Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A Writer Enters the Public Forum- Part Two

National Theatre: Comment

Critique by Dic Mortimer , National Theatre of Wales , November 6, 2023
National Theatre: Comment by Critique by Dic Mortimer Carl Tighe was a playwright and novelist, Writers Guild activist and commentator, and eventual documenter of the theatre of Wales for a dozen years. On 17th March 2004 he delivered a public address. His subject was the responsibility that writers face.

He spoke of : “the temptation to use words as they are given, to set down only words which do not cause problems, which can be easily absorbed, which do not challenge.

“This is, I think, to accept that the writer can make no meaningful intervention in the world and is merely a part of the entertainment industry. The second, opposite impulse, is to seek out and make use of words, to probe meaning, to make it obvious how words are compromised in daily use, to reveal what the user hides.

“A writer must always choose between these two possibilities, must always choose between servility or insolence. For a writer to say what they hear, to record what is happening to words, to be an ear-witness, will always be characterised as an act of aggression by those who do not want these things observed, recorded or dragged to light.”


* * * *

The article by Dic Mortimer, part one 4th November, continued:

“The NTW website starkly reveals the problem. Replete with sanctimonious mission statements, rose-tinted visions of the future and po-faced lists of ‘values’, it is a toe-curling embarrassment. It reads like a cut’n’paste of the twee truisms in a rural vicar’s sermon, the second-hand sloganeering of a gullible undergraduate and the Panglossian poppycock of a prissy Pollyanna entirely unacquainted with the real world...what, I ask, has any of it got to do with the National Theatre of Wales?”

COMMENT

The article does not analyse other aspects of the website: the false archive of productions, the grand-standing claims without a basis in fact, the “404 document does not exist” links, the relentless sloganising, the inattention, such as the declaration that the company has played to 34000 audiences.

* * * *

Mortimer continued with a passage of 860 words that describes his view of the staff. “They appear to have been hired for their ‘values’ rather than their skills...”

COMMENT

The public words on the company website of fifteen staff members, who are not senior management or in finance, run to a combined 2176 words. While Mortimer is correct that the language is in the main interchangeable they are young people and they speak for their generation. There is nothing wrong with that.

More importantly they are doing the jobs that the senior management has set them. It is the public statements of the Chief Executive and the Deputy Chief Executive that deserve scrutiny.

The young staff rely on catch-phrases from the company's self-promotion. The audience for “City of the Unexpected” has now swollen to 120,000. Some of the phrasing is incomprehensible. “I’m committed to making theatre more circular.” The Globe springs to mind.

Attention to grammar is at times haphazard. Plural nouns meet singular nouns and vice versa. The indifference to audiences is marked. “It's all about the process!”

There is not a mention of actors or dramatists. The people who excite are filmmakers, editors, vloggers, animators. “Get in touch, I'd love to hear from you.” Later “If you're a musician, animator, filmmaker, painter or any other kind of artist, I'd love to hear from you.”

Their words reveal the truth of the company. Many of the people spend much of the time not doing what the company was founded for.

And funded for.

* * * *

Mortimer continued:

"Pompous job titles like ‘creative development producer’, ‘audiences and communications coordinator’ and ‘operations and social impact manager’, must add up to around £1 million a year – which, along with the cost of renting a bijou office in Cardiff’s Castle Arcade, partly explains why there’s so little left in the kitty to deliver any actual theatre.”

COMMENT

Not a million a year. The cost of employment for the year ending 31st March 2022 was £1,460,180. Of which “Total remuneration benefits paid to key management personnel in the year was £176,276.”

* * * *

The article continued:

“It is not a political party, it is not a campaign, it is not a branch of social services, it is not a school, it is not a hospital, not a form of therapy and not a creche – hey, guess what, it is the National Theatre of Wales!

"Of course the topics NTW purports to care about could and should be tackled in theatrical productions of all genres, but they cannot be a manifesto or a platform since that is not only wholly unnecessary and goes without saying but also forecloses and limits artistic treatments, poetic licence, alternative outlooks and real creative thinking.”

COMMENT

The depth of the company's opposition to the art of theatre- its unique aesthetic heart- is long attested.

* * * *

The article continued with 470 words on several topics: the company's banishment of a Welsh character, its ideology as “a deeply conservative organisation that will never rock the boat, never challenge the status quo, never take on the powerful.” Mortimer critiqued the managerial effort applied in directions away from theatre.

COMMENT

The conservatism is correct. The first production made explicit reference to the first John McGrath of 7:84, below 3rd May 2010. McGrath:

“Theatre is the place where the life of a society is shown in public to that society...where that society's assumptions are exhibited and tested, its values are scrutinised, its myths are validated, and its traumas become emblems of its reality rather than a place to experience a rarefied artistic sensibility in an aesthetic void...It shows the interaction of human beings and social forces.”

Mortimer's words on the engrained loyalty to conservation of the status quo correctly show the abandonment of the spirit that led in 2010.

* * * *

The article turns to Anastacia Ackers, Anna Arrieta, Yvonne Connikie, Stephen Dimmick, Sian Doyle, Robert Edge, Sharon Gilburd, Miguela Gonzalez, Tafsila Khan, Jo Lilford, Simon Stephens, Sanjiv Vedi.

“As for NTW’s Board of Trustees...British (four make incidental references to Wales) and middle-class, they just trot out all the requisite ‘third sector’ platitudes larded with a bit more ‘business’ and ‘safeguarding’ jargon to cover their backs. Their combined knowledge of theatre could be written on the back of an envelope.”

COMMENT

The company website does not record its board accurately. The link to the details for one does not work. One has not been proof-read, the verb form switching from first to third person. The total word-count from the Trustees, and the reasons for serving with a national arts company, runs to 806 words.

The common thread, to avoid making theatre for the nation, runs through. One mentions insomnia: “What keeps me awake at night? I obsess about the need for simplicity and imagination in business, from top line brand strategy to front-line writing work.” Two affirm the ideology that public art be deployed for private purposes.

* * * *

The article concludes:

“It is quite clear NTW is not fit for purpose and the ACW, under the much more proactive new leadership of Chief Executive Dafydd Rhys and Chair Maggie Russell, were absolutely right to pull the plug.

“What happens next? In my view, once it is wound up the NTW should be re-formed immediately in the same way phoenix football clubs rise from the ashes. Then a panel of Welsh playwrights, actors, directors, artists and intelligent people of goodwill should recruit the cream of Welsh talent* to begin again. ACW involvement must be restricted to setting binding production targets and providing grant aid, while there should be no Welsh Government involvement at all.”

COMMENT

The issue of no government involvement is Labour party policy. Kevin Brennan , MP for Cardiff West, spoke ringingly in the House of Commons this year, 18th January, deploring ministerial interference.

* * * *

The article ends with a swipe at the Minister in Cardiff Bay both professionally and personally. Those with an interest in the thoughts of the Minister towards the arts should listen to the last interview. It took place on 1st March on Radio 4's “Front Row.”

The article can be read in full at:

https://dicmortimer.com/2023/10/26/national-theatre-wales/

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

back to the list of reviews

This review has been read 479 times

There are 60 other reviews of productions with this title in our database:

 

Privacy Policy | Contact Us | © keith morris / red snapper web designs / keith@artx.co.uk