Theatre in Wales

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"Completely Sold Out"- More Fact-Checking of Public Statements

National Theatre: Comment

CEO on Television and Radio , BBC Cymru Wales , October 28, 2023
National Theatre: Comment by CEO on Television and Radio BBC Cymru Wales ran a feature on the National of Wales on its “Sunday Politics” programme on 15th October. The first part of its content is evaluated below 26th October.
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Lorne Campbell continued:

“I've been in post for three years. We've got a new team. We've got a really exciting programme of work coming up.”

FACT-CHECK

The interviewer might have asked why there is no programme of any kind made public for 2024. He nodded along with his interviewee.

* * * *

The interview continued:

“It's up to us to keep talking with those who don't feel we've done what people wanted us to do in the past.”

FACT-CHECK

These are not feelings. There have been clear statements. They came from actors, writers, directors, reviewers and now from the Arts Council of Wales.

The interviewer might have enquired who this “talking with” involved. The appeals process of the Arts Council of Wales is quite clear. An independent assessor has a threefold duty to review:

“if we did not follow the published procedures”

“if we misunderstood a significant part of their application”

“we did not take notice of the relevant information we said we would in the published guidelines”

The direction of the “talking with” is now known, see below 21st October. Campbell's intent is that the Minister break the ministerial code.

* * * *

The interview continued:

Question: “Are you happy with audiences you've been getting?”

“Yes, and no. We've had some projects that have been completely sold out.”

FACT-CHECK

Once again that word “project”, the words “theatre production” being unsayable.

“Sold out” is an elusive phrase that depends wholly on the size of the venue. The interviewer might have enquired after the actual numbers but nodded.

* * * *

The interview continued:

“We've had some projects that have fallen well short of what we wanted to achieve. What we do is about risk. We do exciting, provocative things in new ways.”

FACT-CHECK

This is false. The linguistic style of the company in recent years wallows in the hyperbolic and rhetorical. That is quite likely the reason that the application for funding failed to convince the Arts Council of Wales. It has a quality of detachment to it: from form, from action, even from being easily understood.

An interview with Lorne Campbell took place on Radio Cymru Wales Arts Show on 6th October. There was no reference to the fact of his submission's failure to secure public funding for the next period.

Instead a radio audience got to hear, in excerpt:

Question: “Is that we're headed, a big national conversation?”

Response: “I think that has to be part of it. Now what that looks like and how you do it. What of that is live, what of that is digital, how you hold those spaces, we'll need to be wide open to that and see what it is. If the cultural sector is continue to move to being the very best version of itself, audiences, communities, who own a piece of that, in different ways, people who own a piece of that, or people who currently don't own a piece of that, and should be included in that conversation. We've got to build a structure towards that. It's one of the great fundamental assets of Wales, it's a deep belief, and a deep understanding that cultural practice, cultural experience, doesn't live inside cathedrals of culture, it's why National Theatre Wales of Wales is constructed in the way that it is, so whatever that conversation is, however the Arts Council is thinking in the framing of that review. I'm sure that's in their thinking as well.”

No other arts leader speaks to their public in this way.

* * * *

The adjective “provocative” is used to describe the company's productions. There is a strand of theatre that is provocative. Aleks Sierz gave it the name of “In-yer-face Theatre”. In the ecology of Wales' theatre companies this strand has a proponent in Company of Sirens. Their productions have been of the like of “Dark Vanilla Jungle”, The Censor”, “Stitching”, “Tender Napalm”, “The Nether.” These are provocative.

The productions in the time of Lorne Campbell have not been provocative. They have tended toward the reverse, a thematic blandness being the norm.

* * * *

The interview continued:

“We do exciting, provocative things in new ways.”

“In new ways” is false. There has not been innovation of staging in some years. The central drive of the company, to minimise performances in theatres, has meant regular promenade performances.

The company in its founding years did these with brilliance. Marc Rees lit up Barmouth with “For Mountain, Sea and Sand” in 2010. Constanza Macras did the same in Wepre Forest in 2012 with “Branches: the Nature of Crisis”. So also did Abdul Shayek with "Eich Parc, Eich Dweud!: Your Park, Your Say!” in Glynllifon Park.

The events in the open air in the later years were given to directors without the flair of Rees, Macras or Shayek.

Nick Davies made his judgement on Radio Cymru Wales Arts Show on 29th September:

“Where they went wrong was that the number of shows dwindled. It's stark, what's on their website. The lack of drama- there's plenty of drama offstage now. We had these experiences, they kept telling us theatre. It's like calling a donkey a horse. I'd turn up at something and I'd think “just give me a play. Give me some dialogue.” And when they did that. It wasn't great.”

