It’s been a busy week at the LGBTQ Art and Culture Review. We’ve been chatting to lots of artists about their upcoming work. Today, we’re sharing an interview with writer / performer Kelly Griffiths, whose show ‘Small Village’ is on at the Etcetera Theatre at the end of the month as part of their Black Box festival.
Hi Kelly, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
Your show, Small Village, is on at The Etcetera Theatre at the end of the month, tell us a little bit about it…
The play is based in my home town Cwmdare in South Wales on a council estate and revolves around ‘Sheila Bevan’ who lives alone, talks to her Telly and goes to the weekly ‘stitch and bitch’ sessions held by the estate’s ring leader. Sheila has a rare hereditary heart condition which causes her to have frequent palpitations, especially when she’s annoyed, shocked or excited. Everything is as it should be in Sheila’s world until Susan moves in to number 28. A young single mum with a boy of 7. Susan is English and she is a lesbian. I magnify ‘Small Village mentality’ throughout the play even before we meet Susan but it is highlighted even more so from then on.
Where did the inspiration for Small Village come from?
Well, it’s a mixture really, I grew up in Cwmdare and then lived in another small village, Hodnet, on a council estate with my mum in Shropshire. So, a lot of the quotes and scenarios in the play are based on what I’ve heard from people in those villages. In no way do they speak like this to cause violence, offence or even because they necessarily mean it-it is simply an off the cuff comment that they don’t think about because they have never offended someone it effects directly before. In the confines of a small community where no one has come in and no one has ever left, it gets a little hostile. I get so much stick for my accent changing when I go back. Apparently I’m posh now.
She’d deny it but the phone conversations between Sheila and her Niece are pretty much word for word from conversations with my Mum over the phone. Every character name in the play are the names of my relatives or people from home except Susan.
The pub Sheila talks about at the bottom of Queen street exists and is ‘a fab night if you know the right people’ and my Dad and Uncle were born on that street. My Dad is also a member of the all male voice choir ‘Only Drunks aloud’ which is mentioned in the play as well.
The topics of homophobia and racism, from casual thoughtless comments to violence, are ones I am very passionate about. I have friends who have battled with and lost touch with members of their family because of ‘coming out’, students at schools I teach who are violently beaten because they are Muslim and TV is plastered daily with news of yet another mindless attack. It should be a topic everyone is concerned about.
Have you invited any of the people you’ve based characters on to watch?
My Mum is coming who still lives in the village in Shropshire and although none of the characters are necessarily based on her I think she’ll notice some resemblances in Sheila such as the inability to understand Skype, talking to the TV and little phrases here and there. My Dad and uncle also hope to come who live in the village it’s based on so a couple of references are for their benefit, phrases like ‘He’ll be here now in a minute’ is one I’ll never fully understand but is often used!
Has it been difficult or relatively easy to perform in something you’ve also written? How has the experience of it been?
I’ve found it quite easy to be honest. I’m a big fan of improvisation and I, obviously, have a lot of freedom as an actor when it’s my own text and have encouraged the rest of the cast to say the lines as it comes naturally to them as well, as long as they tell the story as it’s written I am really not too precious about word-for-word acting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s petrifying to know I am being reviewed as a writer on top of the pressure of acting but I would feel a lot more pressure if the writer of a play I was in came to see me perform, the desperation to do their work justice would be quite sickening I imagine. I can fling my own work about a bit.
Have you got anything else in the pipeline for this year? I am performing in a theatre tour of ‘Bleak House’ with The Pantaloons Theatre company this Spring and an outdoor tour of their Summer production which is TBC. I’m a big fan of touring theatre and hope to do this internationally within the next year. As far as writing is concerned I plan to continue writing sketch shows and then develop them into a tv series.
What do you aim to achieve with the work you make?
This will not be the end of Small Village. Firstly, I would like the play to be published. Once this is achieved, I plan to reformat and develop the show into a tv series.
And finally, if you could make any piece of theatre, no limits at all, what would it be, where would you stage it and how would you do it?
Good grief, that’s a hard question! I’m worried I’m not going to give a very interesting or particularly thought provoking answer but I am a huge fan of farce and immersive theatre so something that could combine the two…with bit of dark humour thrown in for good measure. Perhaps an asylum or prison, somewhere the audience would feel uncomfortable and on edge, but focused. They would be split into groups to become different characters with different reasons for being there, for example, group one are family members of the residents, group two are interviewing to work there, etc-so everyone has a different experience but join together at the end for a concluding scene. It’s almost certainly already been done but with no financial restrictions and technical obstacles it would be a masterpiece. And it would be free!
Kelly’s show is on at The Etcetera Theatre, London on Fri 30th and Sat 31st Jan 2015 at 2.30pm. Tickets are £10, book on: 020 7482 4857