Playwright and scriptwriter Ming Ho takes on 10 questions and reveals the unlikeliest of Josephs you ever did hear…!
I love a show that completely takes you by surprise and the aural adventure (plus snacks!) of Citizens of Nowhere? – a show commissioned and produced by Chinese Arts Now – did just that, lingering long in the mind. So I thought I’d invite writer Ming Ho to speak a little about that show, and much more besides:
“Getting to work with the lovely cast, Jennifer Lim, Siu Hun Li (who inspired the character of Jun in the play!), and Pik-Sen Lim, a rare East Asian face on TV when I was growing up.”
Where were you 10 years ago?
In the wilderness. Having started out as a script editor in TV drama and moved into scriptwriting, I’d had a solid few years working on long-running series (Eastenders, Casualty etc), but my mum had been developing symptoms of dementia for probably over a decade, and her needs became pressing; as an only child with no other immediate family, I found myself spending more and more time supporting her, shuttling back and forth from our family home to my flat in London, and eventually having to arrange residential care for her and sell the house. She’s been in care for 8 years now in two different homes and is at a very advanced stage. In 2013, I started a blog about our experiences, Dementia Just Ain’t Sexy, and have since become heavily involved in campaigning re dementia and carer issues, sitting on the Carers Advisory Panel of Dementia Carers Count and the Advisory Board of Raising Films.
I never consciously withdrew from TV writing, but fell out of circulation on the long-runners, and that year of 2009 also had major surgery that I’d been putting off for some time, due to mum’s condition. I kept up contact with the business through involvement with the Writers’ Guild, sitting on the TV Committee and Executive Council, and being Deputy Chair from 2012-14. It was a traumatic time, but arguably, with hindsight, it has given me pause for thought about the kind of work I really want to do. I’ve realised that autonomy and truthfulness of content are the drivers for me and have since been focusing on original work for stage, screen, and radio.
Best show you’ve seen in the last 10 years?
Not keen on ranking (horses for courses!), but probably Emilia at the Globe, for sheer joyous impact – caught it by chance one Saturday matinee via Twitter word of mouth, & loved it so much I booked instantly to go back for the last night there, because I knew it would be historic. As much a battle cry as a piece of theatre – moving, entertaining, thought-provoking: what more could you want?
What has been your professional highlight of the last 10 years?
Winning the WGGB award for my BBC Radio 4 play, The Things We Never Said because it was such as personal project for me, based on my experience with my mum (as above), who now doesn’t know me at all. The play never explicitly mentions dementia and there’s no doddery “old lady”; it’s a non-linear, impressionistic exploration of the emotional, psychological and philosophical challenges of maintaining a relationship with the person who has been closest to you, when that person knows only the present moment. Who are you, when all shared memory is gone? How do you know whom you love? I’ve blogged about it here. As a listener said to me, it’s really a play about love. I originally wrote it on spec for theatre, but it got picked up for radio first, so I’m still hoping it will have a full stage production…
Top flavour of interval ice-cream?
Got to be the elusive Mint Choc Chip!
What show do you wish theatres would give a rest for a few years?
“Street” reimaginings of classics. If it’s a classic, let the original speak for itself, we can do the imagining. Otherwise, commission something new that directly says something about today: the classics of tomorrow.
Name someone who you think is a really underappreciated talent (in the world of theatre)?
Actress and director Sarah Berger, who founded the So and So Arts Club to foster relationships and opportunities for creatives, including paid readings, affordable rehearsal space, and networking. Her enthusiasm and perseverance is inspiring. And all the writers, actors, directors, producers, composers, designers, stage managers who are somehow keeping on, making work with little or no funding, because they believe in it.
Elphaba or Glinda?
I love musicals, but am I allowed to admit I’ve never seen Wicked…? My bad!
What is one thing that you think would help theatre survive and/or thrive the next ten years?
Across the arts and media, funded development has shrunk dramatically in the last decade or so. How can diverse new work come through, if creators are expected to live on air or “exposure” while making it?
At policy level, acknowledgement (from government and wider society) that theatre and the arts in general are not “luvvie” niche interests or only worthwhile for their contribution to GDP, but inform and enhance all aspects of life: creativity is the future. In practical terms, more funding directed to make work (productions), rather than endless development schemes, scratch nights, and “winner takes all” competitions, which require pitching and bid-writing skills that sit outside the work. Competitions and schemes can be great for those who rise up through them, but elimination rounds arguably favour more eye-catching types of story – how many others equally worthy of production are overlooked by early filtering? We learn most by doing, and if resources are only given to the few who are already deemed winners, the pool will run dry. Where’s that money going to come from? That’s another, much longer, conversation!
Which is your favourite theatre?
I love that theatres now are aiming to be community hubs throughout the day, not just performance spaces at night – particularly important outside London. was recently lucky to have a residency at Theatr Clwyd, where they’re doing great outreach work, for instance their community production of Mold Riots, as described in this thread by Liam Evans-Ford. Impossible to name one theatre as favourite, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the Cheltenham Everyman, the local rep of my childhood (with fabulous Frank Matcham auditorium), where I made my first appearances in the children’s choir of Joseph (played by Anthony Head!) and in an am dram production of South Pacific.
Can you say anything about what’s to come for you, (in the next ten years or otherwise)?
I’ve written a short film, British People, inspired by characters in my live audio drama, Citizens of Nowhere? Commissioned as part of the Uncertain Kingdom project (20 films about the UK in 2019), it’s coming out next spring. I’m discussing stage possibilities for The Things We Never Said, working on other projects for stage, film, and radio, and hopefully returning to TV! I’d also like to direct, which was my original ambition, way back…