Wave of change in Wales?

6th February 1998 at 00:00
It only went through by a slim margin and the capital city voted against, but devolution for Wales is set to happen. How will the theatre respond? Will there be a National Theatre of Wales? of the existing building-based companies Cardiff's Sherman Theatre has no full-length home produced show this spring, though the glory points of the Sherman year, with its admirable high profile for young people, tend to be Christmas, especially the Arena shows for the very young, and the summer schools that feed into the early autumn programme.

In Milford Haven the Torch (01646 695267) offers Dancing at Lughnasa to February 14 but otherwise relies on visiting companies for its drama programme. This leaves one building-based company producing its own owrk , in North WalA Up north at Mold Theatr Clwyd could be due for a name change. Clwyd region vanished with local government reorganization as did its large scale funding capacity, though Flintshire, where the hillside theatre now finds itself, gives sterling support in all senses. And the capital debt which overshadowed the theatre was written off by William Hague when the Conservative leader was Secretary of State for Wales.

Still, a national identity would do no harm for public subsidy or private sponsorship. It could of course be coincidence that last autumn the theatre started splashing 'Cymru' across the front covers of its programmes. And it may be entirely without any such ambitions that the theatre secured ex-Royal Shakespeare Company boss Terry Hands as artistic director (his RSC fellow director Trevor Nunn now runs London's Royal National Theatre).

Still, it would be sensible for any theatre company having greater aspirations in Clwyd's northerly place to see how it could offer its work to heavily populated south Wales and provide for the small and widespread communities in between. And what do we find? A repertoire of six plays that will all be visiting Cardiff and south Wales venues. Plus a Sondheim musical touring mid-Wales. There's political as well as artistic sense in hiring director Tim Baker, who brings a wealth of experience in theatre in Wales.

Yet Theatr Clwyd's nearest population centres are in England. Can it still develop a strong Welsh identity? Most shows in the current season merely offer a trip down memory lane to the London theatre of a generation ago. Cardiff, Newport and Swansea down south are unlikely to be fobbed off with brief runs of an English-based repertoire. What about the explosion of small-scale companies, many experimental, in south Wales? What should be the balance between Welsh and English language work?

One positive sign is the quality of work being produced. Hands himself gives Peter Shaffer's Equus a taut, spare production using lighting and a patterned stage floor to create a whirling circle for the action, played with merely a chair as set. Frank Grimes and Oliver Ryan are strong combatants in the tussle between reason and Dionysiac outburst built round the investigation into a horse-blinding. And while Manon Eames' adaptation of Alexander Cordell's Rape of the Fair Country about suffering and protest among early nineteenth century Welsh ironworkers might seem a curiously backward way to establish a theatre's national loyalty director Tim Baker martials the familiar elements of such drama masterfully both in the colourful staging of grand, grim choric scenes and tightly focused intimate moments. Of the smaller shows Abigail's Party holds up less well though Fiona Buffini's Welsh set production has lots of ghastly good taste furnishings, clothes and behaviour in Beverley's (Vivien Parry) house. Dominic Cooke's production of Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane also has a firm visual statement in Rob Howell's set, suburban respectability blown open and set cockeyed on rubble. Joseph McFadden's Sloane is an easygoing uncouth youth, more preyed upon than predator; maybe nowadays we see the nastiness lurking under the sleek surface more easily for ourselves.

Mold Theatr Clwyd (01352 755114) Anthony Hopkins Theatre Afore Night Come to February 10; 18-19;27-28, also Cardiff New March 17-21, Rape of the Fair Country February 11-12; 20-24, also Cardiff New March 10-14, Equus February 13-17; 25-26, also Cardiff New March 3-7, Terry Johnson comedy Dead Funny March 25-April 18.

Emlyn Williams Theatre The Journey of Mary Kelly to February 10; 18-19; 27-28, also Pontardawe Arts March 18-21, Entertaining Mr Sloane February 11-12; 20-24, also Pontypridd Muni Arts March 11-14, Abigail's Party February 13-17; 25-26, also Blackwood Miners Institute March 4-7, Sondheim's Sweeney Todd March 12-April 4, (also touring), a Welsh language premiere of Yasmina Reza's Art, Celf, April 30-May 2: June 11-13, adults play children in Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills April 17-25; June 2-10;15-20 (the last three also tour Wales).

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