30 Apr 2016

Q&A with playwright Tom Wells

We speak to Hull Truck Theatre Associate Artist about his latest play, Folk.

The award winning playwright Tom Wells’ world premiere production Folk arrives at Hull Truck Theatre from 3-14 May. The play, which tells the story of smoking, Guinness drinking nun Winnie and the formation of an unlikely folk band, follows on from his previous successes The Kitchen Sink and Jumpers for Goalposts.

The very lovely Tom tells us all about how his hometown of Withernsea inspired the central characters in his work, and his fond memories of folk family Fridays.

So tell us about who you are and what you do…

I’m Tom. I’m a playwright.

What is it you enjoy about the creative process of writing a new play such as Folk?

Producing a play is a proper team effort and, if you get it right, a bit of an adventure. The script is just the beginning really – the actors meet their characters halfway, make them their own with their insights and instincts. You rewrite it and re-shape things as you go along. Bob’s design, Simon’s lighting and Clive’s sound make the world feel complete, just right somehow and also a bit beautiful. James’ compositions add a bit of magic to the play, something completely new, and the live music on-stage adds something too. Michael made some of the whistles himself and Amber was so committed to touring the show that at one point she nearly broke her thumb. (It’s better now.) Tessa the director held all of this together, and filled the show with her warmth and a special kind of spirited comedy. Sitting at your desk writing a play is a bit lonely sometimes. The bit where it all comes together and it’s full of everyone’s best work makes up for it.

How do you explore your home county in your work?

Hopefully if you know the place you are writing about well then you can write honestly about being part of it. The way people talk, their jokes, their turn of phrase and the stories they tell (or don’t tell) – all these things help you to write characters which feel rooted and truthful. Folk is set in Withernsea and there is something about it as a place, a seaside town which has struggled a bit but which is also full of something else, something tough and decent and hopeful, which fits with the stories I wanted to tell and the characters I was interested in writing about.

What do you think Hull becoming UK City of Culture in 2017 will do for the city?

I hope people will get stuck in, try new things, see stuff that makes their heart sing and keep making really good, really soulful art in Hull for a long time afterwards.

Your work follows a recurring theme which explores group dynamics. Where does your inspiration come for this?

I think maybe a sense of belonging to something – even if it is just a crap 5-a-side football team or a nun’s underwhelming folk band – means a lot to the sort of characters I like to write about. That’s why I like theatre really, hopefully there’s room for everyone.

Folk Hull Truck

How have your experiences as a musician contributed to the folk storyline?

When I was a teenager, I played in a folk band with my Dad and his friend Paul from church, my sister, Ruth, and our friends Mary and Catherine. If we were doing a ceilidh, my Mum would call the dances with a radio mic, like Britney Spears. We all practised together on a Friday night in the church social centre on Bannister Street in Withernsea, and Father Egan, who was the parish priest at the time, would come along about halfway through, share out the Guinness, listen to the tunes and tell stories. That is the world I wanted to write about. The characters are different and their stories are made up, but those Friday nights on Bannister Street are where I started from.

How does Folk differ from your previous plays The Kitchen Sink and Jumpers for Goalposts? What new concepts have you explored?

When you listen to a lot of folk songs, you notice that the stories they tell are full of struggle and resilience, full of characters who feel strong and brave and a bit broken. I wanted to have a go at writing a play that felt a bit like a folk song, fill it with music, and see what happened.

Do you plan on setting any of your future plays outside of East Yorkshire or is this where your heart’s at?

My heart’s just here, I think.

Folk is showing at Hull Truck Theatre between Tuesday 3 and Saturday 14 May. For tickets call the Box Office on 01482 323638


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