Tag Archives: Mark Williams

The Force is Strong in Welsh Theatres This Spring


Dirty Protest blasts off into 2018 with launch of project inspired by Wales’s claim to Star Wars fame.

“Lightspeed from Pembroke Dock, a co-production between Wales’s acclaimed new writing company, Dirty Protest, Chapter and the Torch Theatre, takes the 1979 Pembroke Dock building of the full-scale Millennium Falcon as its inspiration

The Millennium Falcon under construction in Pembroke Dock

The drama written by playwright Mark Williams and directed by Julia Thomas is inspired by the real-life construction in Pembroke Dock shipyard of the full-size Millennium Falcon spaceship, helmed by Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in the film ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’.

Set in Pembroke Dock in 1979 and 2014, our hero Sam is a Star Wars obsessed kid in 1979 and a single father in 2014. His father is a redundant shipwright, employed to build the Millennium Falcon. Incredibly, far from being from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away; the ship featured in the second film in the Star Wars saga was constructed by a small army of tradesmen in the Pembrokeshire town’s Western Hangar. All were sworn to secrecy as the ship came together far from prying eyes. Now, Dirty Protest brings the story to the stage in a production that combines the thrill of 1980’s adventure movies with an intergenerational family saga all of its own.”

We caught up with Catherine  Paskell, Artistic Director of Dirty Protest Theatre Company and playwright Mark Williams to discuss this exciting new project.

Playwright Mark Williams

Hi Mark great to meet you, so what got you interested in writing?

I’ve always loved stories, and was a big reader of books and comics from an early age. I had a great teacher in primary school, who encouraged me to let my imagination run wild in creative writing lessons. I remember vividly the moment when I realised that in a story, you could transform the world, in any way you wanted to. As I got a bit older, I became interested in the ‘behind the scenes’ world of TV and film. Magazines and movie tie-in books often had interviews with writers, and that opened up the idea that writing was a process, and something it was possible to do as a career.

Catherine Paskell Artistic Director of Dirty Protest.

Thanks Mark, Catherine can you please tell us more about your role?

I’m Catherine and I’m the Artistic Director of new writing company Dirty Protest. I have recently directed Sugarbaby by Alan Harris which Dirty Protest took to Paines Plough’s Roundabout Summerhall venue with Wales in Edinburgh last  summer. I was a founding creative associate of National Theatre Wales – it was this opportunity that brought me back to Wales. I love what I do and connecting to people with theatre making in Wales.

Mark you are a playwright can you explain how this role operates within the creative team on a theatrical production ?

So far, every production has followed a slightly different model. Sometimes my role has more or less ended when rehearsals began. Other times, I’ve been more actively involved, right up until the show opens, and during the run. There can be lots of factors determining the writer’s role, ranging from how the director likes to work, to the needs of the producing company, or your own time commitments on other projects. Ideally, I love it when the process is as collaborative as possible.

As a playwright you reference and are inspired by a range of elements of popular culture, why do you think this is?

George Lucas on the set of Star Wars with Mark Hamill (Luke Sywalker)

Many of the artists and writers that inspire me have always been proud of the eclectic mix of pop culture that informs their work – Ray Bradbury, Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Russell T Davies, and, especially in relation to this new production Lightspeed, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Pop culture is what first inspired me to write, and continues to do so. I think negative value judgements are sometimes made on aspects of it (perhaps less so these days, now it’s all-pervasive!) But as well as being entertaining, I love the fact that you can stumble on depth and substance in unexpected places, if you keep an open mind and a curious eye.

Steven Spielberg on the set of Jaws

And to continue the query above is this something you consider when thinking about developing audiences for your work?

Yes, always. When it comes to audiences for your own work, you start to think about what you can bring to the table yourself. How that can inform your own characters and stories, and connect with an audience’s own experiences.

Catherine I wonder if you could reflect on Dirty Protests’s journey from script in hand performances in the yurt in Milgi’s to this new production?

It’s been 10 years getting us to this point! We’ve staged plays in tents, fields, kebab shops, hairdressers, basement dives, attack bars and even theatres. Dirty Protest started in August 2007, with crowds of people crammed into the yurt in Milgi’s backyard, craning their necks to see the performers, reading from scripts-in-hands, stood amongst the beds and sofa cushions.

