We last interviewed Welsh Playwright and Artistic Director of Chippy Lane Productions Ltd, Rebecca Jade Hammond, in September 2022 just prior to her play Right Where We Left Us being performed at Chapter Arts Centre. We caught up with Rebecca again during rehearsals of Mad Margot which is one of four plays, forming RWCMD New 23 Season.
Hi Rebecca, great to catch up again, it’s been 8 months since we last spoke, with the cultural sector finding a way through the impact of Covid how has your professional career been impacted by this difficult period?
Lovely to speak with you again. To answer your question, I think most writers still feel a sense of ‘world on pause’. It seems that emerging writers making traction pre-pandemic are now picking up the pieces and having to go again at a slower pace. I have always written but it wasn’t until 2019 that I started to take it seriously and since then I have seen steady (if not fast enough) progress. I often feel frustrated that I didn’t take the plunge and start younger, but then I check in with myself and remember that you reap what you sow regardless of age. You have to keep going, apply for everything, have those coffees (with no agenda), meet people, network, write, write, write and get better. At some point something has to happen. I always say: “you have to keep going, you’re too far in to go back now” – I believe this 100%.
Mad Margot is described as a new play that “charts epic events in young bodies, caught between childhood and adulthood in Bute Park, Cardiff.” Can you tell us more about this work?
I originally had this idea in 2020 attending the National Theatre Writers Group. I banked it, knowing that a writer at my point would never be given the opportunity until I was profiled.I let it percolate, wrote bits of it – but kept it for future possibilities. It wasn’t until my play RIGHT WHERE WE LEFT US was on in September 2022 that I was approached by Sherman Theatre and RWCMD with the offer of a commission. The brief was for it to be with ten actors and thread in Welsh translations with the support of Branwen Davies. Of course I accepted and over the last year we have worked hard to bring it to fruition.
MAD MARGOT is a piece about the disintigration of mental health in young women (specifically Margot’s) in the midst of teenage pregnancy. At a time when she should be protected, safe and supported she is alone and trying hard not to drown. Charting the murky world youngsters occupy between childhood and adulthood in Bute Park, MAD MARGOT explores mob-mentality, power-structured relationships and sexuality in relation to the system of patriarchy. Personally it is a nod to my youth growing up as a young Cardiffian in North Cardiff. Always out, not wanting to go home and building an urban family of friends. In fact, several of the characters are based on real people I grew up with including myself.
I have realised as a writer I am obsessed with the rhythm and timbre of dialogue and ensuring it’s as authentic as possible. This piece is incredibly wordy and hard to speak without speaking fast, breathing between punctuation and of course, in a Cardiff accent. It’s exhausting for the actors but rewarding. It’s also incredible to see how they’ve committed to the material. They’ve taken it and run. We are sharing the responsibility to serve this story.
The play is at once epic and historical in its approach yet hyperlocal in its gaze, taking place a stone’s throw from RWCMD in Bute Park. How have you combined these elements in your work?
I have left these ideas and concepts with Llew (Designer) and Jac (Director) both Cardiffians and Welsh speakers. Being deeply aware of the confines of NEW and the play being in Rep the only thing I asked for was it to feel like a vast space with leaf’s. I left everything else up to them to put their stamp and vision on the piece. I am a firm believer in collaboration – it’s the ultimate form of making art. No one can really do it alone and so I have left them to figure out the world in that way. Without giving too much away there are artistic nods to Cardiff, Bute Park and my youth. Also, this piece is a loose reimagining of MEDEA and so, it was important that the words, the performances and the story sing out loud without too much fuss and spectacle. Peter Brook once said “all you need is bodies in space to be engaging” and I like to think we will deliver this in the final production.
The production uses a range of pop culture references and contemporary slang, how did you approach these elements and have you had any feedback from young people? Were you worried about getting any of this wrong?
