Friday, 3 October 2014

It's been a strange few years....

It’s been a strange few years. I wrote this little monologue for Dirty Protest Theatre Company and it was put on at the Royal Court, and then at Theatre Clwyd and then at Dirty, Gifted and Welsh. It was all beyond unbelievable.

John McGrath saw my little monologue One Hour and Forty Five Minutes and asked me to work on a seed commission. National Theatre Wales also nominated me for BBC Writersroom 10, I didn’t get in but just being nominated, by National Theatre Wales, was beyond unbelievable. I mean, seriously unbelievable. National Theatre Wales? Me? A seed commission?

I was also asked to join the all female playwright company Agent 160,  and my first short play for them will be presented this weekend as part of Fun Palaces at Wales Millennium Centre. I sat in rehearsals the other day, listening to words I’d written being performed by Llinos Mai, thinking - I wrote this, it’s good, it’s really funny. I love my job.

Then on the 12th October some scenes from my seed commission will be read at the 2nd Dirty Gifted and Welsh. Now last year at this event as one of the writers being presented by Dirty Protest, because mine had been on at the Royal Court, feeling a little dreamlike, I watched the pieces being presented by National Theatre Wales and I looked at the writers and I thought, that’s where I want to be next year. To repeat last year I said that’s where I want to be and this year I will be. I know! Unbelievable.  
It’s all just been beyond unbelievable – I spend a lot of time thinking I am going to wake up and the last two years has been a dream.  Seriously I don’t think ever since Tim Price phoned me up and I stood in my garden (the signal is shit in the house) and he told me my play in a bag piece was going to be on at the Royal Court it has stopped being anything other than surreal. But I guess that’s what it has to be like because you spend your life dreaming this dream of being a writer and working hard to achieve this dream. Writing and writing and writing. You get rejections, you get knocked back, you keep on writing and you keep on dreaming. Then you sit in the audience and watch your play at the Royal Court and it all just gets very surreal because you are living your dream.

But then now I’m sitting at my desk working trying to get the scenes ready for Dirty Gifted and Welsh. Yesterday I wrote a paragraph and then sat back and re-read it, I burst out laughing and kept laughing for a few minutes because I was looking at it thinking – that’s either utter brilliance or complete bollocks and I really don’t know which it is. That’s the thing with writing – every time you start something new you have to find new ways of doing things. I could just churn out the same old stuff, the things I’ve got comfortable with but where’s the fun in that – if I wanted to do the same thing every day I’d work in an office. Who the hell would choose to that when you can live the dream?

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Reasons why you shouldn't - and should go to see Flowers of the Dead Red Sea

I’m very excited today. I’m excited because tonight I’m going to watch Run Amok’s fourth production Flowers of the Dead Red Sea written by Ed Thomas which is being performed by Rhodri Brady and Matt Christmas. I’m excited because having seen two of their first three productions I am waiting with baited breath to see what this company are going to do next.

Now quite a lot of you are going to ask some questions after the first paragraph – Who are Run Amok? Who is Rhodri Brady? Who is Matt Christmas? Also worryingly a lot of people, even in Wales are going to say – who is Ed Thomas?

Let’s deal with the easy one – Ed Thomas is the co-creator, executive producer and writer of Hinterland. Yes that Hinterland, the one that everyone is talking about at the moment because it was filmed in Ceredigion and is ambitiously setting its sight to be the new Nordic- noir thriller. Who would have thought five years that Nordic noir thriller would be a genre?

I should state at this point that you shouldn’t go to see Flowers of the Dead Red Sea because you like Hinterland or Nordic noir thrillers, it is not Hinterland – there is no detective, no murder mystery – there is however two butchers in an extremely darkly comic and absurdist play.

Now long before Ed Thomas began to focus on television and film writing he was a playwright – he was a playwright in the 90’s in Wales, he created his own theatre company and then he gave up on theatre in Wales and headed to the safer world of television and film. You can’t really blame him – playwrights are ignored, playwrights are not produced, playwrights don’t have their voices nurtured – in Wales anyway. This genuinely is an extremely rare opportunity to see a play by Ed Thomas – it hasn’t been produced in over 20 years.

So Run Amok – who are they? Founded by Artistic Directors Izzy Rabey and Jonathan Patton – Run Amok has been on an impressive trajectory of performing ambitious, complex and challenging texts. They are a student company – a company of recent graduates, Jonathan is currently in London studying for an MA and Izzy is about to head to London to do an MA. Now though the ground is heavy with student companies in towns and cities with theatre departments, and those student companies walk through the ashes of student companies which have walked there before – from those ashes emerge the companies of the future. As far as I’m concerned that phrase emerging theatre – that’s where it’s from – it’s the companies that make it through those first few years of being a student company. I have absolutely no doubt that Run Amok are going to become one of the leading voices of Welsh theatre  - well they will be if we give them a reason to be, if we support them and nurture them. It is really hard being an emerging company in Wales, people don’t know the company, they dismiss them as yet another young student company. But Run Amok are different- they have one foot in London and one foot in Wales – though admittedly that foot is Izzy Rabey’s extremely rooted foot.

The foot in London is a good thing too because they have forced the work of a Welsh playwright into a theatre in London –  Welsh written and produced theatre is very rarely seen in London. Let’s face it it’s rarely seen in Wales. It is barely – if ever seen outside of Cardiff. Welsh theatre companies touring work – you can count them on one hand. Welsh companies touring work by Welsh writers – I’m really struggling now. Yes there are exceptions but as someone working and writing within the theatre industry in Wales – I really hope we can find our way to more than exceptions. But don’t go to watch Flowers of the Dead Red Sea because you want to support one of the exceptions – though that is a good reason to see it.

