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.
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
Wed 4- Sat 7 April
Tue 17 April
Soar Centre, Valleys Kids
Wed 18 April
Thu 19 April
Taliesin Arts Centre
Fri 21 April
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
Sat 28 May
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Wed 2 May
Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon
Fri 4 – Sat 5 May
Torch Theatre, Milford Haven