Williams if you have been paying attention is the writer of the Bullet Hole which tackled genital mutilation the play focused on 3 FGM survivors, this was a play she wrote and starred in. Now she is back with King Hamlin due to open at the Park Theatre this October.
Williams is an alumni of the Royal Court Young Writers Group and Talawa Theatre Company Young Writers Group. As an accomplished actress her theatre credits include Mules (White Bear Theatre), Medea (The Rose Theatre), Monday – which she also wrote (Manhattan Repertory Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Samuel French Off-Broadway Festival Lost One Act Play Festival: Winner of ‘Best Overall Production’), Elefant (Soho Theatre; Playwrights apprenticeship), No More the Wasted Breed (Collective Artists), and You Me BUM BUM Train (Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust prize). Awards include Bullet Hole was shortlisted for the Alfred Fagon ‘Choice’ award and the Offies ‘Most Promising New Playwright’ award. She is the winner of, Black British theatre award Best Actress for her role of Cleo in ‘Bullet Hole” and Women of the Future nominee for the ‘Arts and Culture’ category. ALT caught up with Williams for a long chat……
Why do you write?
I guess, from very honest perspective, I started off being just an actress. Then I realized that I wanted to tell stories for our people and tell stories where our narrative is controlled by us. For example, knife crime is something that’s very much controlled by the media and it’s telling stories where it’s making our young boys seem so inhumane that it hurtful. I wanted to give a more spiritual aspect to it. Where the world could see them as the innocent, beautiful creatures that they’re supposed to be. I wanted to control that. So that’s the thing it’s to control our narrative and tell our stories our way.
Why did you choose the medium of theatre?
I trained at Rose Bruford drama school, and I did American theatre arts. I mainly studied American theatre, looking at great writers like August Wilson, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller and a lot of the newer writers as well, some British. I was always really, really inspired by the stage plays which had a bit more context. If you look at August Wilson, he wrote such long monologues giving so much description and James Baldwin too. I really like the idea of telling stories where there’s a bit more colour, context and where one line or a couple of sentences from a film can turn into a whole monologue or a longer dialect. It gives the world of the characters more meaning to the audience. I really like that aspect of it, the full picture.
Do you think the world is more receptive to stories by and about Black women telling their stories through whatever medium it is in the creative industries?
Yes, absolutely. From a business perspective, the world is understanding that there’s a lot of money to be made from black consumers. There’s a lot of money floating around, we’ve been underrepresented in many ways as consumers who generate a lot of wealth within our community. The world is becoming very female led as well. I wouldn’t say that we are moving away from patriarchy, but I think females are being introduced as being leaders. It’s inspiring for the next generation.
It seems that things are now more ‘women, women, women’, and you see a lot of women playwrights as well. The other day I saw a show and the lead actresses were dark skinned and the minor characters were light skinned or white. We’ve come a long way since the time when maybe darker skinned women were not really at the forefront. Culturally and economically, we are changing. Yes, it is a good time.
Do you find that the process of writing for actors is easier being an actor or is that a separate brain when writing?
Acting definitely comes into play. When I have to think of the dialogue between two people, I have to have both characters in my mind, and I say their lines out loud/act them out how I would feel fit an actor to perform it. So that definitely is the underpinning to writing for me. I always have to imagine it from a stage perspective as well. I wouldn’t say acting is a separate hat. I would say it’s an underpinning, like a foundation to my writing.
Are you going to continue acting, obviously you’re doing a lot of writing at the moment?
I would like to continue acting one day. I’m in my thirties now, but things were quite different when I was in my twenties. We didn’t have Netflix, there weren’t as many opportunities. I was not, unfortunately, the chosen one. I didn’t get a lot of great auditions and I had to find other ways to hone my craft and find something else to do. I never really took myself out of acting. I just slowed down and focused on something else. Hopefully in due time I can go back into it and rebrand myself as well. So, I absolutely would love to continue acting, but my priorities are slightly different now as I would also like to start a family. But the answer is yes, absolutely.
Let’s talk about the Park theatre and your new play King Hamlin?
It is the story of three young boys growing up in an urban area of London where they’re surrounded by poverty, gang postcode wars. At the heart of it all, it’s a story about friendship that has been put to the test with all the surrounding distractions, like trying to sell drugs and trying to help their families earn money. And all of the pressures around them is causing some conflict. I don’t want to seem as though I was writing to a specific audience. I really wanted to bring a story of knife crime, where there was a drama with a humane experience and be able to sell that to a white audience, not to say I was trying to do anything like make it elite or anything.
