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Arts Council of Wales steps into Welsh theatre row

Jonny Cotsen in English at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. Photo: Toby Farrow
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National Theatre Wales has been set a series of challenges by its primary funder, which it must focus on in order to resolve the ongoing dispute with the country’s creative talent.

In his first intervention into the debate, Nick Capaldi, chief executive of the Arts Council of Wales, said the theatre company must “think carefully” about the nature of its relationship with Welsh theatremakers, who he described as providing its “context and character”.

More than 200 Welsh actors and 40 of the country’s playwrights have spoken out in recent weeks to criticise NTW, arguing it is neglecting native talent in open letters that provoked debate about its purpose as a national theatre company.

NTW currently receives £1.6 million a year from the Arts Council of Wales.

In a statement published in the Wales Arts Review, Capaldi maintained that “to be ‘national’ is a privilege, not a right”, and said the Arts Council had taken “the closest interest” in recent discussions, despite wishing to maintain its arms-length status as a funder.

One of the key areas that needs addressing, Capaldi said, is resolving the row between NTW and Wales’ creatives.

He said: “[NTW] needs to continue the process it has started – rebuilding the relationships at its core with those Welsh writers and creative talents who have felt compelled to speak out. Their criticisms might have been trenchantly expressed, but these are serious people who care very deeply about NTW and want desperately to see the company thrive well into the future.”

Among the criticisms levelled at NTW is that it has staged too few productions to not large enough audiences.

Capaldi conceded that performing shows to a “handful of people for a performance, no matter how meaningful the engagement, is difficult to justify”.

“Failures here may simply have derived from having too many small shows to market effectively,” he said, arguing NTW should look at how it is marketing shows and developing audiences.

He also challenges the company to scrutinise its programming choices.

“NTW needs to revisit the question of ‘mix’ – in the rich range of what it offers it needs to have ‘marquee’ events that can attract substantial audiences, wherever this work is staged. And it also needs to have shows with strong texts and persuasive narrative arcs, whether newly written or classic texts re‑appropriated,” Capaldi said.

Following the acting community’s recent letter to NTW, the company outlined some of its plans to produce an “ambitious” season in 2019 that includes a trilogy by a “leading Welsh writer” and work by “internationally renowned artists” as well as community work.

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