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Ugly Lovely: The debut play from Welsh playwright Ffion Jones
Image Credit: Ffion Jones, Ugly Lovely

Ugly Lovely: The debut play from Welsh playwright Ffion Jones

28 June 2016 Natasha Sutton-Williams

In Ugly Lovely playwright and performer Ffion Jones takes us down Swansea high street on a Saturday night. Amidst the vodka shots and fake tan she finds women laughing off troubled lives and dealing with deeply felt grief. London Calling talked to Jones as she prepared to present her debut play on the London stage.

London Calling: You’ve written characters in Ugly Lovely that push against the usual stereotypes of woman portrayed in drama. Was this always your intention?

Ffion Jones: Definitely. The inspiration for the play came from looking for scripts when I was at drama school. Nothing represented where I’m from back in Swansea. It is really hard to find anything female centred and genuinely funny. There are lots of Welsh writers who write brilliant female characters but the story doesn’t necessarily centre on them, and if it does it’s quite surreal or male characters tip the balance of power. Even though there are male characters in Ugly Lovely who influence the narrative, they are not the primary voice that’s being heard. I am trying to represent women in the way that I know them.

 

LC: In the play you are also talking about being Welsh.

FJ: Yes. There are lots of Welsh people who you initially think are hilarious, a great person to have out at a party, however they lead tragic lives. It’s not until they drop a bombshell like ‘I tried to kill myself last week’ that you think shit, that’s horrible. Yet somehow, they still make you laugh about it.

 

LC: Often Welsh characters are seen as comic relief. Is Ugly Lovely deliberately trying to correct the record?

FJ: I wanted to write a tragicomedy. I was pushing back against representations of Wales I’ve seen my whole life. I have a real hang up about how Welsh people are presented in the media. There are wonderful programmes on TV and radio utilising lots of Welsh characters and actors. I love shows like Stella and Gavin and Stacey, and I’ve seen Welsh theatre which romanticises living in Wales. These representations aren’t completely untrue, but they don’t represent my life. It happens so often that you see the random Welsh character in shows like Coupling who are presented as idiots. They’re two-dimensional. In Ugly Lovely I want you to feel something more for the characters. I’m saying, ‘No, you don’t really know Welsh people. They aren’t just token idiots.’ There’s a griminess and a loneliness to Swansea, but also a hell of a lot of comedy.

 

LC: You make a real effort to celebrate these characters but you are critiquing them at the same time. Was that a difficult balancing act?

FJ: I want the line to be blurred between laughing with them and laughing at them. I want you to laugh at the characters, then feel something for them. I’m trying to give a voice to people who wouldn’t normally have one. There’s something so lovely about girls I’ve met in Swansea, they talk so bluntly about their experiences, sometimes it’s funny, but that’s the only way they can deliver it.  They are trying to say something real. I want to celebrate that honesty.
 

LC: Are there portrayals of women in theatre or TV that have influenced your writing?

FJ: Shows like Girls have been massive for lots of female artists. The characters Lena Dunham has created aren’t perfect. They’re dislikeable. They’re all twats. You can’t stop watching them. I admire the way Dunham is trying to tell the truth and not have a perfect little story from beginning to end. That’s something that’s always inspired me. I want to make something raw. People like Bryony Kimmings break the mould and just say this is life. They don’t make perfect little plays for people to come to and say ‘oh I was entertained’. I don’t write little entertainments either and I don’t think I ever will. I will always write about women. My characters are often dealing with difficult circumstances and they won’t necessarily come out on top but that‘s life.

 

LC: You work with the theatre company Velvet Trumpet who are producing Ugly Lovely. How did they help develop the piece?

FJ: Originally Ugly Lovely featured as a short play in Velvet Trumpet’s regular comedy theatre night Soggy Brass at Southwark Playhouse. They liked my work and from there they helped me develop my show into a full-length piece. They are seriously passionate about helping comedic playwrights develop. On Mondays during the run of Ugly Lovely on 4th and 11th July they will be presenting Top Brass, four dark, funny, sexually explicit plays by their gang of writers that everyone should go see.
 

LC: What are you writing next?

FJ: I’m writing a play about a Welsh girl who falls in love with a gravestone.

 

Ugly Lovely premiers at the Old Red Lion Theatre from 28th June - 16th July. For more information and tickets visit their website

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