6 December 2011

National Conversation: Wales

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Playwright Tim Price was born in the South Wales valleys, and has a strong sense of being Welsh as well as being a Londoner, he tells Rachael Jolley.

Recovering from a hectic few weeks where his play Salt, Root and Roe hit the boards, and received rave reviews at the celebrated centre of new writing the prestigious Donmar Warehouse, Tim Price recalls being the one and only student at his “pretty tough” South Wales comprehensive school to take ‘A’ level Welsh. “I did GCSE Welsh too, and I got to the point when I was pretty fluent in Welsh,” he remembers. He even ended up working in Welsh language television for a bit, so definitely had his language skills on show.

Salt, Root and Roe is set in Pembrokeshire, and it followed one woman’s experience connecting with her Welsh identity. Price also writes for the National Theatre of Wales as well as the Donmar, and he is writing another new play for the Welsh theatre coming out early next year. He writes in English, and that, he says, is something that adds complexity to the story of the arts in Wales, in that funding is split between those working in Welsh and those working in English.

“It’s quite difficult in Wales, the identity question,” he says, “because the elephant in the room is Welsh identity when you are not a Welsh speaker.”

There is a question about whether those who don’t speak Welsh feel slightly looked down on by those who speak the Celtic language, the biggest minor language in Europe, he tells me.

“As a language it is very, very strong.” So is there a division between the speakers and non speakers of Welsh? It sounds like he is suggesting there is. “I don’t think the Welsh people feel alienated in the Welsh language places like visitors may do because there is a degree of familiarity,” he adds, carefully.

This competition for funding between those who write in Welsh and those who write in English is something he obviously feels strongly about, as he returns to the subject.

“There is a question and concerns about where the Welsh voices aren’t being heard on the stages in London in the way that, say, the Irish and Scottish are.” And when you think about the big plays in London’s West End it’s hard to think of a play that competes with Stones in His Pockets or The Weir.

Because arts funding is split between those writing in Welsh and English, Price feels Welsh voices in and around the stage have been “ghettoised” and get less opportunities.

Looking for great Welsh arts inspiration, he says, “there’s no great creator of plays in the way Ireland has Beckett”.

He believes devolution has changed the Welsh soul. “The key thing, and I’m sure this is also true for Scottish people, is that devolution changed everything really..  Before devolution Wales was an imagined land.”

“Now you’ve got 60 professional politicians discussing what it is to be Welsh, artists don’t have to own that space.”

Price says he feels more Welsh than British, but he does feel a strong connection and a sense of identity with London. “It’s a great place to live and work in London, there is a sense of a global nation in London. There’s every nationality in London, I feel like a global citizen. I respond to that.”

He thinks that there is a sense that British as a description is “owned” by England, a sort of co-opted England. “There are great things in Scotland, great castles and great thinkers, but I wouldn’t think of them as being British, they have Scottish ownership.”“A lot of British things that are Scottish don’t get referred to as British, pretty much everything that is British is…” and there he leaves it hanging. There’s one exception he feels confident about supporting, and that’s the British Lions. “That’s a beautiful thing and something that really adds culture value and something I can relate to.”

And what about the years ahead will the Welsh identity change? “The independence question in Scotland will throw up a lot of questions in Wales,” he says.

By Rachael Jolley



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