I mean, I don’t think I’m old yet. I am in my 30’s so I don’t think I had to dig that deep to connect to the material. However, I am a different gen to that of 16+ in 2023 and so I researched a lot about young people in Cardiff. I also worked with the students to ensure the characters sat authentically in their bodies and that the words felt realistic to them. It is amazing how much ‘being young’ is still exactly the same as when I was a teenager. The rules, politics, banter, bullying, dynamics and struggles are all as was. There’s something comforting but also deeply worrying that not much changed.
With regards to other elements, music is always a big part of my writing process and the worlds I build in plays. I have always wanted to integrate rap music into one of my stories and this seemed like the perfect opportunity working on a young persons piece. We actually collaborated with another student Israel J. Fredericks (El Guapo) on creating a rap section for one of the characters who wants to be the next ArrDee / Central Cee. Israel wrote a rap and together we found a beat based on a detailed brief I gave him on the character. This process was enlightening and supportive. Giving our piece another opportunity to utilise the talented skill sets of the students. We are also utilising the ballet experience of one of the actors, singing and Welsh speaking. Continuously having a dialogue and making them part of the conversation. It’s been an organic / openly creative journey for us all getting to this point.
Mad Margot is one of four new plays which will premier at RWCMD at the end of May before transferring to The Yard Theatre, London in early June. The NEW season from RWCMD “showcases its commitment to empowering the next generation of actors, collaborating with the UK’s best writers and directors, and bringing new voices and diverse stories to the stage” Why is this work to support emerging actors and the UK’s best writers and directors important to you?
NEW is an important part of the college’s history and as a writer a gift to be able to explore work that has big casts, epic themes and enables you to experiment with form. It’s a tricky task, but I have seen so many NEW pieces over the years I knew exactly what should be done. Shout-out to Daf James’ FOR ALL I AM in 2016, which in my opinion is the benchmark for when the brief marries up perfectly. From the story, to the characters, to utilising the students and the execution of performance – it is a masterpiece. I am aiming for that… wish me luck.
MAD MARGOT is also significant because it’s the first time NEW has had a bilingual piece in English and Welsh and has several Welsh students in one piece. Platforming RWCMD commitment to Welsh talent and celebrating the Welsh language. For the student/actors, it is the last show they perform before going into the industry. It is an important marker for them leaving education and going into the professional world. I think it’s essential that these pieces are modern, edgy and use all the tools in their box. Make them proud of their work and a piece that they have had a hand in creating. I hope I have given them something they will always remember as a challenge and opportunity to excel but also put THE DIFF on the map.
The play is Directed by Jac Ifan Moore and has Welsh Language Adaptations and Dramaturgy by Branwen Davies. When we discussed this, you said you aimed to reflect contemporary Cardiff in its use of “Wenglish” by young people. How have rehearsals reflected this aim and do you think you have been successful?
What’s wonderful is that we have a mix of fluent-speakers, those learning and those with no Welsh experience at all. Everyone is supportive and encouraging to those who don’t speak the language and the rehearsal room is naturally moving from Welsh to English as it does in the play. Both our SM, DSM and Designer also speak Welsh too so that aids for the language being readily used. I am also learning, so it’s been wonderful to be part of a space where I can brush up on my Welsh.
From a writing perspective Branwen Davies and I have a lovely working relationship where she was very sensitive to my words still translating in Welsh in a Cardiff-style way. I think she’s captured it perfectly and I have been honoured to have her guidance and also my words turned into Cymraeg. Bi-lingual pieces are still rare even in Wales and I am a firm believer that there should be more and that in future work I will work more within that medium. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable process.
And finally what culture have you been consuming recently that you would recommend our readers to catch up on?
I have favoured listening to music whilst walking and running this year. Also, as a form of mindfulness and to distract me from my forever racing head. It helps me write and figure out story plots, characters and possibilities.
I am listening to a lot of R&B and rap like; Central Cee, RKAYY (Cardiff Rapper), GoGo Morrow, SZA, Doja Cat, Jaish, Drake, El Guapo, Giggs, Jay Z, Little Sims, Mabel, Lauryn Hill, The Carters, Dr Dre, Eminem, Nicki Minaji, ArrDee, Aitch, 9lokknine and my Queen Beyoncé!