A pulse-taking of Love Letters to the NHS, National Theatre Wales

August 9, 2018 by

Love Letter to the NHS
National Theatre Wales , Llandrindod, Haverfordwest, Wrexham, Tredegar, Carmarthen et al , July-31-18


The productions have, on average, been well received. As for the one that was selected to play Aberaeron and Haverfordwest, a reviewer is just one set of eyes and ears. The track record of criticism shows that anyone is well capable of being cloth-eared and addle-headed.

Sandra Bendelow, Scriptography founder, was at the second of the four performances. Hers is a voice to be respected and her verdict “theatre at its finest” should stand as the critical record.

Elsewhere, audiences have obviously been treated to fine work. All art-making is a risk. But if risk is to be managed, then it was likely that Peter Cox and Llion Williams, Alan Harris and Alexandria Riley were pretty much set to deliver magic. But then Cox and Harris are dramatists who have served their dues.

Kevin Johnson for Get the Chance and Jafar Iqbal for Wales Arts Review were wowed by “For All I Care”. Kevin Johnson was at Llandrindod Wells to applaud “the Stick Maker Tales.” Jafar Iqbal was also complimentary about “As Long as the Heart Beats” but less so for “Come Back Tomorrow.”

A London paper managed to get to what was intended to be a big event. Kate Wyver was at “Come Back Tomorrow” for “the Guardian” with rare words in the reviews of Wales: “Gloria…a member of the Windrush generation..Her husband trips from one job to another, moving to Swansea with the idea that the Welsh are friendlier than the English. But it doesn’t seem so. Spat at, yelled at and recoiled from on her daily rounds, Gloria learns the difference between a scream of pain and one of anger…the racist insults Gloria faced have spilled through time undeterred. Preparing to hand in her resignation, Judy’s compassion slips.”

It says something that the company has had to go to a playwright, a terrific one, from Notting Hill to get this script. The other events may have left an imprint somewhere. But “Peggy’s Song” and “Laughter is the Best Medicine” appear to have received no critical response. The one report from “Touch” was guarded.

A notable aspect of the company is the continuity that transcends any particular management. Obviously no meeting was ever convened to propose “let’s have a show in Aberaeron which no-one in Aberaeron sees” – of the 16 who were there, none were recognisable as being from the town itself. There is an irony that theatre – where much responsibility has been taken on by men from television – is held to account in the language from that jungle of an industry – the ratings are poor.

A multi-location event like this should have been seen by a lot of people. After ten years and investment in the brand the box office gross ought to have been £90,000 plus. That audience is not excessive – it would have represented playing to 0.21% of the population of Wales.

But the company has a tradition of minimal advertising, on and off, in the localities where it plays. Kirsty Sedgeman, in the only book so far on the company, records the practice in 2010 and it has been noted since. The signals are that box office has never mattered too much. In 2018 it may be surmised that the same thumbs-up to minimising audience was signalled as the norm. But box office is not just about cash, it is about participation, it is about us.

In Gwynedd, millions have been spent on a prestige venue. Millions have been spent on a national producing company in Cardiff. When one comes to the other it is in order to play to 30 people. Twice. Brad Channer reported the same from the Royal Gwent Hospital July 23rd for Art Scene in Wales. He too took a dissenting view. “I felt very trapped and force-fed one opinion on the NHS. It was also an extremely small capacity audience event so another example of our generously funded English-language National Theatre only reaching very limited numbers of people.”

The visit to Bangor has the same motivation as the last visit, the walk up the Watkin Path. Its purpose is that a scorecard in Cardiff may record a connection with the north. But the connection with the people of Gwynedd is zero, similar to the visit to Ceredigion in the winter. Pontrhydfendigaid – no public transport, no matinees – was chosen for its convenience for one of the makers’ university day job in Aberystwyth. The source of this admission of venue choice was the company itself.

There is a difference between 2018 and 2014. The company in the Snowdonia National Park is remembered for leaving its mark. In Bangor in 2018 there is a difference: no spray paint has been left on the roof of Pontio.


For the full article visit http://www.theatre-wales.co.uk/reviews/reviews_details.asp?reviewID=4095


The Independent Voice of Artists and Reviewers in Wales / Llais Artistiaid ac Adolygwyr yng Nghymru

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