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National Theatre Wales addresses recent controversy with new season of work

Kully Thiarai, artistic director of National Theatre Wales. Photo: Dan Green
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A new play by Welsh writer Ed Thomas and a collaboration with learning-disabled theatre company Hijinx, to mark 50 years since the first moon landing, will feature in National Theatre Wales’ new season.

The announcement comes amid a period of scrutiny for NTW, following criticisms that it has neglected Welsh talent, however artistic director Kully Thiarai said she believes the new programme showcases her company’s commitment to artists and companies in Wales.

Thomas, who co-created the television drama series Hinterland, has written On Bear Ridge for NTW, in a co-production with the Royal Court in London. It will run there following its premiere in Cardiff at the Sherman Theatre.

On Bear Ridge is inspired by Thomas’ childhood village and will be accompanied by a series of opportunities for writers and artists in Wales.

It will run in September and October 2019. It is part of a trilogy of work Thomas will create with NTW.

NTW will also work with Welsh learning-disabled theatre company Hijinx on an “immersive spectacle” marking 50 years since the first moon landing.

Mission Control will be performed by a cast of professional neurodivergent and learning-disabled actors.

It has been created with How to Win Against History’s Seiriol Davies and choral conductor Tim Rhys-Evans, who created the Welsh male vocal group Only Men Aloud!, and will be directed by Thiarai and Ben Pettitt-Wade.

The programme also includes a new radio play by Sean Edwards, which will premiere as Wales’ entry to the Venice Biennale next year before returning for a run in Wrexham, and full productions of four plays that were created for a festival celebrating 70 years of the NHS.

Among these is Splish Splash, co-produced with children’s theatre company Oily Cart, which will tour special schools in Wales and England.

Recent months have seen more than 200 Welsh actors and a group of Wales’ leading playwrights publicly criticise NTW’s direction, claiming it has ignored Welsh talent and demanding a public discussion about its future.

Thiarai said she believed the new season goes some way to answering her critics around its dedication of Wales’ creatives.

“Any season of work takes time to develop so this has been in development for many months, but I hope it showcases our commitment to the artists, companies and audiences of Wales, and our commitment to showcase Wales in the world,” she said.

The season will begin in March with a day-long open event described as a “big, creative conversation” about the future of theatre in Wales.

Thiarai has previously spoken about her wish that the ongoing debate surrounding NTW shape part of a wider discussion about the country’s theatre sector.

Thiarai said the open event represents the company “wanting to take on board the comments and conversations that have been happening with artists, and expanding them out to a bigger conversation”.

“It’s understandable that there’s lots of frustrations and anxieties at a time when funding is restricted and our ability to make a sustainable living as artists is thwarted through austerity. We feel it is our responsibility, along with all of the artistic sector, to come together and imagine how we might solve some of those things,” she said.

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