Last night I attended the Theatre Critics of Wales Awards. I wasn’t quite in the right frame of mind for it this, its second year. I was sober and moody, neither of which are conducive to networking around the Welsh arts community in the vacuous white foyer of Sherman Theatre in Cardiff.
I shan’t go into details but the bus replacement service timetable made me choose to drive. I needn’t have worried so much as it started at 7:30pm not 7pm as I had scheduled for. Annoyed doesn’t come close. I did however take full advantage of the deliciously delightful nibbles presented on slates by smiley young ladies in black. Scallops and bacon? Don’t mind if I do.
National Dance Company Wales had two nominations in the Large Scale Dance Production category and were named as a partner in one of the nominations for Small Scale Dance Production. We missed out to Earthfall’s Chelsea Hotel and Ballet Cymru’s Romeo a Juliet. Both very worthy winners and no surprise to me. As only our Deputy Director and I were in attendance I admit to being relieved not to have to go on stage to mutters of “who?”
A notable feature of the night was the epic 25 minute delay caused solely by the theatre audience failing to sit in their seats by 7:30pm. Can you imagine how some of those present would react if the same happened at a production they were staging/performing in? The mass exodus of the somewhat vocal theatre crowd during the opera awards was, quite frankly, rude. One or two people sneaking out for a jimmy riddle I could forgive but hordes escaping to the bar was embarrassing to witness.
Chief organiser Guy O’Donnell, the young critics and third age critics should be proud of themselves for orchestrating this beast of a night with the exceedingly charming Nicola Hayward Thomas at the helm. The photographer slowed things down and I would like to see film clips of the winners of each category. I predict that there are issues with quality and availability of film footage of live theatre, opera and dance but it would be an ideal platform to showcase the range of talent that took home the engraved slate awards. (Not the same slates on which the aforementioned tasty morsels were presented in the reception. I hope.)
Presenting awards for live performing arts across a country presents a geographical challenge. Happily, the nominations spanned North, West, South and Mid Wales. It did limit the number of productions I could have seen within the year and is another reason I’d like to have seen more than one still of each production.
As ever in Wales language is an issue. In the theatre categories there are separate nominations for English and Welsh, some of those collecting prizes and reading out nominations spoke Welsh. I am a fan of bilingualism but, while no means fluent, I do have a decent level of understanding. Not so for everyone present. I could tangibly sense some people zoning out during extended diatribes yn Gymreag.
The small non revenue funded companies triumphed in many categories against the behemoths of National Theatre Wales and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, a fact that didn’t go amiss at the podium. Silly Kings, Praxis Perfect and Y Bont demonstrated that the Nationals in theatre land in Wales are definitely delivering innovative, relevant and engaging work around the country but it was heartening to see the breadth of the other work sizzling and popping away too.
Gaynor Lougher and Richard Berry were a fitting and moving finale to the night when collecting their Special Recognition Award for founding Hijinx Theatre, a professional theatre company and advocate for the inclusion of people with learning difficulties in the arts. Hijinx recently launched The Academy providing professional performance training for actors with learning difficulties. The three cheers led by Gareth, a student of The Academy summed up perfectly the positive feelings in the room and the standing ovation demonstrated the level of respect held for the pair amongst their peers.
The awards are in their toddler years and I’m sure TCWA and the critical mass around them will develop over time. New categories were introduced this year but I still felt it was unfairly weighted towards the theatre sector leaving opera and dance the poorer cousins. In theatre one production could be nominated for several categories (production, playwright, male performance, female performance, director, music and sound, lighting, design and costume, digital/online content) and two other categories were dominated by theatre productions (productions for children and young people, ensemble). Opera had three (production, male in an opera, female in an opera), dance had two (small scale, large scale) and were both under represented in lighting, sound, design, children and digital categories.
Perhaps this is demonstrative of dance and opera in Wales needing to pull their socks up in these areas. Having seen a fair bit of dance in 2013 I would disagree. Rather than merely stomp into the typically theatre dominated categories I would love to see categories for best choreographer, best dancer, best solo dance production. I could go on.
As I was told at every primary school sports day (probably because I wasn’t very good at any races) it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts. I lack the ambition, competitive nature and winning streak to disagree with this sentiment. The joy of the TCWA is that it brings together project run, revenue funded, small scale, national, performers, creatives, freelancers, established and emerging organisations and individuals. In the words of Gareth “bip bip bip hooray!”
Full list of winners here: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/debut-stage-drama-rachel-trezise-6569903