On my radar: Roy Williams’s cultural highlights

·4 min read

Roy Williams was born in London in 1968 and raised in Notting Hill. He studied writing at Rose Bruford college and his plays include Death of England and Sucker Punch, which won the 2010 Alfred Fagon award. He received an OBE in 2008. Williams’s new play, History, will be premiered by Pitlochry Festival theatre and the Royal Lyceum Edinburgh on the new audio digital initiative Sound Stage from 24 to 26 September. NW Trilogy, co-written with Moira Buffini and Suhayla El-Bushra, is at the Kiln theatre until 9 October.

1. Podcast

Who Am I This Time?

Podcasts were quite the find for me during lockdown. I am currently enjoying David Morrissey’s series in which he interviews celebrated thespians who speak about one significant acting role they have played – the episodes with Eddie Marsan (talking about Vera Drake) and Adjoa Andoh (Bridgerton) were particularly good. It’s wonderful to learn more about actors and get a little insight into how their creative minds work when they read a script – as someone who writes for actors, I find that especially useful. David Morrissey’s got a really nice way about him. He’s a very good listener.

2. Theatre

Paradise (National Theatre)

I am usually quite good at knowing the Greek myths but the story of Philoctetes [a participant in the Trojan war, and the subject of a play by Sophocles] passed me by. Kae Tempest’s adaptation vibrantly brought out interesting themes of toxic masculinity, but told by women – it was an all-female cast, which I thought worked really well. The writing was very clever, and direction by Ian Rickson was exceptional. Lesley Sharp, as the tormented and tired soldier Philoctetes, and Gloria Obianyo, as Neoptolemus, gave two of the best stage performances I have seen in years. The play had mixed reviews, but I came out thrilled.

3. Book

The Painter’s Friend by Howard Cunnell

I am a big fan of this writer; his latest novel does not disappoint. It’s a cracking, urgent page-turner of a novel, dealing with the consequences of gentrification on a small Irish island. It also looks at the responsibility and politics of art, seen through the eyes of a successful painter coming to terms with his own working-class roots. I admire the way Cunnell writes working-class characters with such empathy and complexity. I’ve always felt that we’re scared to write about working-class issues, not just in theatre but in films, TV, everywhere. This book does it incredibly well.

4. TV

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

If only we had fellas like Ted running our beautiful game in this country. He’s a football coach from America who’s brought over to manage a fictional Premier League team in England. It’s not as funny as I was led to believe, but the genius of this show is its amazing subtlety, which can be so easily missed. It never quite goes where you fear it might in terms of characterisation and it always knows when to pull up short of sentimentality. And I so want to try one of those shortbread biscuits that Ted makes for his boss.

5. Music

Prince: Welcome 2 America

Prince in 2011.
Prince in 2011. Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

Prince was my all-time musical hero when I was a teenager. When I discovered him, listening to When Doves Cry on Top of the Pops, I felt complete in so many ways. There has not been a day since when I haven’t played a track of his. This is an entire album that he recorded 11 years ago and shelved. It’s not as good as some of his previous albums, but it’s still up there, and there are some tracks, about racism, and our hunger for social media, that could have been written yesterday. Even in death, he raises the bar.

6. Exhibition

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly in League With the Night (Tate Britain)

Wrist Action, left, and Bound over to Keep the Faith, both 2010 by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye at Tate Britain.
Wrist Action, left, and Bound Over to Keep the Faith, both 2010 by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye at Tate Britain. Photograph: Guy Bell/REX/Shutterstock

I knew very little about Yiadom-Boakye’s work before this show [which returns to Tate Britain from 24 November 2022] but my partner sensed I would find it interesting. She was right. I could have stayed at Tate Britain all day to admire her incredibly beautiful paintings. They look like portraits of real people but they are just images from her own head – of black people, from all walks of life, sitting down or standing. For me, they reflect a soul of black Britain that is still not experienced enough in any art form. Every painting told a story, so lifelike and so inspiring.

7. Film

Black Widow

I am living proof that you can admire the most arthouse foreign film there is as well as enjoy a really daft, leave-your-brain-at-the-door superhero flick. We’ve seen Black Widow pop up in other Avenger movies, but this covers her backstory: she’s an orphan who grew up in Russia and was trained to be a professional assassin, until she ran away to America and became an Avenger. There is something therapeutic about seeing crashing cars, exploding buildings and the bad guys getting the crap beaten out of them. Captain America: Winter Soldier remains my favourite Marvel film, but Black Widow is now a close second.

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