Book Review: The Theatre of Cornwall
Review published in Cornish Story magazine.
Creative Gwav Winter 2010 Gwav Winter 2010 The Truro branch of national bookstore Waterstone’s was the venue for a very Cornish affair last month with traditional Cornish music accompanying the launch of celebrated St Austell born writer Dr Alan M. Kent’s latest offering, The Theatre of Cornwall: Space, Place, Performance. Creative writers capable of compiling a thorough analysis of the subject. Refreshingly modest, Kent compares the process of writing a book of such voluminous detail to that of a theatrical production. He writes in the book: “Theatre is rarely the work of one individual. Contemporary high-quality drama is the result of an interaction between a dramatist, a director, actors, and those working back stage. Likewise this book is based on that kind of interaction with numerous people from different backgrounds and places that have helped me write this volume.” A Review BY Paul Scott Those at the well attended launch were treated to wonderful performances by Dalla, a band that leads the revival in traditional Cornish song, and by talented fiddler Francis Bennett, cofounder of Cumpas, a charitable organisation that supports and showcases Cornish music. The re-emerging confidence and subsequent strength of contemporary Cornish identity shown through the passionate, imaginative performances proved to be the ideal introduction for the unveiling of a book five years in the making and of undoubted importance. Respected thespian and familiar face of Cornish theatrical production company BishBashBosh Trevor Cuthbertson, fresh from a run in Henry VIII at The Globe in London, was on hand to interview the author in front of an invited audience eager to learn of Kent’s ground-breaking work detailing the history of theatre and performance in Cornwall. Dr Alan M. Kent, a man who has produced diverse Cornish literature ranging from prize winning poetry to gritty, contemporary fiction, is one of the few 38 Cornish Story Magazine Impressive in its sheer bulk, The Theatre of Cornwall: Space, Place, Performance is a very approachable read, with an insightful preface written by Mike Shepherd, founder of Kneehigh theatre company setting the tone. Shepherd questions how theatre is perceived in modern day Cornwall. “I’m not so sure that the Cornish are that fussed about theatre,” he writes. Shepherd does however go on to identify a uniqueness that he feels continues to fuel not only theatrical performances but Cornish identity and culture. “There remains in Cornwall a sense of anarchy and independence,” he writes. It is a sense that has survived through the ages. “Cornwall has one of the oldest theatrical cultures in the world,” writes Kent. The vast range of historical complexities fails to derail Kent in his attempt to produce a comprehensive account. From analysis of texts and locations of Medieval and Tudor periods through to the influence of the mining community on artistic expression Kent approaches difficult issues with clarity, resulting in concise writing and an interesting read. Few, if any comparative texts exist, highlighting the enormity of the task faced by Kent yet he manages to produce a book that embraces, analysis and exudes Cornish identity. Kent moves through the ages with confidence, drawing from an impressive number of important fields: Celtic, Cornish, AngloCornish, and Post-Colonial studies through to eco- Cornish Story Magazine 39 Creative criticism. The Theatre of Cornwall Space, Place, Performance, proves not only invaluable to those conducting academic research but also entertaining and highly informative for any individual with an interest in Cornish history and performance. Kent’s role as director of the BishBashBosh theatre company allows him to write authoritatively regarding the health of contemporary theatre in Cornwall. The relocation of Dartington College of Arts and the subsequent £19m construction of a purpose-built performance centre at Combined Universities in Cornwall (CUC) Tremough campus give Kent “hope” of continued cultural development. The writer is critical of the Hall for Cornwall for apparently neglecting its original aims and objectives, before urging more rapid progress in the pursuit of a Cornish National Theatre. Kent turns his attention to modern day apathy, citing the violent clash of one of the oldest acts of artistic expression with the trappings of modern day technology. “Perhaps there would be even more 40 Cornish Story Magazine Gwav Winter 2010 theatre in Cornwall if more people could be dragged out of their living rooms and away from their computer screens to see it,” writes Kent. Gwav Winter 2010 Creative Culm Valley Publishing’s flagship A Dozen Dramatic Walks series will be adding a Cornish title to its list during 2011. A Dozen Dramatic Walks in Cornwall takes the reader on outstanding walks where the drama and beauty encountered in earlier West Country titles is now brought closer to home. It is a point bluntly made; one that heightens the importance of this, a book of such magnitude that Kent has successfully delivered. The Theatre of Cornwall: Space, Place, Performance, not only possesses great historical importance but also contains warnings as to the dangers of cultural complacency. The current strength of Cornish identity, as so excellently demonstrated by Kent and the wonderful musical performances at the book’s launch, is built on a solid historical foundation, yet without continued interest, education, passion, and investment there remains the danger that The Theatre of Cornwall: Space, Place, Performance may well read in the future as a well documented obituary of theatre and performance in Cornwall. Dr. Alan M. Kent’s The Theatre of Cornwall: Space, Place, Performance - published by Redcliffe Press. ISBN – 978-1904537991 Cornish Story Magazine 41