Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Ffion Jones: Ugly Lovely

By | Published on Thursday 23 June 2016


South London based theatre company Velvet Trumpet’s latest show ‘Ugly Lovely’ opens over at the Old Red Lion Theatre imminently, which is exciting: I think we can look forward to something rather special, given the quality of this young company’s previous output.

Unlike a lot of their previous productions, however, this one isn’t by Thomas Jones and Nikolai Ribnikov; this is the debut play from actress and writer Ffion Jones, who also appears in the piece. I spoke to her, to find out more about the play, her career, and the company.

CM: Tell us about the play – what’s the central narrative and what characters are involved?
FJ: It follows a week in the life of Michelle Davies, a 26-year-old woman from Swansea, beginning with her birthday. Things have gradually changed within Shell’s world over the past few years and she finally digs her heels in to stop and take a look around. Her useless best friend Tash can’t help being a fly in the ointment and a ‘blast from the past’ encounter with ex-lover Robyn turns everything on its head. ‘Ugly Lovely’ is a tragi-comedy set in a claustrophobic Welsh city – a pleasurable panic attack.

CM: What themes does the piece explore? Are there any points to be made in it?
FJ: The central themes are ‘womanhood and growth’, however, they seem to come naturally coupled with ‘motherhood and loss’ within the play. Throughout this crucial week in Shell’s life she experiences different stages of grief after the tragic loss of her nan, and recognises that even though she is a mother, she needs to become a woman at the ripe old age of 26. Very tragic topics, such as suicide, are discussed very chaotically within the play. but this is a deliberate exploration of how close to the brink Shell and Tash feel they are, which forces two desperate souls to laugh and cling on tightly to whatever they can salvage.

CM: What inspired the script? What made you want to tell this particular story?
FJ: Swansea inspired the script. It is my home town and it is so much a part of my identity. I didn’t quite realise until I moved away from home how unique my experiences must have been growing up there. When training as an actor I felt very lost trying to find material that suited me as a young Welsh actress. And so I set about making my own material using the voices of where I’m from. I wanted to tell a female story that was bold and liberated and I was keen to explore the dark comedic tone of Swansea locals.

CM: You perform in the show too, don’t you? What’s it like, performing your own words?
FJ: It’s very surreal performing my own words. Sometimes I get lost in the character’s emotional journey and I can’t hear the rhythm of the scene any more, which makes me scared as a writer – I can’t hear whether it’s ‘working’ or not. However, I absolutely trust the direction of Niko, who is also a childhood friend of mine.

CM: Do you think the fact that you are the writer makes a difference to your working relationship with your director?
FJ: I hope Niko is glad that I can chip in with my original intentions as a writer from time to time. I feel that we work well as a collaborative team to make ‘Ugly Lovely’ the best it can be as writer, director and performer. I think we have a perfect relationship for this play. We understand the comedy, the history, the context and the style and so those moments where it does ‘work’ feel like magic and I can’t imagine it being directed by anyone else. Although, Niko does make me laugh too much in rehearsals! We are very close, though, and so we can cut to the chase very quickly in the rehearsal room, as well as bonding with Sophie and Ollie through our Welsh connections. Cymru am byth! (Wales forever!)

CM: Do you regard yourself primarily as a performer, or a writer?
FJ: I regard myself primarily as a performer. However, I am currently studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at Swansea University, which has been a wonderfully enriching experience. I love writing and I’m sure I will continue to write throughout my career but there is something about performing and engaging my body with my mind that will forever motivate and interest me.

CM: Can you tell us about Velvet Trumpet? How involved are you with the company?
FJ: I have been involved with Velvet Trumpet since they began. Niko (Nikolai Ribnikov) and Tom (Thomas Jones) are long-standing friends of mine, when they decided to join forces with Sam (Samuel Gregory) to form their own theatre company I was naturally on hand to support and perform in their work. I played a batty charity shop worker in ‘A Model Life’, and I was the accent coach for ‘Don’t Disturb the Driver’ and I was at the finish line after ‘Ken & Steve‘ walked 200 miles from London to Swansea. I am thrilled that Nick Smith and Rob Henderson are also on board with the boys now. I think they make a fantastic team.

CM: Is there a forward plan for this production? Will it tour, or anything, after the Old Red Lion?
FJ: I’m not sure what the plan is after ORL. I would love to take the show home to Wales – and beyond! If we were ever to be given the opportunity.

CM: What’s next for you?
FJ: Completing my masters and enjoying the sunshine while it lasts. I’ve got a couple of plays I’d like to work on – who knows!

‘Ugly Lovely’ is on at The Old Red Lion Theatre from 28 Jun-16 Jul. For tickets and more info, see the venue website here.

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