Page last updated at 07:25 GMT, Tuesday, 18 January 2011
National Theatre Wales reaches out to new audiences
By Selma Chalabi
BBC South East Wales

Sian Thomas in The Persians - photo by Toby Farrow
Sian Thomas led a stellar Welsh cast in The Persians, directed by Mike Pearson

As it gears up for the tenth show of its launch year, National Theatre Wales believes it has a lot to shout about.

The company has impressed audiences and critics with bold performances staged in a range of locations.

One show in particular, The Persians, staged on the Sennybridge military range in Powys, helped to cement its reputation.

The BBC's Review Show cited the outdoor event as one of the top productions of 2010.

National Theatre Wales was established in 2008 with a pledge to "create theatre in the English language, rooted in Wales, with an international reach".

John McGrath
John McGrath has provided strong artistic leadership during the first year

John McGrath, the man given the artistic steer to guide this company through Wales' tricky territorial waters, came from Manchester's Contact Theatre, which he transformed in to a creative and buzzing hub for young people.

His new post in Wales however was to have no physical base.

"It's been fantastic and amazing", says McGrath.

"It's been very different. There's an excitement to being in a producing theatre venue, but the great thing about this job is getting out to new places. Not having a base has helped to establish ourselves across Wales and reach new audiences".

In its launch year, the company has indeed covered the length and breadth of the land.

Its first show, A Good Night In The Valleys, opened in March 2010 at the Blackwood Miners' Institute.

Since then, it has produced shows in a range of locations, from Swansea's old library, Cardiff's New Theatre, Prestatyn's seafront and Sennybridge military range.

It is the latter that has garnered the company the most attention.

The Persians - National Theatre of Wales
The Persians was staged on a military base in the Brecon Beacons

In August 2010, The Persians, Europe's oldest surviving recorded play, opened.

Acclaimed by national theatre critics variously as extraordinary, compelling and haunting, the play's success lay partly in its location.

National Theatre Wales managed to gain unprecedented access to military ranges on the Brecon Beacons.

Burned-out tanks

Audiences were transferred by bus to the remote village of Cileni, where the show unravelled amongst burned-out tanks and spent shell cases.

It is this ability to negotiate partnerships with seemingly intractable establishments, as well as gain the trust and support from local communities, that has helped the company establish itself.

"We give equal attention and focus to each individual show we do", says McGrath.

"Whether it be Shakespeare, experimental theatre, or community - the production values are all the same. The community aspects are not an add-on, they're integral to how we operate".

The company is preparing to open its tenth show, The Soul Exchange, in Butetown, Cardiff, next week, and February will see the opening of a collaborative production with Berlin-based company Rimini Protokoll in Aberystwyth.

Wales' internationally renowned circus company No Fit State Theatre will team up for a production in Milford Haven in March.

Michael Sheen, the acclaimed star of films such as The Damned United and The Queen, returns to his home town Port Talbot to resurrect the Passion Play in April.

Recently, the company were able to confirm that the team who produced The Persians will partner with the Royal Shakespeare Company to stage a new version of Cornelius. The production will take place in Wales in 2012 as part of the cultural Olympic festival.

Mr McGrath said: "The BBC's Review Show rated us as part of their top ten alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company, and we're managing to attract top theatre critics from London.

"Over the coming years we'll continue to work both outdoors and indoors at venues across the country. We're helping to put Wales on the map."




SEE ALSO
Curtains up for national theatre
11 Mar 10 |  Wales
National theatre company launches
05 Nov 09 |  South east


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