DarkChat - Reviewing the Edinburgh Fringe since 2008

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My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed "A Good Clean Heart". Where did the idea come from?


Thank you! I originally wrote a 10-minute play about a Welsh character and an English character for a scratch night with Invertigo Theatre. I wanted to create something original and figured that making them siblings who somehow had different nationalities could be something interesting to explore.

Following the scratch night, I just felt that I had something more to explore with this idea. I sent this to Kate Wasserberg - whom I had sent some work to before, and I knew was establishing a pub theatre somewhere in Cardiff - and Kate encouraged me to develop it... The rest is, well, not exactly history as we're right in the middle of it!


Do you have a routine for writing?


Unfortunately my routine is generally late at night - there are FAR less distractions (online and off), and I like to work quite fast before going back to rework. One of the main things I've learned whilst writing A Good Clean Heart is that rewriting is key. REALLY hard, but it's key.


Do you need silence to write or does music help (if so what type)?


Always music, never silence! My absolute favourite is Freemasons mixes, but I'll often listen to stuff which reflects the mood of whatever I'm trying to write. I do this mainly for really emotional stuff - going to 'that place' is really helpful.


Was this always going to be a bilingual piece?


HEFIN's character was always going to be a Welsh-speaker - this was always one of the intrinsic questions on identity I wanted to explore - but it was Kate Wasserberg's idea for The Other Room's first season to have a piece of new writing which really did something different. When Kate proposed that HEFIN speak (his thoughts/monolgues) in Welsh throughout, this pretty much met up beautifully with what I'd wanted to write deep down. I honestly can't tell you how exciting it is to be exploring the possibilities of bilingual work and creating something which excites not only us, but other people. The reactions so far have been so excitingly positive - this won't always be the case, but that's okay, not everyone will like everything!


I gather you are not good at deadlines. Is that a lack of focus or are you a continuous changer of your work?


Alright, alright...! I've always, always found deadlines tough, and definitely work better under pressure. I'd love to change my ways but right now that's not going to happen... I'm currently balancing being a dad of 2; a supportive husband of an amazingly hardworking café owner; a Writer; a Producer; focusing as much as possible on this production as well as making sure that other projects are coming in and being developed... I try to remind myself every day that I would NOT have it any other way - I've done plenty of jobs in the past which haven't excited me half as much as all this... But I could REALLY do with just a little week away with no phones/emails/laptops - just family!


Are you a good judge of what works or do you rely upon a good team around you?


I guess I can only really judge what I like, what excites me, and I'm pretty sure Mared would say the same. The thing is, I can't kick a ball and I can't change a tyre, but I like to think that I can put words together in a way which won't kill anyone. I think. So I start there BUT you have to have people who will be honest with you and bring skills which you may not have. Mared knows drama - she knows story. We work together well, and when we discuss the work (on paper) then I listen - if I truly want to stand by something then I will, but the work wouldn't be what it is if I decided that it was 'great as it was' and didn't redraft as needed.

I'll be really honest - I'm tired of seeing work produced which doesn't excite people in some way - what's the point? Life is short, time is precious - many (not all!) people don't want to sit there for three hours and leave not having being utterly gripped or entertained or moved somehow. Hmmm this is ranty. I started writing because I wasn't happy with the Welsh TV content which was out there for me and people my age - that may sound selfish, but it's true. I want to inspire younger people and show that theatre, particularly Welsh language theatre can be engaging, exciting, relevant and funny!

Rant over.


What are you most proud of with this piece?


Our fear last year at The Other Room was that Welsh-speakers might feel that there was 'too much English' in the play and that non-Welsh-speakers might feel lost. I'm really, really proud that the feedback we received (and PLEASE let us know if this wasn't your opinion - we want to grow!) was, in general, that Welsh-speakers enjoyed seeing something which was really dynamic and a change from 'the norm', and that people with little or no knowledge of Cymraeg were engaged in the story, followed it and enjoyed just as much.


We had people come who had never, ever been to the theatre before, and to hear them tell us how blown away they were with the whole production was really overwhelming. I love my job.


Why did you choose adoption as the cornerstone of the play?


As I was writing A Good Clean Heart in 2014-15 I was going through the adoption process myself. We'd already been assessed and approved as Adopters - this had been a really enlightening, truly nice process. The matching process was incredibly tough for many reasons beyond our control (we're asked a lot - 'Oh... Was it because you're gay?' Err, no... FYI. *rolls eyes*

I began my adoption journey knowing very little about the reality of the process and system in its current form, and as I learned, I realised what an incredible thing it is. I learned about the modern nature of adoption, and how it's by no means like the versions of events we see on ITV's 'Long Lost Family'. The more I learned about true, modern stories of looked after children, and saw these romanticised reunions on the ITV show (which never fail to make me weep, believe me), I just felt compelled to tell a story which wasn't that 'perfect moment'. Life isn't always like that, and I feel bad for anybody who actually goes through a family reunion not having the 'perfect instant connection' and worrying if it's something they did or didn't do. Life is messy - you've just got to make the best of it.