Script in hand event at Milgis

It was a must-be-there new writing event, and ever since then Dirty Protest have spent the last decade at the head of a revolution in Welsh new writing, building a community and being a place for theatre makers to belong. Now we work across Wales, with fantastic Welsh co-producers, theatres and venues. We have worked with over 250 writers and collaborated with fantastic partners outside Wales, including legends like the Royal Court, the Almeida, Paines Plough, Traverse Edinburgh, and Latitude. We have kept the same ethos and ambition to nurture a community, and forge new spaces and higher profile platforms for exceptional Welsh new writing to be performed in and out of Wales. We have always kept ourselves busy but so far, our 10th year anniversary is our busiest time yet! We have performed at least one event each month since our celebrations began in August. As I mentioned earlier we took Sugar Baby by Alan Harris to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of Paines Plough’s Roundabout programme. The show was well received, we were 1 of only 8 shows added to the British Council Showcase, alongside Soho Theatre, The Bush Theatre, Tobacco Factory and National Theatre of Scotland. We were so chuffed with that! But not content to just take one show to the Fringe, we also staged 5 additional new short plays by 5 Welsh writers at the Fringe to show international audiences just how fantastic our new writing talent is in Wales.

Production image ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ with Volcano.

Back home in September and October, we then created our Welsh language short play event Protest Fudur with our partners Galeri in Caernarfon, and staged more short play events with Wales Millennium Centre and Fuel, staged a 10-year take over of The Other Room, and celebrated that It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) with Volcano for their Novemberfest in Swansea. This December, over 4 days we are staging a development production of a brand new Christmas monolougue, Cut and Run by Branwen Davies with the incredible performer Catrin Stewart who will bring the story to life in the most beautiful way. This development Christmas monologue follows in the steps of our previous annual anti-panto Christmas shows, including the hugely popular Last Christmas by Matthew Bulgo (which was The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh’s studio Christmas show last year).

All that, and we are only 5 months into our anniversary year! So then we will deserve a Christmas breather before January kicks off with us producing a Contemporary Theatre Festival with the University of South Wales, before we travel across Wales trying to meet as many writers and actors and directors as possible. We will be developing writers and new plays with venues across Wales in the lead up to the Lightspeed From Pembroke Dock tour.

I can’t wait for the culmination of the tour: a Star Wars-inspired arts festival in Pembroke Dock, called the May the Fourth (be with you) festival happening on – yes, you’ve guessed it! – Saturday 4th May.

There’s still lots more planned that we can’t announce yet and loads more ways that people can get involved. Our 10 year anniversary isn’t just about what’s passed – it’s about what’s yet to come. I really hope that people will come and be part of Dirty Protest all across Wales and help us create the theatre of the future.

 Mark, what do Dirty Protest mean to you as Welsh playwright?

Firstly, via their short play nights and events, they provide a brilliant opportunity for new and emerging writers to get their work read by actors in front of an audience, and for more established writers to try out new ideas, and have fun in a relaxed environment. Secondly, they’re fast becoming a leading producer of new writing in Wales, helping writers to get their work made, toured, and seen further afield. Their commitment and enthusiasm to actively developing both of these strands is a vital part of the arts in Wales.

Catherine this will be Dirty Protest’s third fully staged drama? is this correct? With your biggest tour to date, what does this mean for the company?

 Lightspeed From Pembroke Dock is actually Dirty Protest’s sixth fully staged drama since 2007, on top of numerous development productions and short play events which bridge the gap between rehearsed readings and full-scale productions.

This production is hugely exciting for us because we can join the Rebel Alliance of Welsh theatre! It’s our chance to tell a story that is uniquely Welsh, connected to the people and society of Pembroke Dock, but also places Wales at the heart of one of the world’s biggest film franchises.   It’s our first show that is specifically created for audiences of all ages. If you’re old enough to see a Star Wars film, you’re old enough to see Lightspeed From Pembroke Dock!

We are excited to be working with two collaborators – writer Mark Williams and director Julia Thomas – who have been with Dirty Protest since the early years, working with us on numerous short play events over the last 10 years. It’s fantastic that they will be making a fully staged production together with us and explore a new area of theatre making for Dirty Protest, as they are both experienced in making theatre for all the family. Julia is currently directing Leicester Curve’s Christmas Show, George’s Marvellous Medicine and I remember seeing a stage show of Horrible Science that Mark had written, where I had to wear 3D glasses so digital poo could fly out of a toilet into my face!

