year was a Gagglebaggle production with only a co-production credit for the company.”

* * * *

Lorne Campbell on “Front Row”:

“In the three years that I've been with the company we've done a huge amount to open up dialogue, talk with all of our stakeholders, increase the volume of work we do, the range, the breadth, and make the impact of that work.”

And repeated:

“...Over the last three years we've delivered a huge amount of work.”

FACTCHECK:

The company has presented one week of public performance so far in 2023. In the period April 2023 to January 2024 there will be 13 days of public theatre.

In 2022 the company did not perform on 340 days of the year.

In 2021 fifteen companies of Wales preceded it in performance after the pandemic. By the time it managed a first performance- a production which received scathing reviews across the board- Theatr Genedlaethol had already completed two tours.

Lorne Campbell On Front Row:

“We're one of the few companies never mind in Wales but in the UK that can bridge inbetween doing deep careful long co-created work...and work of international reach and profile.”

FACTCHECK:

The last international activity dates back to the first period 2008-2015.

* * * *

Following the interview a press release was issued on 4th October signed by Lorne Campbell, Sharon Gilburd and Yvonne Connikie. Lorne Campbell featured in a more expansive interview on Radio Cymru Wales Arts Show 6th October.

Both of these public communications are requiring of a similar scrutiny.

The decision made by the Arts Council of Wales has been thoroughly vindicated. The public of Wales should be grateful to its new management.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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