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08 October 2012

New show from Hackney playwright Hywel John

IT used to be 'salt of the earth', but now one hate-filled word, above all others, is used to describe Jade Goody, NDubz, footballers and countless others from working class backgrounds. Chavs.

Actor and up-and-coming playwright Hywel John was challenged by The Lyric Hammersmith theatre to create a response to the notion, and Owen Jones' influential non-fiction book Chavs - The Demonisation Of The Working Class.

The Stoke Newington resident says: "I grew up in London. It's interesting how children from all different backgrounds are friends and go to primary school together. Then you get to 11 and go your separate ways."
His two-part play Joe/Boy follows a duo from Islington and Hackney who are the same age, with similar aspirations, but different backgrounds. Played by the same actor, they witness a shocking event in a Wetherspoons pub and the show examines their reactions.

"The bigger picture is that we're not as different as we think; class is complicated even within your own social group," he continues.

Although admitting he went to public school himself, Hywel adds: "I'm not a massive fan of the traditional working and middle class thing, I think they are meaningless, especially in places around here where everyone is trying to get by."

But the play keeps away from dogmatic, polemic drama. He says: "I wanted to create a good story that raises questions. You're never going to get a finite answer to them, but the good thing about drama is you put people in a crisis and look at reactions."

Hywel, 32, got the taste for theatre from a young age, going to acting classes, which after leaving Bristol University led to him being accepted into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Benedict Cumberbatch, Donald Sutherland and Patricia Hodge are alumni.

As an actor Hywel has featured in Macbeth with Patrick Stewart in the West End and Broadway, although he confesses: "I'm just jobbing like most other actors. I've worked a bit, not worked a lot." The writing came due to having 'an itch to scratch' and in 2010 Pieces was premiered and lauded in the national press. "When something is staged, suddenly you take the work more seriously," says Hywel.

Commissioned to create a second play, Rose, British stage and screen actor Art Malik (of The Jewel In The Crown and True Lies fame) and his daughter Keira Malik were secured to star.

He says: "It was great having someone with that kind of profile in your work. The media sits up when there's a star and it puts more bums on seats.

"But it's such an intimate business and a lot of the time you spend it on your own, sitting in a library reading or writing. I'm not making a living out of it yet, but what writer says they do?"

The subject arises of the possibility of writing and starring in his own play. "Well I'm not averse to it. I just haven't written any parts I could be in yet: my first was about a 30-year-old woman and two children, the second, an Arab and his daughter," he declares.

And what about the difference in seeing the idea of your piece being changed by theatre directors?

He says: "Things change, it happens in rehearsal, different actors, productions, theatres. I'm pretty open-minded about it, and I've worked with good directors, so I've never had to put my foot down. One of the pleasures of writing is seeing the creativity of different people and what they bring to the piece."

Joe/Boy is showing at The Last Refuge theatre, SE15, between 23-28 October. For more info, call: 020 8127 6671, or visit:


1980   Born in Islington
1999   Attends Bristol University
2002   Studies at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in Hammersmith
2008   Features in Macbeth in the West End and Broadway
2010   First play Pieces shows at Theatre Clwyd, Mold
2011   Second play Rose premieres at Edinburgh Festival

Hywel John has written his take on the similarities between classes

Hywel John has written his take on the similarities between classes

Hywel John has written his take on the similarities between classes

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