Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | INTERVIEW: Adam Hughes, Writer of Marching On Together
Ginger Hibiscus | INTERVIEW: Adam Hughes, Writer of Marching On Together
Ginger Hibiscus | INTERVIEW: Adam Hughes, Writer of Marching On Together
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28 Dec INTERVIEW: Adam Hughes, Writer of Marching on Together

Playwright – Adam Hughes
Director – Joshua McTaggart

The easiest way to describe Adam Hughes would probably be as an up-and-coming, award winning playwright, proud West Yorkshire lad and dedicated Leeds United fan. Pandering perfectly to the stereotype that he later goes on to shatter, I interrupted him having his final fish and chips of 2014, to talk about his writing, his inspiration and his upcoming play, “Marching On Together.” We started, as you might expect, at the beginning…

A recent entrant to the world of play writing, Adam wrote his first full play only last year. Received to great praise, “True Colours” was shortlisted for the Ronald Duncan Playwriting Competition, the prize for which was having your play performed. As a runner up, “ I got some Amazon vouchers or something. But what was really good, is that it allowed me to approach the Arts Council, who gave us the funding to put on the show and workshops across the UK. Following that, “Marching on Together,” is the second play I’ve written. I’m working with a really good team, a good director, a good theatre, it’s great – we’re really excited!”

”The first play was set in Yorkshire, about an elderly man who’d lived in the same street all his life, who was really set in his ways. He was a widower – his wife died having been assaulted by an Asian man, so he had all these prejudices. The play was all about him overcoming his prejudices: when he fell ill, the nurse who was looking after him was an Asian nurse, so the play looked at their relationship. We also did it as a tour of the UK, working in community centres to tackle the issue of Islamophobia. And again, that’s what we’re doing with this. It taught me that a play can be a lot more than just a play – it’s also about the difference you can make within a community.”

It’s really obvious how passionate Adam is about the community element of his plays, and it’s plain to see how valuable that can be in tackling the issue of Islamophobia. But I noted when the play was first announced, that football hooliganism and theatre don’t feel like the likeliest of bedfellows. So I asked Adam, why this topic?

Well, I’m a Leeds United fan, I’ve had a season ticket for about 10 years, and there’s a lot of history of hooliganism at Leeds. I got chatting to a lot of people, and quite a few of them told me they’d been part of this hooligan culture, who used to fight every Saturday. But to me they’d seem like some of the nicest guys. There was one particular guy, and when I told him I couldn’t imagine him fighting, his response was, “yeah, but I’d fight for Leeds.” There was this mentality that by fighting you were defending your club, almost defending your territory. I also read a book about football hooliganism in this particular season, 1984-85, and it made me realise quite how much happened in football that year. It was the season that football hooliganism really reached its peak. They made a record number of arrests that year. It was when the miners’ strikes were happening, people were becoming disengaged– they had more important things to focus on. That year there was also the Valley Parade fire at the Bradford ground where 56 people died (often cited as the worst fire disaster in the history of English football, during a league match between Bradford and Lincoln on 11 May 1985). Also, a 15 year old young lad died in Birmingham at a Leeds game, crushed by a wall, because there were riots during the game. So much happened in that season, so I’m surprised it hasn’t been dramatised before.

I’m not just talking in terms of football, or violence, I’m also thinking in British culture. It was a time when the entire country was changing, and you can see that within this play hopefully. Lots of similarities between then and now came to light when Josh (the director) and I were going through the play, looking at cultural references and, thinking, ”how do we make it really obvious that this play’s set in the 80s without someone coming on with a glowstick?” We wanted something a bit more subtle. So we looked at other events that happened that year, and it turns out there were loads of them – including the fact that that was the year of Band Aid – which has also come back this year. So 30 years on it feels timely.

The story focuses on a guy called Macca who used to be the leader of the Service Crew, but he comes out of prison to find that in the 3 years he was inside, the entire world has changed. All his friends are struggling because the pits are closing. You don’t know if you’ll have a job the next week. People’s masculinity is being questioned all the time. The world he knew – and actually the community that he knew – has changed. For a lot of people, the violence gave them some sense of community. You knew who you were, who you belonged with.”

Like all good stories, you don’t actually have to have any interest in the subject matter, so it doesn’t matter if people aren’t football fans when they come to watch the play. I know as much about ballet as I know about rocket science, but I’ll watch Bourne, because Bourne isn’t so much about ballet- it’s about storytelling. Just like this isn’t about football, it’s about one guy trying his best for his family, and the obstacles that he constantly comes across. It focuses on the characters and the journeys they go on, and there’s actually no football or violence in it, which is something we’re quite proud of. The play doesn’t need it. We’re trying to show the human side of it. We know they did fight, so we don’t need to see that again, but the question is why?

It’s a very different stance to “football hooliganism” films like Green Street. As awful as it sounds, you watch all these films and after a while you just become numb to them. We’ve tried to not glorify any violence, and to actually show how sad it is that people actually had to do that. The best “football hooliganism” film I saw was about a guy who went undercover with a Millwall crew. He really got to know these people, and found that they really are family. It’s strange but you grow attached to people because as you get to know them, they stop being monsters. They’re actually just human beings, and I find that really fascinating.

I know that the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust is on side, but I wanted to get to the bottom of whether or not the club have been accepting of the play, or sought to distance itself from something that draws attention to an unsavoury moment in its history?

People haven’t really objected to it, I think because it was so long ago now. And because people know that this really happened. The play is set up so that every scene is a match day, and the final scene is in Birmingham, for what’s been called the most violent football game ever. The Leeds fans destroyed the stadium. So it’s not like we’re making anything up, or making this thing worse than it already was. It’s almost like, you can’t hide from the truth. These things happened. And actually, rather than saying, ”oops let’s not talk about that, let’s move on,” we’re saying, ”no, let’s talk about it, because it happened for a reason”. These people might have been in the wrong, but what they were doing was a reaction to what other people were doing, who might have been equally wrong.

After the 1984 – 85 season, there were a lot of changes; the police got a lot more involved and CCTV was put into grounds, that sort of thing. But there’s still trouble at football matches today – even last week, and there were the riots in London a few years ago. So I think it’s still applicable these days; this kind of rioting always seems to be percolating just beneath the surface. It just needs a nudge for it to erupt. There are all these parallels between that season and now, for example unemployment was at an all time high, and that’s almost gone full circle recently. I think that’s shocking in a way, that we’ve come forward 30 years, but what has changed? Actually it’s really a bit frightening that it’s just as relevant now as it was back then.

We’re doing a month at the Old Red Lion which is going to be fantastic, but the play is really about getting out and community engagement. So we’re holding workshops for people like ex-hooligans. This is an opportunity for people to have their voices heard, and also for us to engage different people in theatre. What’s unique about this project is that a lot of the people we’re trying to get involved don’t go to the theatre on a regular basis. So we’re bringing the show to them. We’ll be performing in working mens clubs, community halls, even in a pub in Leeds that the hooligans used to hang out in. It’s got so much potential to open people’s eyes, and to get more people involved in theatre, which can only be a good thing for me.

The run of Marching On Together will be at the Old Red Lion Theatre between 3rd – 28th February 2015.

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