* * * *

The interview continued:

“A Proper Little Miracle” in Wrexham was completely sold out.”

FACT-CHECK

The interviewer might have asked for a qualification “sold out.” The company has performed at times in places holding 12 people.

If the public grant received in the year 2021-2022 is amortised over the timespan between productions the subsidy per audience member in Wrexham may be assessed as £440. The figure is in line with an assessed figure that has been published in Wales Arts Review.

To put this in context it is higher- by a marked degree- than performances this month of “Peter Grimes” in London. At curtain call- after a production of sublimity- the full orchestra came on stage. The number of performers came to 180.

* * * *

The interview continued:

“The Cost of Living” in Swansea did much less well than we wanted it to do.”

COMMENT

The interviewer might have asked how much less well but nodded. Audiences at the Swansea Grand were reported to have dropped to 30 or 40.

And for a reason.

This month both the Wales Millennium Centre and Theatr na Nog- Aberystwyth Arts Centre announced productions opening in April 2024. The purpose is to raise awareness and spread the word. Box offices for both open shortly.

At the beginning of 2023 the National Theatre of Wales had made public no artistic programme at all. The same position applies for 2024.

Announcement of the production came at a late date. The promotion, when it finally made its late appearance, was unpersuasive. As a piece of theatre it appeared to be declamatory, narrow, monochrome. It was conceived to be of low appeal and so turned out to be.

A debut production from the start-up company Grand Ambition in the same month was of more appeal and artistically greatly superior.

"The Cost of Living" is reviewed and discussed below 1st April 2023.

* * * *

It was manifest that no research had been done for the television feature. The productivity issue went unmentioned.

The first performance in Wales after the pandemic was the Theatr na nÓg and Theatr Brycheiniog co-production “We Need Bees" by Katherine Chandler. It took place on the King George V Playing Field in Brecon.

Since that performance the National Theatre of Wales has received, amortised on a monthly basis, £3,800,000.

On 14th December 2007 the Western Mail ran a feature on the Chair of the new English-language national theatre whose appointment had been announced by Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM, Minister for Heritage.

On page 3 the newspaper reported Phil George on the subject of theatre: “it can learn from the best of broadcasting something about relating to the audience...ambitious but also to reach wider audiences.”

Since that performance of “We Need Bees” in Brecon 856 days have elapsed. The National Theatre of Wales holds the record of its productions on its website.

Over that time the company performed on 36 days.

* * * *

The “Sunday Politics” feature returned to the studio where the presenter said of the company “some successes, some failures.”

The programme ran unquestioningly with Lorne Campbell's line. He represented “risky” versus “traditional”.

“Is there a sense, perhaps, that we need fewer riskier productions or that companies should be taking fewer risks in an era where money is tight?” ran the question.

This is the ecology of producing organisations of Wales that will be performing for audiences over the next three years. Some are big, some are small, some are regular, some less so. Some travel Wales up and down. A few travel the world. For the size of Wales it is a good enough number.

Aberystwyth Arts Centre, August 012, Arad Goch, Awen, Bale & Thomas, Bara Caws, Black Rat, Blackwood Miners' Institute, Chippy Lane, Theatr Clywd, Company of Sirens, Dirty Protest, Fluellen, Flying Bridge, Franwen, Gagglebaggle, Theatr Genedlaethol, Grand Ambition, Hijinx, Iolo, Lighthouse, Lurking Truth, Mercury, Na Nog, Pontio, the Other Room, the Sherman, Taking Flight, Torch, Volcano, Wales Millennium Centre,

In the view of the National Theatre of Wales- endorsed by his television interviewer- they all bear the demerit of being “traditional.”

It is a word absurdly applied when seeing the theatre of Paul Davies or Chris Durnall or Mathilde Lopez or Yvonne Murphy or Izzie Rabey or David Ian Rabey or Lucy Rivers, and that is just a start.

* * * *

There is another factor that separates the National Theatre from the thirty-one above. They have full-time managements.

On 15th March 2021 Lorne Campbell registered a private company for a purpose undisclosed,. The company has refused all comment or even acknowledgement. The fact of this registration has been in the public domain for one year.

If Jackie Wylie or Rufus Norris had done the same the BBC in Scotland and England would have taken an interest.

BBC Cymru Wales in every interview turns its head from this. And so every interview, where this issue of public interest goes unquestioned, becomes part of the public record of Wales' theatre.

If there is considered to be cause for correction in this article any items for amendment should be notified at editorial@theatre-wales.co.uk

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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