They are one of the most successful professional theatre companies in Wales and regularly attract audiences of more than 10,000. But Wales Actors Company are often snubbed by the theatre elite and are largely absent from the chronicles of Welsh drama. DAVID ADAMS asks why
LIFE must get pretty frustrating for Wales Actors Company. But director Paul Garnault battles on and launches a provocative new show today at Brecon's Theatr Brycheiniog, the start of a 40-gig tour that takes them from Holyhead to Cardiff.
Best known for their summer tour of castles, WAC say they have never been able to get regular financial support from the Welsh arts council - especially when the two organisations' acronym was the same, a coincidence the arts council regarded somewhat huffily.
With regular sell-outs for their al fresco Shakespeare, however, they didn't really have to depend on any stamp of artistic approval - contented holidaymakers and a happy Cadw ensured return bookings as everyone enjoyed the combination of a picnic, a heritage setting and a dose of the Bard.
But winter? Castles are out (it's everything from a community centre to a converted fire station) and so is Shakespeare.
And while they've chosen a classic by Shakespeare's contemporary Christopher Marlowe (Kit to his friends and academics - you may recall the character in Shakespeare in Love), the treatment will quite definitely not be in any way geared to helping the Cava and Ciabatta go down.
Dr Faustus, the man who sold his soul to the Devil, is surrounded by high-tech equipment as Paul gives the 16th-century text a 21st-century gloss.
'When Marlowe originally wrote his play, there was very much the idea that God was somewhere watching you, acting as a kind of cosmological policeman,' he says.
Today we have CCTV and other surveillance and spy cameras tracking the four protagonists in this fascinating play.
And it isn't just the hardware that makes this new production topical.
Says the director, 'The show is set in his study - and in his mind. It's essentially a very postmodern issue, that of judgement and the nature of good and evil.
'In terms of the drama, what draws you in is Marlowe's interpretation of the insane idea that you can get everything you want without any consequences - whether it's Helen of Troy or marching into Iraq to seize a country and grab its oil.
'The themes of the Faust legend remain as relevant today as ever.'
So could this be the turning-point for the company, now of an age when most others have given up and disbanded?
It could be, especially since the National Assembly, who drive arts policy these days, like to emphasise accessibility and bums on seats rather than quality or consistency.
That the constant criticism of WAC has been their variable standards is no longer a major factor, and they are now attracting funding via the arts council. …