Roy Williams has written a range of ground-breaking and strikingly British plays during his career. This time, he writes about Britain between 1997 and 2017 in brand new play, This Is. We ask: What has changed in twenty years and how has the personal informed the political and vice-versa?
So Roy, how did you find writing for and with our students? What were the challenges and were there any pivotal moments in the process?
The students are a writer's dream. I cannot express enough how great it was to have students at my disposal. Writing is all about trying and throwing things out; playing out ideas with them saved me a lot of time by making me realise what worked and what didn't. I couldn't have asked for a more talented and inspiring group.
The play tackles the themes of class, expectations and aspirations, what inspired it?
The students were my inspiration. Once I got over how ridiculously young they are, it occurred to me, most were born in 1997, and so much has happened in this world, both socially and politically over the last 20 years: The rise and fall of Blair, 9/11, 7/7, London riots, Brexit, Trump. I found it exciting to write a piece that follows a group of young people as they navigate their way through those times. Our protagonist, Kelle and her friends have to fight through a great deal of change.
You have used key socio-political moments of the last twenty years to punctuate Kelle’s journey. Tell us the ways in which these changes impacted on your life and why you have included them.
It reminded me of how I navigated my life through the 80s, a life changing decade for me; there were riots, Thatcher and overt racism. This helped me to relate to what Kelle is going through. Every generation has to fight.
The play presents a range of masculine archetypes, for example, Luke and Jack referring back to Marc being beaten up by a girl, Park’s reactions in the first scene, Marc’s relationship with Kelle. Can you tell us more about this aspect of the play?
The men's struggles are useful for me to explore how hard and demanding these times are for the young. It's a time where the sense of community is being eroded, there's a rise in crime and a lack of faith in politicians. The boys in the play are doing what they can to live by the choices they have made or are going to make.
The play also explores power, the lack of it and the struggle to gain it. For example, the different ways in which characters try to solve problems: Marc by turning to violence, Kelle turning to study. Can you tell us more about these themes?
Again, the characters are merely trying to get by in a world left for them by the powers that be. The play addresses cause and effect, and for the purpose of the play, I am showing the effect.
What do you want the audience to be thinking about when they leave?
I want the audience to leave with the feeling that they have been told a good story and have been moved by it, but have also learned something important about the young people in our society.