I’m sitting snuggled in a booth in the Spiegeltent we’ve imported from Belgium into the grounds of Cardiff Castle watching the last ever rehearsal for Silly Kings before the final preview of the show tonight. It’s a wonderful end to the year – with preview audiences heaping praise on the performers, the adaptation and the staging, and clearly having a very happy, very silly time. It’s also a great position to reflect back on NTW’s Year 3 – which took the company around the world in truly distinctive style, while also valuing the local more than ever.
Internationally, we presented four different shows in four different capital cities. In April we created a new production for the New National Theatre in Tokyo – Alan Harris’s The Opportunity of Efficiency – written originally in English but translated into Japanese for its Tokyo premiere. Alongside the production we presented our first international Assembly – an inspiring afternoon of debate and performance focussing on questions of energy and efficiency post-Fukushima. And we will continue our links with Japan next year as a selection of Japanese artists visit Wales to take part in WalesLab.
One of the things we discovered in Japan is just how much interest there is in NTW’s model of a national theatre – engaging with each location in which it works in an intensive, long-term way. There were lots of invitations to share our methods and our work in places as far flung as Australia and New Zealand. We really started to feel part of a global network.
In Berlin, Contanza Macras, who directed Branches: The Nature of Crisis for us last year, re-staged the show in a new version with Berlin’s famous Schaubuhne theatre – the first time they had taken a show out of their famous building and into a forest! And our gig-theatre production with Gruff Rhys/Boom Bip, Praxis Makes Perfect, moved from a warehouse in Cardiff via Bristol to London’s Shoreditch where The Barbican presented it at The Village Underground. We felt rather hip wandering around Shoreditch! The final capital city on our world tour was Edinburgh, where we presented an updated version of our 2012 show, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, during the festival. We couldn’t have known when we scheduled the show that we would be presenting the show just as Bradley’s trial was reaching its climax. We were updating the show daily as new events emerged, and the production was covered everywhere from the New York Times to Al-Jazeera. I hope that we had a positive impact on the debate around the issues, and the play was certainly very well received, with Tim Price’s script winning the James Tait Black playwriting award.
But it wasn’t all about international press and festival audiences. 2013 was also a time where NTW dug deeper than ever into local communities. Starting with De Gabay in Cardiff’s Butetown – the result of three year’s work with the local Somali community, continuing through a summer residency in Anglesey in collaboration with Hugh Hughes and Hoi Polloi theatre, and culminating in our autumn residency at Treocrchy’s beautiful Park and Dare Miners’ Institute – where Rachel Trezise’s new play Tonypandemonium packed out the theatre for two weeks – we built on our history of local engagement across Wales. Most of our shows are rehearsed in the very specific places where they are being presented – which means that actors, directors and many of the NTW staff spend a lot of time getting to know those communities. However in Butetown, Anglesey and Treorchy we went a step further – relocating NTW’s office for a time to each of these spaces and sharing everything we do with local organisations, artists and community members. Certainly a great learning opportunity for us. And a source of some of the year’s most vibrant memories for me – from the sun over Snowdon in the morning viewed from our ‘residency’ house in Anglesey, to the best cakes in the world on Treorchy high street, to the daily bustle of Butetown’s Loudoun Square. With each of these residencies we not only created a new production, but a whole range of activities ranging from WalesLab explorations of new artist ideas, to Word4Word open mic nights, and of course including our signature Assembly projects – mixing performance and debate to explore local issues. And through NTW TEAM we are supporting local people in each of these areas to set up their own projects and keep the connections with NTW strong.
We also promised surprises in the programme – and one of my favourites was our summer project with Ivan and Heather Morrison – Mr Clevver’s Nuclear Family – a touring puppet show, with beautiful hand-crafted puppets by Heather and Ivan – two of the UK’s leading visual artists. Not only was this show a surprise addition to our programme, it was a surprise everywhere it went – turning up unannounced in spaces from castles to housing estates across Wales, and using hand printed posters and good old fashioned word of mouth to let people know that a rather unique puppet show was about to happen.
We enjoyed this sense of surprise so much that we have decided to take it to another level in our fourth year of activity. Many people have been asking us ‘When is the launch of NTW’s Year 4?’ and after three exciting launch events – including the first ‘live online’ launch of a national theatre, a midnight countdown and a warehouse party – we’ve all come to look forward to the answer. However, having started on the journey of ‘surprises’ this year, we felt that we wanted to take this a step further, and announce our work in a different way. So for Year 4 of NTW’s programme we will be announcing each project individually – revealing new excitement throughout the year – and also allowing us the flexibility to respond to new possibilities at any point. If you want to be the first to know about each new project as it’s announced, all you need to do is sign up for our newsletter at nationaltheatrewales.org – we only need your email address – or of course you can just keep an eye on the NTW community right here where everything will be revealed.
We’re really looking forward to our year of surprises – to digging deeper into the places, poetry and passions of Wales – to spreading the word about the country's amazing art and theatre far and wide – and to collaborating with an extraordinary range of artists.
But for now – we’ve got some very Silly Things to do over Christmas. See you in Cardiff Castle and for a Surprising 2014!
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