Rethinking Mission and Methods at Our Welsh-Speaking National Theatre; as Theatr Genedaethol Cymru Undergoes a Major Review, Chairman Professor Ioan Williams Looks at the Highs and Lows of Our Welsh-Language National Theatre and How It Can Move Forward

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Byline: Professor Ioan Williams

WALES has two national theatres - the new English-language National Theatre Wales, and the Welsh-language Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru.

The latter was set up by the Arts Council in 2003, with the original brief of ensuring the provision of mainstream theatre through the medium of Welsh.

Since launching in March, NTW has been staging a series of theatre pieces in differing styles, targeting different communities.

Meanwhile, TGC is engaged in a thorough revision of its mission, its artistic policy and its methods of provision.

To some extent, this review was influenced by external events - for example, the closure of Theatr Gwynedd in Bangor, and the temporary closure for renovation of both the Lyric in Carmarthen and the Sherman in Cardiff, which cut TGC off from its traditional audiences.

Another factor was the decision of our artistic director, Cefin Roberts, after some seven years in post, to move on to pastures new.

But the company was already looking for different ways of being a truly national theatre company in a world where the concerns of Welshlanguage communities were rapidly changing.

Under Cefin Roberts, and with the collaboration of various guest directors, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, followed a policy of presenting three productions annually, which were mainly mainstream, in traditional theatre venues.

These included "classical" Welsh theatre texts by Saunders Lewis, translations of Beckett, Arthur Miller, Lorca and Molire and new work by established authors like Meic Povey and Aled Jones Williams.

A strong element has also been theatrical treatments of traditional Welsh subjects and themes, such as Hen Rebel, Cysgod y Cryman and Porth y Byddar - the latter, for example, a dramatic background to the creation of the Tryweryn reservoir by Liverpool Corporation.

From its inception, the company has also commissioned new work by less experienced authors.

No doubt there will be different views as to what productions have so far represented the highs and lows of the company's work.

But, within the company, we probably agree that it is very doubtful whether we would ever undertake a project like the translation of Romeo and Juliet again. Just as certainly, we would be delighted to regularly achieve the standard represented by the productions of Saunders Lewis' Esther and Aled Jones Williams' Iesu.

During the last two years, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru has been engaged in a fundamental revision of its mission and its methods.

There are certain elements in the past programme which will probably seem to be essential to any company charged with creating "national" theatre through the medium of Welsh. These include productions of classical Welsh material and translations of work in other languages of the highest possible quality.

Having said that, the company has always been determined to create a more flexible, dynamic model of theatre which will give a new relevance to the term "national".

To this end, the company has set up a working party, including members of the board, to conduct a process of thorough and wide-reaching discussion. …