Run Amok are a company to be watched –not only in a watch a meteoric rise as you read reviews and articles about them over the next few years – but as an experience of live theatre. Live theatre which is guaranteed to make you laugh and think. Most importantly live theatre which will include performances from Rhodri Brady and Matt Christmas. This is the thing which excites me the most about going along tonight to see Flowers of The Dead Red Sea – I literally can’t wait to experience the chemistry between these two amazing performers. Performers who are new,  magically untrained and untarnished , and offer so much promise for exciting futures, put them together with the words of Ed Thomas , the direction of Izzy Rabey, scenographic design from Maisie Baynham and sound designed by Kyle Arrowsmith and you are absolutely guaranteed an amazing experience of emerging theatre at its very best.

Flowers of the Dead Red Sea by Ed Thomas, by Run Amok is at Aberystwyth Arts Centre 1st May, Rosemary Branch Theatre 8th and 9th May and Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Richard Burton Theatre 10th May. The Aberystwyth Arts Centre performance includes a post-show talk with Ed Thomas.

Ed Thomas wrote new monologues as trailers for the show which were filmed by Pete Telfor for Culture Colony which you can view on YouTube here
Joe and Mock 

Follow the company at and @TheatrRunAmok

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Dancing Words

For the last few months I have been producing a performed response project at the Gas Gallery in Aberystwyth. I have been participating as a writer and it’s been an interesting and educational experience.

Response Time includes performance makers from all disciplines ; performance artists, visual artists, installation, physical theatre, movement, dancers, storytellers . Response Time has thrown them all in together and put them all out of their comfort zones. Definitions of performance have never really had a place in Response Time with 48 hours to work people don’t really have time to define their work just to get on with it.

The idea of the project is to spend 48 hours responding to the art, space and environment and then pulling all the different responses into an hour or so of performance which we shared with an audience on the Sunday evening. During the week of the 4th – 12th April we extended the project to a week long response Replay Me Adleisio. The project received funding from Arts Council Wales which  allowed us to explore the model of the project over a longer period.

My role as a writer in Replay Me Adleisio was to work alongside choreographer Lara Ward and musician and composer Nick Jones to create words, movement and sound - working with 3 performers (Cet Haf, Gwion Llyr and Milly Jackdaw).

As a writer the project has put me so far out of my comfort zone at times it was terrifying – always exhilarating but terrifying no less.

Thinking about how I have worked over the six responses I recognise a journey I have been on as a writer. For the first two I stuck firmly with what I knew, I picked art and I created characters from it. I found myself drawn to the words in the gallery, the artists statements the titles of art and I looked for stories but as the projects have progressed I have found myself freeing myself from what I knew I could do easily and exploring what I didn’t know how to do.

All writers have processes, usually developed over a number of years, I know I have ways that I approach an idea. Exercises that I use to get an idea moving – develop characters, structure, themes. I have processes to develop the layers in a piece. I have processes to develop the different drafts. I have processes to explore the holes and plug them. I even have processes to develop the differences within each new piece. I know each new idea has to have a different way to explore its subject and style but I still explore those differences through an established process.

But what I found with Response Time was that none of it was any good to me. For the first few projects I produced something resembling my usual work but it was all work that was lacking. Some good dialogue, some interesting characters, some interesting situations but lacking. Somewhere around the third one I found myself doing something very different.

This wasn’t because I recognised the need for a new process, it was because I was starting to absorb other people’s processes. For me it has been the most useful part of being involved in Response Time as a writer has been watching how others work in particular the young and emerging artists like Vivian Ezugha , Hannah Pullen and James Baker – all of them young and inexperienced in performance an all of them from different disciplines but yet all of them producing amazing work every time they have participated because as young and emerging artists they have a refreshing lack of experience and respond and develop work with an admirable mixture of naivety and boldness. All of them threw themselves into the art, the moment, the response. It was watching them that made me want to rediscover that naivety and boldness of the youthful writer I once was. 

I usually spend a lot of time thinking about an idea – it is the most important part of my process is the days I spend walking around the woods with the dogs, gardening, cleaning, doing office work – all while my brain turns an idea over and over. Producing a 48 hour response does not give time for a considered response just an emotional response, moving forward with a gut response, an instinctive feeling. Then pushing everything I knew to one side and letting the words flow, not worrying about what the words were doing just letting them loose.

On the response project with Lara as curator I watched her direct pieces – pieces that were effectively short plays, and it was as though she made the words dance around the room. That was a thought that has stayed with me. I didn’t want to write plays for Response Time – I know how to do that already –for Response Time I wanted to see my words dance around a room.

For Replay Me Adleisio I wanted to see the words become music in the hands of Nick, not song – that’s very different –,  but music and I wanted my words to dance. Whether or not I achieved that doesn’t really matter, though I think it did, in fact not only that my words became a pathway for a parkour film and my words disrupted movement to become an improvisational piece.

I still love narrative plays and will be returning to writing one soon, and I’m looking forward to it, to get back into inciting incidents and mid-points but I am going to try to bring what I’ve learned in Response Time to my narrative play.  I will return to it thinking about dancing words and following my gut instincts because I know how much fun it is to be out of my comfort zone and back to being a naive and bold youthful writer whilst also knowing how much better it is to be that naive and bold youthful writer with the experience and knowledge of being a saggier and crinklier older writer.