An Interview with Adam Hughes, writer of ‘Marching on Together’
Adam Hughes is a writer from Leeds who writes for both film and theatre. His latest play, ‘Marching on Together’, explores the impact and causes of football hooliganism in 80s Leeds – a story of fractured communities in Thatcher’s Britain, unifying around political protest. It follows True Colours, in which Adam tackled racism and West Yorkshire’s cultural divide, winning him the Kenneth Branagh Drama Award.
Bethany Ashcroft caught up with Adam, armed with questions from TSOTA’s contributors and of her own. Adam explains why community is important in his work and his approach to theatre. We find out why he’s decided to turn back the clock and revisit the conflicts that shaped his home city…
TSOTA: Your first full play ‘True Colours’ which premièred at the Leeds Carriageworks was shortlisted for the Ronald Duncan Playwriting Competition. For those who didn’t catch it, can you tell us more about your debut play?
AH: The play was set in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, and told the story of an old, racist Yorkshireman who was entrusted into the care of a Muslim nurse. It explored their relationship, and how these two apparently very different men actually had a lot in common. Even though Yorkshire is very multicultural, I do feel that, unfortunately, many areas are still highly segregated. This is something I wanted to explore in this piece: how different races, religions and generations can live side by side yet know virtually nothing about one another. As part of the project, we also held workshops in mosques across the UK with young Muslim men to address issues featured in the play, as we felt that theatre was a productive means of tackling these.
TSOTA: Your second and most recent play ‘Marching on Together’ has been successfully funded via Kickstarter – can you tell us more about this process? How did the play end up being staged at the Old Lion theatre in London?
AH: The play has been partly funded by Kickstarter whilst the majority is being funded by Arts Council England (something we are extremely grateful for). In terms of the Kickstarter process, it was really a case of getting the play and project out there to as many people as possible. The Kickstarter’s main intention was to cover the costs of when we bring the show to Leeds, after its London run, and perform it in schools and to ex-miners and hooligans. What was really encouraging was seeing the donations we received and realising just what fantastic regional support we had for the project.
In terms of the Old Red Lion, I was really keen to work with a renowned fringe venue who would help to develop me and my writing. The Old Red Lion had read the script and were interested and once I met Stewart, their Artistic Director, I knew it was the ideal space for the play. I have seen several shows there and every single one I’ve seen I’ve enjoyed so to be part of a venue known for consistently producing high quality work is quite inspiring and pushing me as a writer.
TSOTA: What sparked your interest in 1980s British football hooliganism?
AH: The 1980s was when hooliganism was most rife. I read an article that talked about hooliganism being the result of unemployment, depreciation and a lack of hope in Thatcher’s Britain. This really interested me and this relationship between football violence and the wider problems within the community was something I wanted to explore. The fall of hooliganism occurred in the mid-80s, right in the midst of the miners strike when the play was set. The strikes meant people’s priorities changed and days out on the terraces were replaced with days protesting on the picket line. I think the play comes at the theme of football hooliganism from a unique angle and really unearths the human side to this behaviour and asks why people felt that they needed to resort to such violence.
TSOTA: What type of audience do you imagine will come to see ‘Marching on Together’ and what do you hope the audience will take away from it?
AH: I think anyone can come and see this play and feel some sort of connection to it. As it tells the story of an ex-hooligan recently released from prison and finding it difficult to adapt to life in Thatcher’s Britain, it’s ultimately a story about belonging and wanting to be part of something, a community. I think this is a feeling that anyone can relate to. When we bring the play up to Leeds obviously the audiences there will have a more personal connection to the piece, especially our targeted audience of ex-miners and former hooligans. I’m also really excited about taking the piece to schools as it means a younger audience will not only learn about an important part of regional history but, for many, engage with theatre for the first time.
TSOTA: Community engagement seems to be a key concern for you – can you tell us more about this and the social concerns that are embedded in your work?
AH: I think theatre should always have a community aspect. I learnt this with ‘True Colours’ as, although the performances were really successful and the play was well received, it was seeing the response of the young Asian men we worked with that made me realise the powerful impact and wider potential theatre can have in a community. ‘Marching On Together’ focuses on two particular groups: football hooligans and miners. Many think of these and immediately tarnish them due to their violent actions. However I think we should look beyond that and ask why these events happened and what greater issues caused them. That’s why we’re holding specific performances and workshops for former miners and ex-hooligans as it’s important that they engage with the piece and get their voices heard both on and off stage. Whether we like it or not, these events happened during a very significant part of our history and we feel theatre is the ideal platform on which to address them.
TSOTA: I hear that you are bringing ‘Marching on Together’ to your hometown Leeds after the run in London. This must be extremely exciting for you as a proud Yorkshire lad?
AH: It is exciting as it is something I always wanted to do with this piece. Having the play on in London for a month is brilliant and will hopefully open a lot of doors for me as a writer. However, I appreciate how regional audiences need to see this play as ultimately it is set in Yorkshire during a very important period of their history. In order to ensure that the play has as wide a reach as possible (and there are no barriers between our target audience and the performances) we are actually taking it to workingmen’s clubs and community halls so that we can bring the show to them.
TSOTA: I imagine that rehearsals for ‘Marching on Together’ must be occupying a large amount of your time at the moment. Are you working on any other projects at the moment/do you have any ideas in the pipeline?
AH: I always have several ideas in the pipeline but how many of them will become a reality I’ve no idea! The script I wrote which won the 2014 Kenneth Branagh Drama Award was about the housing situation in London and this is something I would like to revisit as it has a lot of potential I feel. I am also looking to write a biopic but haven’t done so before so am slightly nervous at the prospect!
Questions from our writers:
TSOTA: How long did you work at becoming a writer before you got your break in 2011? Had you been writing for a long time?
AH: I actually only started writing in 2011 and this was for a project for the film making society I was running at university. Since then I got bitten by the bug as it were and have been writing ever since. I think in terms of writing, and this goes for the beginner to someone who’s been doing it for a while, you should only write when it feels appropriate to do so. Don’t coerce anything as when you have a story or something to say it will come out when you’re ready.
In the space of 4 years, you have gone from winning a competition with a short to having a national tour. What advice do you have for those still trying to break into writing? Is it a case of luck or being in the right place, hard work or networking… or none of the above?
AH: I think I can only answer part of this as I still believe I am looking for that ‘break’. I have had a few mini successes and ‘Marching On Together’ is a huge step forward but I still feel that I can and need to do a lot more to get myself noticed and develop my work. My advice would be to do what I’ve done so far: push yourself. If you want a play on, start talking to theatres. If you want to write a script, start reading playwriting books and get your friends to read what you’ve done. This industry is difficult enough as it is so all you can do is try your hardest, make sure you’re doing everything you can do personally and hope that someone someday will see your potential and want to develop your work.
‘Marching on Together’ will run at London’s Old Red Lion Theatre from 3rd – 28th February 2015, with post-show Q&A’s on Wednesday 11th & 25th. Buy tickets for the show here. For more about Adam visit his website www.adhughes.co.uk.