Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

2018-2021: the Steps to Corporate Destruction

National Theatre: Comment

Language, Culture & Action , National Arts Company of Wales , October 15, 2023
National Theatre: Comment by Language, Culture & Action  There is a common pattern to corporate collapse. After the event the factors of instability are obvious. They are right there, so obvious, but they were always there. They were there, but the management never saw them.

Two periods were central to setting the National Theatre of Wales on the course to its day of destiny, 27th September 2023. The first period was the autumn of 2018, the second the first months of emergence from the days of pandemic.

But, apart from actions, the company had an ongoing factor of instability. The article below 26th October 2020 had as its heading “Factors that Caused Instability.”

The corporate language was one all of its own. As an instance, gaining consent for marketing materials is universal but its phrasing from a national arts company was written as “We would love to still hang out with you and keep you informed about what we are doing, where we will be and share our news with you.”

From the article of 26th October 2020:

"This is language that is unique. It is addressed to no-one. Young people would deride it. But it is not addressed to anyone in Wales. It is reminiscent of when the BBC had to do the new youth music. The “Six-Five Special” opened with Pete Murray speaking “we've got almost a hundred cool cats jumping here, some real cool characters to give us the gas.”

* * * *

There was a tradition of prolixity and a language that was floridly declarative. As an instance, the directors reported how “the company has helped to foster an ambitious theatre culture and helped to catalyse theatrical activities in Wales beyond its own output.”

It is all at once grandiose and vague. It goes unsupported by evidence. It is not just that it is vainglorious vapour. It is disconnected from reality.

It is always a great revealer to see what is not said. The phrase “theatre production”, for one, is impossible to find. So, when Lorne Campbell spoke on Radio 4- fact-checked below 11th October- his characterisation of the company was: “first and foremost of all it's about people, its about relationship, it's about stories.” It is certainly about stories.

All organisations exist within a network of relationships and all employ people. That the putting on of productions is unsayable- organisations are teleological constructs. They are formed to do things. When they do not do what they were formed for, or do it poorly, the end is nigh. Customers drift, investors lose patience, funders apply the brakes.

There is nothing here that is exceptional in any way.

* * * *

The period 27th September to 6th October saw four media events: two radio, one television and a written statement.

On 4th October a statement was published. Other companies who lost their funding have issued comments of dignity and restraint. The statement from the National Theatre of Wales comprised 646 words. The fact of its public appearance provided a source for features in the Guardian and the Stage.

There it was cut-and-paste journalism put to the service of corporate PR. No sources were sought beyond the corporate interest. The Guardian added a statement to the effect that the company toured widely.

That is the National Theatre of Scotland which roams up and down its nation, gets back to Glasgow, takes breath and does it again. The National Theatre of Wales has toured, the larger proportion in its first era 2010-2015. It does so now from time to time. But widely is not the right word. “Circle of Fifths”, for instance, visits 7 venues in Wales this autumn. Black Rat Productions in the same season performs in 16 venues of Wales.

The company statement of 4th October contained falsities and elements that were intended to deceive. Alongside the signature of Lorne Campbell were those of Yvonne Connikie & Sharon Gilburd.

Thus do their names enter the record of the culture of Wales. The statement is of such a nature that it asks for critical scrutiny at a later time.

* * * *

Lorne Campbell was interviewed on Radio Wales Arts Show 6th October.

He was asked four crisp one-line questions. Four questions prompted a remarkable 699 words of spoken response.

The interview opened:

“I'm delighted that we're going to be meeting Arts Council Wales next week and beginning that conversation. That's not one conversation, it's about what are the parameters from how they see the position, how their understanding on what the review to be looking like. We need to think in careful, in flexible and in innovative ways about the resource that is National Theatre Wales represents and that is everything, relationships and networks, to work that has significant investment in it, that are a long way through R&D. There are commission relationships that are working and that at the moment National Theatre Wales is the custodian of that and we're the very fortunate people who are the custodians of the company but that belongs to the people of Wales. They bought it and what we can't see, whatever we're heading towards, it would be criminal to waste that and that needs to loop round all of them.”

FACTCHECK

This is a first. The people of Wales are given a nod as having a stake in their own national theatre.

The artistic programme for 2024 is characteristic of the company, the website offering no theatre at all. But there are some works-in-progress and the Arts Council of Wales is deemed to be potentially “criminal” concerning their fate.

A look back to the worst of times that was the spring of 2020.

Three productions that mattered were hit by the measures to combat the pandemic. When theatre came back to us Theatr Genedlaethol brought back “Tylwyth”. It toured to critical acclaim and audience delight.

Theatr Clwyd produced “Milky Peaks” at the first opportunity it could and it toured to critical acclaim and audience delight.

The National Theatre of Wales' “Hail, Cremation!” had got as far as the technical rehearsal when the closure of theatre killed it. Jon Tregenna was never to see his fully-finished production reach the light of day.

Despite its cancellation by Lorne Campbell, it stands falsely in the archive of a national arts institution as part of its production history.

Campbell, it may be assumed, is not “criminal” whereas the Arts Council of Wales, with no legal connection to the company, is.

* * * *

The month of March 2021 was a turning point. The turbulent autumn of 2018 had left Sir Clive Jones and the Board free to divert the grant from the Arts Council of Wales wherever they liked. The article below 2nd February 2019 collated the voices from the months before:

“The Arts Council of Wales, which pays the £500 a head, had no intention of comment. The writers who spoke did not want a debate. They wanted action and change. Neither of the Chairmen, Company or Council, was going to do that.

“The figure refers to the presumed subsidy for audiences. It had featured in an article in Wales Arts Review:

“Arts Council Wales money going to NTW is subsidising audience members to the tune of around £5000 a head, and it is unimaginable that Harvey or O’Riordan would be afforded such luxuries with their grants from the public purse.” [The then distinguished artistic directors at Theatr Clwyd and the Sherman; both won Olivier awards.]

The first theatre in Wales after the easing of restrictions was performed by Theatr na nÓg in June 2021. Ffwrnes followed and the first tour was that of Theatr Iolo. WNO and Lighthouse were the next. Some companies used the season to perform in the open air. But the company which most loved the great outdoors was not present.

At the time in which theatre was painfully stepping back into the post-pandemic world the National Theatre of Wales was in a depleted state. Campbell had removed staff from theatre activities. They- the number is not known- were seconded to another organisation, Collective Cymru, that had no connection to theatre.

The path was inexorably set for the date with destiny that was the autumn of 2023.

* * * *

The projects for the Unboxed Festival were made public in the autumn of 2021 but the decisions by DCMS had been made before. At the National Theatre of Wales the directors reported:

“In March 2021 NTW learned that the consortium bid to DCMS for Festival 2022/ Unboxed was successful.”

On 15th March 2021 a company “A R Musicals” was incorporated. Its activities were registered as SIC Code 90020 “Support activities to performing arts.” The directors are Lorne Campbell and Selma Dimitrijevic. The sources of its income are not known.

Mention of the company first entered the public domain 11 months ago, featuring in the article below 19th November 2022. The National Theatre of Wales has made no comment on the fact of its artistic director holding an outside directorship. The Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland holds no outside directorships.

The artists of Wales put it in black-and-white in 2018. The company “seems to take pride in ridding itself of a theatrical identity.” Yvonne Connikie & Sharon Gilburd have no background in theatre. Their presence had one motivation. That mission, to deprive Wales of a theatre of quality, is no more.

The two co-chairs could now break with the company culture, its tradition of privacy and secrecy. There is a public interest here. They could turn themselves to the service of the public and issue a statement to clarify this outside directorship.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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