Was it hard letting it go as a finished play?


Always. When is a play ever 'finished'? I mean, I guess when the publishers have published it and it's printed...! I know well enough what it's like from an Actor's point of view when there are tweaks after tweaks, especially where the points are where you just want to let things settle. I've also been 'tweaked' in a play where I was incredibly cynical but trusted the director, and it was a brilliant thing which improved the scene. There's always a balance to be had - I think so long as Writer & Director know when to stop tweaking and making changes, then hopefully the Actors will be in a good place to accept and play with stuff when it's offered.

And then the Stage Manager has a meltdown...!


Was there an element of the writing that you found particularly hard?


Rewriting. Letting go of stuff which I really 'liked' in the piece. The thing is, I probably started off with a play which was about 2 1/2 hours and HAD to cut it down to 75 minutes for the slot at The Other Room. We then had to make it a maximum of 60 minutes for Edinburgh. That's kinda a nightmare, but it's also a massive challenge, so you have to embrace those challenges and MAKE IT WORK.


Did you get emotional once you saw it performed?


Different elements/scenes/lines affect me at different times, I think. The play is so close to my heart, and I can't imagine writing something that I don't care about. Mared has worked so damn hard in a short space of time (again!), and I'm really proud of what we've all put together. Putting together a production is damn hard work, and I don't give a damn if pride is a sin, I'm damned proud of all the hard work which the entire team has put in to make this a dynamic production. It's hard to not feel emotional when you consider the work other people have put in to something which came out of your brain.


Will you go to Edinburgh to see it?


Definitely! I'll be up there for Press Night (Friday, August 5th) and I go back up for a few days in mid-August. I had an absolutely smashing time last year, so I can't wait to drum up an audience (it's SO competitive up there!), to see what people make of our production, but also to see some other cracking work up there.


Do you read reviews of your work?


I do. With a grimace on my face, and from behind a pillow, the way I used to watch Hammer Horror films with my Mam when I was little. It's always scary. I think one naturally wants people to have 'enjoyed' this thing you've poured your heart and soul into. When they don't it's tough - some people feel as though it invalidates something you've worked hard on. The thing to remember is, JUST because you've worked hard on something, it doesn't automatically make it 'good'.That's the HOPE, obviously! But, as I said earlier, tastes vary and not everyone will love everything you create.


Has its acclaim surprised you?


In the best way possible... I wanted to write something of the best quality, but wasn't sure I even could. I had a team around me who wanted to achieve the same, from having Mared on board to direct, to Dyfan Jones designing sound, to Kate Wasserberg acting as Dramaturg last year - nobody would rest until we got something we could watch and go "yeah - this is what we're happy for people to come see". I don't think anybody sets out to create something which is any less than that, but as a team you all have to be open to the questions, to being challenged.

I'm thinking back to standing on stage at the Sherman Theatre collecting that Wales Theatre Award. My emotional, blown-away reaction was, I promise you, utterly real - the competition was fierce. People say these things all the time, but it's TRUE... Being nominated was an honour, and I'd resigned myself to being chuffed with that. To win was surreal, but to win with this play which is so close to my heart was really touching.


Have you ever been to the Edinburgh festival as either a performer or audience member?


I went last year as an audience member and loved it - I saw 12 shows in 3 days. I can't wait to go back with A Good Clean Heart this year!


Why did you switch from acting to writing?


A lot of people seem to assume I'm not an Actor any more... It's funny, I always question whether a trained electrician doing some plumbing would have to pick a box, but also whether they'd feel so 'antsy' about it! I really love how pro-active you can be as a Writer - you can develop your own work and do stuff with it, whereas as an Actor you're far more at the mercy of what's happening, where, when, and with who. Or whom. Ahem. I love acting, I love writing - it's just another means of generating income by doing things I love.

*thinks back to previous temping assignments and shudders*


You are the resident writer with NEONTOPIA. Do you have a particular goal?


Yes - to inspire people to do something they love doing, to find the confidence in themselves that they can. My parents were so, so supportive of my career choice (so much so that my sister and brother have chosen the same one, with my youngest sister choosing a career in accounting... Hey, I don't judge!). Not everyone gets that support, and if we can create work which inspires change and excites people, whilst also bringing people in to join our Neontopia gang, to help them achieve their creative dreams too then I'd really like that.




A Good Clean Heart is playing from 9-28 August (not 15 or 22)

18.40 at Underbelly Cowgate


Alun Saunders

Despite the increase in Welsh language speakers recently there are still few bilingual shows around.


So, this Englishman (who can't speak Welsh) took his English wife (who can speak Welsh) to see " A Good Clean Heart" at The Other Room in Porters before it moves to Edinburgh.


The fact that we loved it both equally shows how good it is. Playwright Alun Saunders kindly gave us this interview.