Welsh playwright Ffion Jones‘ debut play Ugly Lovely opens tonight @ The Old Red Lion Theatre in London. First go and book your tickets by CLICKING HERE then come back here and read Jess Thomas’ interview with Ffion:
JT: So Tell Me What’s your play about?
FJ: So it’s a bit of a tricky question when people ask that because it’s not about much, essentially it’s about a young woman called Shell who’s from Swansea and her mid-twenties crisis. She’s feels like she is stuck in Swansea; her Nan has recently passed away and that’s the trigger for her reassessing her life Wanting to make a big change but not knowing what that change is. She reflects on where she is; she has a child that she doesn’t know how to look after, she has a difficult relationship with her mum and an even more difficult relationship with her boyfriend who keeps leaving her. Then there’s her best friend, Tash, Shell doesn’t really know why she’s best friends with her. It sounds very tragic but it’s actually a comedy believe it or not. It’s about young people in Swansea or any industrial town just feeling crippled by boredom and a lack of direction in their lives. There isn’t a tremendous story there but there is a story that the character goes through from beginning to end.
The relationships sound complex.
Yeah certainly between Shell and Tash. Shell is the main character and Tash is her best friend. The play is mostly a two-hander but there is a male character who comes into it for a couple of scenes. It is important to have a male voice in there even though it is a very female heavy play about mainly female issues really.
What was your inspiration?
My inspiration was Swansea first and foremost. I first came up with the idea when I was in drama school. I was trying to write a piece that was suitable for me as an actress because it’s surprisingly quite hard to find interesting voices for young women from Wales for the stage anyway.
Was that something about being in London for you?
Probably yeah, throughout my training in Mountview I was amongst mostly English and Scottish people luckily there were two other girls from Wales on my course but Ceri was from North Wales and Beth was from Barry which is a little bit different to Swansea But none of us could quite find our voices at drama school, there weren’t many parts that were Welsh, we didn’t do any Welsh playwrights either so when it came to doing showcase I found it very hard to find something that was going to showcase me as an actress and I wanted something that was female-focused, funny and Welsh, something relevant and something now. That was my biggest impetus to write Ugly Lovely, to have a voice that is present, that is about women now and that is light. Event though I talk about tragic events in the play it needed to represent the people around me in Wales who were just really funny and lovely.
Did you draw on your own character for Shell’s character?
I suppose I did. There are elements of me in Shell, I feel like she’s a bit of an alter-ego perhaps. I could have lived a life like Shell’s had I gone in a different direction or had different relationships with my family but fortunately I was able to channel my energy creatively whereas I think she’s got more of an emotional block which makes her very frustrated, she just can’t see the options open to her.So actually most of her character is nothing to do with me and the play is not autobiographical at all.
You are the writer and also the star but what other parts of the dramatic process of bringing the play to stage have you been involved in?
Well fortunately my friends have a theatre company and I grew up with them so it’s been really, really lovely having them want to take it on board. I was aaon a train with the director Niko one day and just said do you want to read my play? Most importantly he recognised the characters and issues inside it and felt, like I do, that the play is a representation of the Swansea that we know. So it’s just really fortunate that we are on the same level and we are able to use our skills and talent and make it happen. Velvet Trumpet have taken it on board and I have just let go of it. Interestingly they are all men. But I think it would have been different if they were all English men.
Especially if they were your Cambridge sort?
Yeah totally but we all went to the same school and know the same place and have the same sense of humour and I trust them. I trust them because they know me and also we have a lovely casual shorthand form of communication. You could just say “remember this thing that happened when we were fourteen in the park, it’s like that” and they would get it.
But I’ve done my job as a writer now and they’ve taken it on and now I can just act in it.
Are the other actors Welsh?
Yes they are. That was something very important to me. It probably is because I am a Welsh actor and I want to make sure Welsh actors get work but mostly it was important for them to understand those people that I am talking about and understand the rhythms and the use of words. It’s a dialect that you need to know fluently without thinking about. I’ve experienced trying to train people in a South Wales accent before and 70 percent of the time they do really well but there’s always something where you feel oh no that doesn’t sound quite right or they wouldn’t say it like that and I didn’t want that to get in the way of anything.
Why stage and not radio?
That’s interesting because I was considering pitching it for radio at one point. I even went to a sound recordist to record some for me.
It’s a very strong voice in the script
Yeah. Because we’re not in rehearsal yet I can’t talk too much about what it looks like visually but you are right, the sound of it is really important and when we recorded it, it did work but it would miss something. There are bits in the play that you can only really experience visually. I knew that I wanted the audience to be in the same room as the character’s as well because I think there is a level of realism and also empathy you can experience from that.