I just wanted to open the door and to say, ‘Hey, come away from the newspaper and stop looking at the stereotypes. How about you come and see my little play, and I’m going to tell it to you like I would tell a 21st century Shakespeare Hamlet and I’m going to make him a mixed race boy, and I’m going throw him into gang culture, London, and I want you to watch him and I want you to empathize with him and come out of the theatre and empathize with the real people who live this life. So that was really the goal. The story has social themes that are unfortunately plaguing our town right now. No one really knows the voice of the mother that it happens to, no one understands what these boys really go through. No one understands good boys who are never really meant to get into trouble. Who are really a mommy’s boy at heart. They change cause of self-defence. There’s a lot of nuances that are not really spoken about so I wanted to put that to the front and expand so the audience can see that. That’s how it came about.
What is the audience to take away from this if you had a choice, the audience steps in and comes at of your play with what?
That’s a good question. Definitely empathy and definitely sympathy not to make my characters too much like victims. I would also like them to feel a little bit empowered to maybe make some change. For example, when people try to talk about the issues that we have in our cities, you find that actually they don’t want to talk about them at all. They feel like that it’s very separate from their own lives. And I want them to understand, by watching the play, that they are actually somewhat involved or responsible. It’s a national problem. It’s not just boys, it’s girls too, from different social classes or race or, or urban areas. I’m probably sounding a bit of a socialist here and maybe a bit old fashioned for these times, but I feel like we need to kind of bring that back sometimes.
What is your view, in terms of the recent news with the police, strip searching children, boys, it was 92% boys and 52%, Black boys whereby black children make up 19% of children, which is kind totally disproportionate?
It’s such a tricky question, but I do know that once upon a time there were more initiatives like youth clubs and there was more funding that kept people of a certain age quite busy. I do think that boredom is a bit of a devilish aspect. It’s a very demonic thing that can invade a young person’s soul when money is low, they don’t have a lot to do, and don’t have a lot of inspiration. Because these initiatives have been taken away it is leaving young people very vulnerable to being distracted by all kinds of things. Again, if you are young woman, who’s a mother and you have to work quite hard just to make ends meet, you would not be around to keep an eye on your children.
What can you really do to avoid that? But then that goes back to keeping them busy and doing something that they can enjoy, something they’re passionate about. I know that there were some youth initiatives that did that maybe that should come back.
You mentioned August Wilson, who are the playwrights that inspire you past and present?
David Mamet, I think we’re very different <laugh>, but I definitely have been moved by some of his work. James Baldwin is my hero although I know that he’s mainly an essayist and a novelist, but he has written a couple of plays which I really enjoyed. debbie tucker green I like, and Lynn Nottage I really love her writing and the way she’s so poetic, you can tell from the way she writes she comes from a female perspective. Those are the main ones.
In terms of King Hamlin, who are some of the main characters in the play, you cast Kiza Deen as Mama H?
Mama H is played by Kiza Deen. When she came to read for us, she was able to relate to the script because she grew up around women like that and, girls who might have had children young and are now her age. She understood the character very well and that was validation for me. Because I felt if she had already connected to the piece quickly, I knew it would be so interesting to work with her as an actress. She plays a very symbolic role that does not get documented in our narratives enough.
The role is very spiritual, it promotes love. Mama H is very nurturing and there’s some symbolisms that she uses in the play. Something that I felt would give the play a nice innocent edge. Then we have got Hamlin, played by Harris Cain, who’s the protagonist, a mixed-race boy who’s torn between doing the right thing and saving his friend. And then the antagonist called Nic, played by Andrew Evans, a troubled soul. Finally, there is Quinn, played by Inaam Barwani, the more innocent soul that gets easily led astray. They all represent certain characters that we all know in the world: the leader, the follower and then the person who says ‘no, I’m going to be my own leader’. Hence the name King Hamlin, I guess. <laugh>
Where do you call home?
Camden. I was born and raised in the London Borough of Camden, around Hampstead.
What are you working on next? I heard that Bullet Hole has been optioned. Is that something you can talk about, congrats <laugh> as well?
Yes, it’s in the early stages of being optioned at the moment and to compliment that my director, Lara Genovese, also my stage director for King Hamlin, has a short film entitled NENE which is a spin off to it and a concept proof of the movie script, based on the stage play she also directed. I was the lead in that short film and now it has been submitted to festivals.
I’ve started jotting down ideas for the next play but I’m going to take a different strategy this time, I would probably prefer to sit down with a professional from one of the affiliate theatres and I discuss with them ideas of what they need. To have someone take you on and commission you because producing is such a hard thing and so it would be good to be taken on professionally.
King Hamlin is the brand-new play from the team that presented Bullet Hole, by Gloria Williams, in 2018. Directed by Lara Genovese.
Hamlin, Quinn and Nic are young friends trying to get ahead in inner city London.
19 Oct – 12 Nov
Tue – Sat Evening 19.45
Thu & Sat Matinees 15.15
2 hrs (approx. inc. interval)
Book on link below.