We can’t wait to take Lightspeed From Pembroke Dock on tour all across Wales and to meet new audiences who won’t have ever seen Dirty Protest before. We will be returning to some venues where we have performed previous hit plays like Last Christmas by Matthew Bulgo and Parallel Lines by Katherine Chandler, or staged our short play nights.

Parallel Lines

We are also going to new venues who we’ve wanted to visit for years, and now we can! I really hope that people who already know us, and people who we have yet to meet, will come and join us as we blast across the nation on our newest adventure.

 Thanks you both and finally do you have a favourite character from the Star Wars movies and why?

Mark Han Solo. Who wouldn’t want to fly the Millennium Falcon?

Catherine Lando Calrissian from Episodes V and VI. He’s funny, and dramatically interesting and complex: he’s a kinda bad guy – he’s a gambler who loses his ship the Millennium Falcon to his friend Han Solo, and he also tricks his friends so they get captured by Darth Vader. But he then has a turn of conscience, helps his friends escape and joins the Rebel Alliance! So he turns into a good guy! He’s the epitome of what Star Wars is about, to me – growing up, surviving the galaxy, and being there for your friends.

Thank you both for your time

The production tour dates can be found below

Tour Dates:

 Wed 4- Sat 7 April

Chapter, Cardiff

 Tue 17 April

Soar Centre, Valleys Kids

 Wed 18 April

Ffwrnes, Llanelli

 Thu 19 April

Taliesin Arts Centre

 Fri 21 April

Riverfront, Newport

Mon 23 April

Halliwell Theatre, Carmarthen

Tues 24 April

 

Pontardawe Arts Centre

 Wed 25 April

Borough Theatre, Abergavenny

 Thurs 26 April

Blackwood Miners Institute

Fri 27 April

Galeri, Caernarfon

 

Sat 28 May

Aberystwyth Arts Centre

 Wed 2 May

Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon

 Fri 4 – Sat 5 May

Torch Theatre, Milford Haven

 

 

An Interview with playwright Mark Williams

Get the Chance values the role playwrights living and working in Wales bring to the cultural life of our nation. Here is our third interview in this series with playwright Mark Williams.

Hi Mark great to meet you, so what got you interested in writing?

I’ve always loved stories, and was a big reader of books and comics from an early age. I had a great teacher in primary school, who encouraged me to let my imagination run wild in creative writing lessons. I remember vividly the moment when I realised that in a story, you could transform the world, in any way you wanted to. As I got a bit older, I became interested in the ‘behind the scenes’ world of TV and film. Magazines and movie tie-in books often had interviews with writers, and that opened up the idea that writing was a process, and something it was possible to do as a career.

You are a playwright can you explain how this role operates within the creative team on a theatrical production ?

So far, every production has followed a slightly different model. Sometimes my role has more or less ended when rehearsals began. Other times, I’ve been more actively involved, right up until the show opens, and during the run. There can be lots of factors determining the writer’s role, ranging from how the director likes to work, to the needs of the producing company, or your own time commitments on other projects. Ideally, I love it when the process is as collaborative as possible.

You are currently working on a brand new version of the classic legend Jason and the Argonauts. This sounds exciting! Can you please tell us more about your role on this production.

 ‘Jason’ was first commissioned by the Courtyard Hereford, and undertook a short English regional tour in 2013. This new production of the play developed from meetings with Sharon Casey and Angela Gould (at co-producers Blackwood Miner’s Institute and RCT Theatres). They’d enjoyed my family play for Theatr Iolo (‘Here Be Monsters’), and were keen to develop work for that audience. I’d always wanted to return to ‘Jason & The Argonauts’, as I felt it had the potential to have a further life. This new version is a very collaborative production. Two development periods explored elements such as music, set design, and how to really push the ‘legendary blockbuster’ feel of the story. I worked with one director (Owen Lewis) on an initial R&D, and then in a second development phase this year with Julia Thomas, who is directing the finished production. I’ve redrafted the script several times, as a result of the constructive feedback of the creative team – taking on board suggestions and new ideas, and then filtering them back into the script. Ultimately, my role on this production is to work closely with Julia, to ensure that none of the exciting new ideas are lost, but also that the spirit and tone at the heart of the story is retained.

