Award-winning playwright (Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright, 2001) Roy Williams has written a new play, Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads, as part of the Transformation series at the Lyttleton and Lyttleton Loft. Theatrenow went to the National to meet him.
How did you come to write Sing Yer Heart Out?: "I was contacted by Jack Bradley, the National Theater's literary manager, who knew of my other work [including Clubland at the Royal Court, 2001] and asked if I had any ideas for a new play that could be staged at the National."
In the press release, Sing Yer Heart Out is described as controversial. What's controversial about it?: "It's a play about football, but football is the way in to discussing a wider issue — like Dealer's Choice is about relationships rather than cards. Sing Yer Heart Out is about the nature of national identity and about racism."
Have you had much experience of racism yourself?:[Williams is a young, black playwright.] "Only the odd comment from a passing car, nothing too heavy. But racism is fairly deep rooted in society. Though the play is about the nature of Britishness, of national identity in general, not just relations between black and white." Is that why you've chosen to center it on an England vs. Germany match?: "Yes! Given all the almost tribal feelings that that match will always generate, it seemed the ideal way to look at those issues. I decided to use a real game as that would give an extra focus to the debate, and I wouldn't have football experts picking holes in a fictional description of a match. The fact that the match, in October 2000, was a loss for England, and was at Wembly before the stadium closed, adds an extra layer of emotion, too."
How did you come to be a playwright?: "It was through an English teacher at school. I'd always thought that theatre meant Shakespeare, but he handed me a play by Barry Keefe, and it was about 'normal' people. I recognized my friends and my life in his characters, and I realized that plays could be about young people and about everyday life — rather than Kings and Queens — and I took off from there."
Do you belong to any playwrights' group or circle?: "Not officially, but having worked at the Royal Court has been a great help, and they have regular writers' nights there which is a good and informal way to meet and keep in touch with other writers".
Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads is running for about two-and-a-half weeks. Do you hope it will have a further life, later?: "All the plays in the Lyttleton and Lyttleton Loft — the new studio space that's been created for this six month Transformation season — are short runs. Hopefully they'll bring in a diverse and young audience, and if they do, they'll have achieved their aim. If Sing Yer Heart Out gets performed again, or somewhere else, that'll be great, but it's designed for this space and time."
Your timing is very good, with the World Cup coming up and the current focus on David Beckham, Michael Owen and so on: "When I had lunch with Jack Bradley, I said it would take around a year to write the play, and we knew that given that, and the timing of Transformation, it would tie in with the World Cup, so that was planned, but the Beckham fuss obviously wasn't, so that's just been coincidence!"
Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads opens at the Lyttleton Loft May 2.
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow