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NTW Dramaturgy Project - Beginnings

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Comment by Phil Rhys Thomas on November 3, 2011 at 7:14
Well, we all know who wrote the most famous Scottish play and he was nowhere near the country. Nothing reductive about that one.
Comment by Brad Birch on November 3, 2011 at 1:30

I've been trying to think for a while about how to phrase my opinion on the "Welsh play" thing. And while this seems a perfect board/thread/opportunity to do so I’ve been wary as I don't want my point of view to come across as reductive or recalcitrant but.... balls to it.

You know, I really don't care what makes a Welsh play. I think we're too obsessed with what a Welsh play is or what constitutes a play about Wales. Shouldn't we be more concerned with whether our plays have an inherent humanness about them? If certain aspects of non-Welsh work ‘feels’ Welsh then chances are it’s because it has an inherent connection with anyone. I dare say people of Stoke would feel the same about them.


I don't mean for this to sound rude but if someone said "Very good, Brad. This play of yours really talks about Wales" I'd think "Fuck off, this play is about humanity!" Unless I was writing a play distinctly about Wales then if anyone called it “a Welsh play” I’d be really pissed off because even though I’m Welsh I don’t want that weight around my neck and neither should it have to be. To assign types of plays to the nationality of the author is something I’d really want to avoid. I’ve never in my life written about Wales and I doubt I’d want to. I’d write about humans, yes. I’d write about emotions, yes. But postcodes and ‘this side of the toll roads’ absolutely not. I dare say I’m probably being distinctly ‘yoof’ about rejecting what I grew up with but while Llandod in the rain is bollocks I’m prepared to accept that Totness in the rain is bollocks too.


But that's not to say I'm anti-Welsh or anti-plays-about-Wales (which I'm aware is how my opinion could be interpreted). However, Beckett wasn't particularly Irish, Buchner wasn't particularly German (arguments may be made against that but they're not as Irish or German as we're discussing nationality in this context), but wouldn’t we eat our own hands off to get hold of “our own” Beckett or Buchner right now? If there was a Welsh writer out there writing Endgame then I doubt we’d be having the discussion of whether the play was particularly Welsh.


I can't buy the idea that a Chekhov play could feel particularly Welsh. Because to define an aspect of something distinctly Welsh doesn’t that then isolate it from it being anything else? If a play 'feels' Welsh in parts then doesn't that imply that these parts then feel slightly less Irish, or Scottish or English? Of course not. And I know that’s not what anyone here is trying to say but can you see how it is implied? And if a play can feel Welsh and Scottish and English and Irish all the same time then isn’t that just a good play?


I don't almost cry about Endgame because it reflects to me what is it to be a person of a similar national or cultural background, it absolutely snookers me because it is about everyone. I wouldn’t want people going a play of mine saying “Well, it’s good but it’s a Welsh play so I dare say we’re not getting all of it.” I’d want to write a play that makes geordies go “well bloody hell – that speaks to me. This play has a distinctly newcastle feel”, because then I know I’ve done a decent job of relating to anyone.

Comment by alun howell on November 2, 2011 at 23:37

A good commentary on the difficulties of defining a 'National Theatre'.

Why not just encourage imaginative local/national drama and let the Guardian or Londoners worry about if its Welsh or not? Is that perhaps  a bit too easy?

Comment by National Theatre Wales on November 2, 2011 at 23:08
Comment by Rebecca Gould on November 2, 2011 at 12:21

the more specific a play is, the more universal it always feels to me....

when I was reading plays for the usual host of new writing venues in London and Cardiff, I thought a lot about language structure and expression in Welsh plays, or more specifically in plays written by Welsh writers. Dialogue most obviously places a play in a Welsh place, however for me it was the character’s world view (maybe?), or their way of expressing their thoughts and especially emotions.... The way they physically and verbally interacted with others - or the way they used images and metaphors to illuminate things- that when you thought about realising theatrically, brought to mind something original, certainly outside of the English literary tradition (and playwrighting tradition) something other? Partly I guess this is because many of our great playwrights are bilingual

Anyway it is partly why I have come to believe that developing a way of creating plays which mirrored exactly the English stage tradition (largely Royal Court) was a daft idea... and why I think NTW’s current plans for working with individual writers are great...

Comment by Simon Harris on November 2, 2011 at 12:14
Thanks, Carmen. Yes, this Saturday's Open Space event will be picking up the thread of discussion from the March event which was focussed on theatre writing. This Open Space is more broadly based and aimed at the whole creative community of theatre makers in Cardiff - actors, writers directors, designers etc. Interest has been good so far and if you want more details then check out this link:
Comment by National Theatre Wales on October 30, 2011 at 23:40

Oh, i wouldn't be so down on Welsh habits Tim. Having spent a bunch of time in Scotland and a bit of time in Ireland recently, the one thing folk do more than talk about national characteristics is criticise themselves for talking about national characteristics...

Now, don't you have a play to write..... (the Welsh one)

Comment by meredydd barker on October 30, 2011 at 23:39

I don't think I was talking myself out of answering the question; and I'm not embarrassed to even consider the question. Why embarrassed? I don't think there's been enough response for it to be an exercise in the absurd unless it's absurd how little response there's been. I think this is interesting-

“The issue is a fundamental one. For a long time there has been a lot of arguing, a lot of partisan behaviour. We all know it is not healthy. It might be entertaining, but it hasn’t helped. So maybe this series is about trying to move on from there."

Has there been a lot of arguing and partisan behaviour in Wales? That's a genuine question. Has there?

My problem is I'm finishing off a lot of work this week so the question of what makes a play Welsh is just adding to the exhaustion. I'd like to be interested, but what makes a play Welsh isn't eating away at me. I'll give it a week so don't quote me...

Comment by Tim Price on October 30, 2011 at 23:10

Yes John I think it's something worth replicating in Wales, as part of your canvassing opinion for the future shape of year 3 and 4.


I can't help thinking all the posts in response to this might sound like people are talking themselves out answering the question. Scotland certainly isn't embarrassed to ask what makes a play Scottish. And I have sat in pubs bored to tears by Irish playwrights explaining why Irish playwriting is so different to Britains.


Yet us Welsh seem too embarrassed to even consider the question.

Cliche alert:But then come to rugby and we can all make the distinction between a Welsh style of rugby and the rest of the world, yet it's a game played within universal rules.


Does it say something about us as peer group, that when asked how we differ from neighbours we think it's an exercise in the absurd?

Comment by alun howell on October 30, 2011 at 22:37

The question of what makes a Welsh play does not have a particular answer. A play in the Welsh language may have a claim but if it doesn’t deal with Welsh issues then it could be in any language. A play in English or Welsh about Welsh issues might reasonably claim to be a Welsh play but is this theoretical concept of a ‘Welsh’ play worth worrying about?

If a play comes from the heart and from a playwright who reflects Welsh issues and emotions (however they may be defined) it will be a play worth writing and worth seeing whether it is considered ‘Welsh’ or not.

We should be more interested in building an audience of committed theatre goers.

The competition is fierce – television, films, videos etc, etc. We cannot afford to be sidetracked by is it/isn’t Welsh; or what London thinks.


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