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Tim Price - For Once


When Tim Price went to Ludlow in Shropshire, the Cardiff playwright 
looked at what was going on beyond the surface of a town he describes 
as “the gastronomic centre of England.” What he found during three 
weeks of development as part of a group of writers seconded by the 
Ludlow-based Pentabus was serious food for thought. Beyond the 
abattoirs and the Michelin-starred restaurants was a disaffected 
younger population with little or nothing to call their own.

The result of this is For Once, Price's debit full-length stage play 
following stints on television penning the likes of Secret Diary of A 
Call Girl after cutting his teeth with DIY guerilla theatre company 
Dirty Protest back in Cardiff. Following a successful run in 2011, For 
Once tours to Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, where its director Orla 
O'Loughlin is now in charge following her departure from Pentabus.

“It's about food and the politics of food,” Price says of For Once. “I 
did a week-long residency in Ludlow, which is quite a middle-class 
town, with no obvious outlet for the kids there. I talked to a couple 
of teenagers in town, and the two main things I could see going on 
there were its food culture, and teen deaths. I thought about how these 
two were connected, and the young people I spoke to said they spent 
most of their time driving to other towns to go to Pizza Hut and 
MacDonalds, where they felt welcome.”

Originally written as a monologue, For Once now inter-weaves three 
different points of view to make up a very different image of a 
small-town community than the picture postcard image usually passed 
down.

“ People tend to move to the country in Ludlow so their children can 
avoid the risks of big city living, but the risks are still there. The 
biggest risk for anyone at that age is under-stimulation, and if  a 
teenager gets into the wrong car or the wrong bed, it can result in 
tragedy.”

Price never planned to be a playwright, but came to the theatre via a 
creative writing course at university.

“I was a proper lazy student,” he says, “and, to be frank, the only 
reason I took the course was because there were no exams. I never had 
any ambitions to be a writer, and I never went to the theatre, but I 
seemed to do quite well with it. Then I went on the dole and wrote a 
short film, but there wasn't a plan. If I'd have got one of the 
hundreds of jobs I applied for, who knows what might have happened, but 
I had a degree in philosophy and English which are completely useless 
for most sectors.”

Price applied to be everything from a rock climbing instructor to an 
agent with MI5, but ended up working for a time as a journalist. It was 
here, he reckons, he began to be drawn to the stories that now feeds 
into his plays. He learnt to talk to people, he reckons, and to ask the 
awkward questions necessary for him to get what he wanted.

Price's extended period on the dole with like-minded colleagues also 
led to the formation of Dirty Protest. With a dearth of non-mainstream 
outlets in Cardiff, the company opted to present compendiums of rough 
and ready works in bars, clubs and even kebab shops rather than 
theatres per se.

“There's not much in the way of independent theatre in Cardiff,” Price 
says, “so a group of us decided to do something that was dirt cheap and 
lo-fi. We were just putting on the kind of nights we wanted to go to, 
but that generated a whole scene of work for young people who couldn't 
afford to go to big theatres, and who maybe found something with us 
that was saying something about their lives.”

While For Once goes out on tour, another play by Price, Salt, Rock and 
Roe, has just been nominated for an Olivier award. Price is also 
currently in rehearsals for a major new work for  National Theatre 
Wales. The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning looks at the background of 
the twenty-four year old American soldier accused of releasing 
thousands of U.S. Embassy documents to Wikileaks. This included the 
so-called 'collateral murder' video of American soldiers in an airborne 
helicopter in Iraq apparently shooting civilians on the ground below.

“That really shocked me,” Price says. “I'd been following Wikileaks, 
but up until then I hadn't realised how important it was, because a lot 
of the source material is quite dry.”

With Manning's trial pending, Price's interest in his story came from 
somewhere infinitely closer to home.

“What's under-reported about Bradley Manning is that he's half Welsh,” 
Price explains. “Because of that I think he's someone we should care 
about. There were six million people with the same security clearance 
as Bradley Manning, but he's the only person who's allegedly leaked 
things, and presumably the only person who was in part brought up in 
Wales. I wanted to look at whether that shaped his radicalisation, 
coming, as he does, from a country with a long and proud radical 
history that Wales has.”

With Manning still in prison, Price's play opens in Manning's old 
school, Tasker Milward in Haverfordwest. In keeping with its 
internet-age setting, the play will also be streamed live online, 
complete with links to all documents referred to in the script.

“I hope it's an important play for the campaign [to free Manning]”, 
says Price, “and really important for National Theatre Wales as well.”

Price's work on The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning also led directly 
to him writing Demos, a new verbatim play inspired by the Occupy 
movement and written for a cast of fifty.

“While I was writing the Bradley Manning play I got involved with a 
group of activists, and became interested in ideas of democracy,” Price 
says. “These activists with the Occupy movement do everything by 
consensus, and twice a day have a general assembly, in which everything 
 from where to put the Portaloos to what should happen to the national 
debt is discussed, with everyone having an equal voice. They publish 
minutes of these assemblies, and the time I was down it had been quite 
a difficult night. The police had been down, and, while there were a 
few ugly moments, there some beautiful ones as well. I compared that 
with Prime Minister's Question Time the next day, so there's these two 
versions of democracy, with which we get the audience involved in it as 
well.”

All of this activity from Price comes following stints working on 
Casualty, Holby City and East Enders, while he's currently working on a 
comedy drama for ITV 2 called Switch.

“It's about four witches living in Camden,” Price laughs. “It's like 
Sex and the City with spells.”

Demos, meanwhile, forms part of the Traverse's Write Here season of 
rehearsed readings and workshops of new plays by writers relatively 
unknown in Scotland and who are on much the same level as Price was in 
the early days of Dirty Protest.

“Something like Write Here is exactly what's needed, somewhere where 
emerging writers can rub shoulders with each other, and create 
networks,” Price says. “It comes from the same desire we had to create 
a hub, where writers can cut their teeth and make the connections for 
them to develop. No genius ever came out of a vacuum, after all. Also, 
with cuts in funding, these community cultures will keep bubbling up. 
There are less and less bridging and attachment schemes for writers, so 
I think DIY culture in theatre is here to stay.”

For Once, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, April 4th-14th
www.traverse.co.uk

The Herald, April 3rd 2012

ends

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