National Assembly ‘has changed Welsh soul’

Rachael Jolley interviews playwright Tim Price about his sense of identity

Recovering from a hectic few weeks where his play Salt, Root and Roe hit the boards, and received rave reviews at the celebrated centre of new writing at the Donmar Warehouse, Tim Price recalls being the one and only student at his “pretty tough” Aberdare comprehensive school to take ‘A’ level Welsh. “I did GCSE Welsh too, and I got to the point when I was pretty fluent in Welsh,” he remembers. He even ended up working in Welsh language television for a bit, so definitely had his language skills on show.

Salt, Root and Roe is set in Pembrokeshire, and follows one woman’s experience connecting with her Welsh identity. Price also writes for the National Theatre of Wales and his The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, directed by John McGrath. opens in Haverfordwest in April.

Price writes in English, and that, he says, is something that adds complexity to the story of the arts in Wales, in that funding is split between those working in Welsh and those working in English.

“It’s quite difficult in Wales, the identity question,” he says, “because the elephant in the room is Welsh identity when you are not a Welsh speaker.” There is a question about whether those who don’t speak Welsh feel slightly looked down on by those who speak Welsh, the biggest minority language in Europe, he tells me.

Tim Price – a thumbnail sketch

Brought up in Aberdare 31-year-old Tim Price is a former journalist with the Pontypridd Observer. He was educated at Cardiff University, where he studied Philosophy and English Literature. As well as writing for stage and television, Tim runs a writing company with friends called Dirty Protest. He was one of eight candidates to be selected for the BBC Drama Writer’s Academy 2009.

Price’s play The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, commissioned by National Theatre Wales, plays in Haverfordwest from 11 to 28 April. Manning is the 24-year-old American soldier accused of the release of thousands of US embassy emails to Wikileaks. On December 16 last year his pre-trial hearing opened in Fort Meade in Maryland. Manning faces a maximum sentence of life in custody with no chance of parole. But just a few years ago, he was a teenager in west Wales. Price’s play examines the impact of his story impact on the people he left in Wales, and asks who is responsible for his ‘radicalisation’.

Price’s debut one-hour play For Once, described as “an old fashioned kitchen sink and ironing drama” was produced at Hampstead Theatre last July 2011, and is touring the UK this month. His television credits include:

2010-11 – Eastenders – 3 episodes.

2010-11 – Switch – Pilot episode co-written with Chloe Moss, for Touchpaper/ITV2, awaiting commissioning decision.

2011 – Valley Cops – Pilot episode commissioned for BBC Wales.

2010 – Casualty – 1 episode broadcast April 2011

2010 – Holby City – 1 episode broadcast August 2010

2010 – Doctors – 1 episode broadcast November 2010

2009 – Secret Diary Of A Call Girl – Series 3 – 3 episodes. Tiger Aspect Productions. Broadcast 2008/10

2008 – River City – 1 episode BBC Scotland. Broadcast January 2009.

2007 – Sold! – 1 episode. Touchpaper TV/ITV. Broadcast 2007. Contributing material credit 1 episode.

2007 – Belonging – Series 9 Storyliner. BBC Wales.

2006 – Herman And Sherman – 1 episode cartoon comedy. Griff Films/Cartoon Network. Broadcast 2008.

2005 – Y Pris (The Cockle Farmer) Series 2 Original 8 episodes conceived and written. Fiction Factory/S4C. Broadcast 2008.

2005 – The New Worst Witch – 1 episode. Granada Kids. Broadcast 2006

2005 – Caerdydd series 2 – Two episodes. Fiction Factory/S4C. Broadcast 2007.

2004 – Y Pris (The Cockle Farmer) Original 13 episodes conceived and written. S4C/Fiction Factory. Broadcast 2007. Best screenwriter  nomination at Bafta Cymru 2008. Winner Best drama at Celtic Film and TV Festival 2009. Best drama  nomination for Prix Europa 2008.

“As a language it is very, very strong.” So is there a division between the speakers and non speakers of Welsh? It sounds like he is suggesting there is. “I don’t think the Welsh people feel alienated in Welsh language places like visitors may do because there is a degree of familiarity,” he adds, carefully.

This competition for funding between those who write in Welsh and those who write in English is something he obviously feels strongly about, as he returns to the subject. “There is a question and concerns about where the Welsh voices aren’t being heard on the stages in London in the way that, say, the Irish and Scottish are.” And when you think about the big plays in London’s West End it’s hard to think of a play that competes with Stones in His Pockets or The Weir.

Because arts funding is split between those writing in Welsh and English, Price feels Welsh voices in and around the stage have been “ghettoised” and get less opportunities. Looking for great Welsh arts inspiration, he says, “there’s no great creator of plays in the way Ireland has Beckett”.

He believes devolution has changed the Welsh soul:

“The key thing, and I’m sure this is also true for Scottish people, is that devolution changed everything really. Before devolution Wales was an imagined land. Now you’ve got 60 professional politicians discussing what it is to be Welsh, artists don’t have to own that space.”

Price says he feels more Welsh than British, but he does feel a strong connection and a sense of identity with London. “It’s a great place to live and work in London, there is a sense of a global nation in London. There’s every nationality in London, I feel like a global citizen. I respond to that.”

He thinks that there is a sense that British as a description is “owned” by England, a sort of co-opted England. “There are great things in Scotland, great castles and great thinkers, but I wouldn’t think of them as being British, they have Scottish ownership.”

“A lot of British things that are Scottish don’t get referred to as British, pretty much everything that is British is…” and there he leaves it hanging. There’s one exception he feels confident about supporting, and that’s the British Lions. “That’s a beautiful thing and something that really adds culture value and something I can relate to.”

And what about the years ahead will the Welsh identity change? “The independence question in Scotland will throw up a lot of questions in Wales,” he says.

Rachael Jolley writes for the British Future think tank where a version of this article first appeared

Comments are closed.

Also within Culture