I believe this new version of the story draws on the original interpretations of the tale, as well as modern stories inspired by Greek myth – from the Marvel Comics Universe, to Star Wars, The Lord Of The Rings and beyond. Do you consider audiences when you approach work of this nature.

Yes, absolutely! Director Julia Thomas is very audience-driven in her approach, and we’ve both had a family audience firmly in mind, at every stage of the process. A modern audience’s expectation of the story was a big part of my inspiration, right from when I first started working on the script. When you mention the title, most people think of the animated skeletons in the 1963 movie! So you’ve got to try to deliver those classic monsters and mythic heroes – but in a theatrical way, with a cast of four brilliant actors. In a wider sense, audiences (myself included!) are just as likely to know the stories listed above, as they are the legends that inspired them. There’s no “standard version” of Jason’s story, and there’s a great creative freedom in seeing it as taking place “out of time”. Our version of Jason’s ship The Argo could be a space-ship, just as much as a sailing vessel. I’m also constantly reminding myself that this adaptation should be a fun and exciting story – one that also hopefully has something to say to a modern audience, about what it means to be a human hero.

The marketing materials for the production reference lots of popular culture and films. With increased competition for live performances from on demand TV like Netflix. Do you think theatre can offers something different for audiences from film and TV?

I do! Modern audiences are very sophisticated, and well-versed in a wide range of storytelling, with a lot of entertainment competing for their time and money. But what theatre has is its immediacy and communal atmosphere – the excitement of taking people on a journey, together, in a live setting. We’ve approached this version of Jason & The Argonauts as being a fantastical playground, where we can have fun with all the theatrical tools at our disposal – music and sound, imaginative set design, stage combat and effects and illusions.

Here Be Monsters, Theatr Iolo

You have written a range of family production ranging from Horrible Histories, Here Be Monsters for Theatr Iolo to this new production of Jason and the Argonauts. Family productions are often many audience members first points of access to live theatre. Is this something you ever consider when writing and developing your work?

Very much so. I went to a Family Arts conference last year, and was struck by the statistic that most families only go to see a live theatre show once or twice a year. Which is not so surprising, when you consider how expensive a family night out can be. So you really want to push value for money, as much as possible. We’ve approached every scene as almost being a mini-story in itself, asking questions like: “what are the big set-piece moments?” and “what do we want people to be buzzing with excitement about, after the show?”

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

 Increasingly, a lot of my work is inspired by my native Pembrokeshire, and I’d love to see more funding for the arts there, to expand on the great work already being done in the local arts scene. I’d also love to see more promotion of, and focus on, genre writers, particularly in sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Wales has produced some brilliant and prolific authors in their field, writers like Tim Lebbon and Jo Walton, and I think we should champion them a lot more than we do.

 What excites you about the arts in Wales? What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

 I love the diversity of work, how eclectic it is. How we can produce world-class plays, music and opera; brilliant comedy like The Harri Parris and the Mach Comedy Festival, and innovative productions at The Other Room, that transform a small space with flair and invention. Lucy Rivers’ recent Sinners Club was brilliant – wonderful writing and performance. I loved the Llawn Festival last year, an eclectic mix of lovingly-curated art, taking place in Llandudno. And I’m a huge Meilyr Jones fan – his live shows are incredible, and I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.

www.jasonandtheargonauts.co.uk

Jason and the Argonauts, tour dates.

April 2017

The Park & Dare, Treorchy

Friday 7th 6pm

Borough Theatre, Abergavenny

Monday 10th 2.30pm

Maesteg Town Hall, Maesteg

Tuesday 11th 2pm

Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon

Wednesday 12th 2pm & 7pm

Blackwood Miners’ Institute, Blackwood

Thursday 13th 1pm & 4pm

The Weston Studio,

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Friday 14th 7.30pm

Saturday 15th 2.30pm & 7.30pm

Torch Theatre, Milford Haven

Tuesday 18th 1pm & 4pm

The Welfare, Ystradgynlais

Wednesday 19th 2pm

The Hafren, Newtown

Thursday 20th11am & 1.30pm

Neuadd Dwyfor, Pwllheli

Friday 21st 2.30pm & 7.30pm

The Met, Abertillery

Wednesday 26th 1pm & 7.30pm