ROY WILLIAMS: NO APOLOGY NECESSARY
By Belinda Otas
Saturday/Sunday, March 30, 2008.
His plays touch more than a nerve: they often open to critical acclaim with critics and audiences, tackling issues which affect multicultural Britain. Just why isn’t Roy Williams apologising for his latest instalment?
Williams, 40, is a remarkable playwright whose work takes modern Britain's routine dilemmas and turns them into vigorous drama. His characters speak like real people, rather than theatre-speak. His most famous work till date, Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads, is an anti-racism play set in a pub during the England-Germany game in 2002. Another play, Fallout (2003), tackles black-on-black crime.
Revered as one of the Britain’s most prolific playwrights, he has had a play in almost every major theatre in London. From The National Theatre to The Royal Court and Soho Theatre. In 2001, he won the Evening Standard (London) most promising playwright award for Clubland, a story of sexual politics in south London. Three years later, he won the first Arts Council Decibel Award for Black or Asian artists.
But Williams is far from done. His latest instalment, Days Of Significance – commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) - tackles the topical issue of young people and binge drinking.
Originally staged as part of the RSC’s Complete Works Festival in 2007, the play draws parallels with Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
Williams said of his inspiration for Days Of Significance:
“It was a story that seems to be making the news and I thought what an interesting angle to bring to the stage really. I also wanted to marry that image with my views on the war in Iraq.”
In an ironic twist, Williams almost signed up to join the army at the age of 18, but changed his mind at the last hour.
“A lot of the young soldiers do tend to come from working class background and they come from that class of young people who are encouraged to drink themselves to oblivion on weekends, and we look down on them but they are the young people we ask to fight our wars. I just thought that was an interesting contradiction,” he says.
Since its first outing in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the play has gone through slight changes in order to heighten the story. “It was about finding the drama, fine tuning it, making sure the story stands out the way it is,” Williams explains.
Williams sees this as an opportunity he does not take lightly and considers himself to be a very lucky person.
RSC Literary Manager, Jeanie O’Hare said of the collaboration and changes, “Roy’s play is so topical, and so on the pulse of what is happening with young people who are on the cusp of making some hideously limited choices. That Roy was keen to re-work the subtle moods and atmospheres of disillusion and desperation, which characterised what these young people find themselves steered into.”
In Days Of Significance, Williams takes a look at the effects of war on young people and how it forces them to grow up, take stock of themselves and the world they live.
But not everyone is happy; a critic said of the show, when it first opened in Stratford that it was ‘tantamount to treason,’ and an ex-Army Lieutenant felt it gave soldiers a bad image.
However, Williams refuses to water down the strength of his characters and their ability to tell the story he wants them to convey to the audience. He even admits some people may find it hard because the characters are quite full-on in their way, are unapologetic, frank and very strong.
“The dialogue is strong and the way they behave towards each other is very strong for the faint-hearted,” he points out.
While it was a conscious decision for Williams to define his characters this way, he is also quick to point out that there is plenty of humanity in them if one is willing to look hard enough.
Here is a playwright who understands his voice in our society, but Williams is happy to point out that he is not speaking for the society in general.
He said: “That will be pretty arrogant of me but the play speaks for itself and is up to people to make up their mind about it.”
His next commission for the Royal Court is out next year.
In the meantime, Williams is getting on with what he knows best - writing plays - and he hopes he won't have to apologise for any of them.
Belinda Otas is a London-based freelance journalist and The New Black Magazine's features and theatre editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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