John Rwothomack Talks New Play ‘Lines’

John Rwothomack is a Ugandan born, London trained, and Sheffield bred and based actor and director.

Set in five prisons across five decades, Lines explores the threads that tie a group of seemingly disconnected individuals in Uganda, Palestine and the UK. It looks through the bars of post-colonial life as told through stories in these diverging yet parallel worlds.

We spoke to John about performing in and writing Lines

Please introduce yourself …
Born in Entebbe, Southern Uganda to Northern parents, and moved to Sheffield age 11. I belong to both Uganda and Sheffield, but in a sporting competition, I will wear the black, yellow and red.

Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …
Transition. I feel I have just finished building the foundation for the next chapter.

What started you on the path to becoming a writer, actor and director?
In some respects I have always been all three but without knowing. I trained as an actor, so it’s fair to say that is what opened the door to other avenues. When I look back to my process as an actor, even as a teenager in an amateur drama group, the approach to bringing a character to life has always been dramaturgical.

The writer in me has always been hidden in there somewhere and came out thanks to Paul Sirett, who I pitched the idea of Far Gone to after directing his Bad Blood Blues. His reply was that I was the only person who could possibly write Far Gone. I hadn’t seen myself as a playwright, but accepted the challenge and in six months I had written a play. A lot of the work I make comes out of necessity, my personal feelings and need to tell a story.

Paul’s Bad Blood Blues looks at how Western Pharma companies take advantage of African countries. It’s a play I really believed in and wanted to be in as an actor, but then realised that for it to be staged I needed to produce it, and to do so meant directing it, I hadn’t directed before but the need was there.

John Rwothomack , Lines – Image Credit: Smart Banda

Tell us about Lines and working with  co-writer and fellow performer Fidaa Zidan …
Lines is one of those plays that I truly believe will change me personally and professionally. The play is a very personal one for both Fidaa and myself. It stems from our meeting in 2019 at Kampala International Theatre Festival, where we both had solo shows with very similar structures of storytelling and themes. Alexander Aron, the Remote Theatre (New York) producer, liked both our work and thought Fidaa and I should do something together. Through Zoom conversations, Lines became a play looking at the relationship between Uganda, Palestine and the UK, with our personal stories at the centre. Lebanese-based Junaid Sheridan then joined us both as a dramaturge and director. Making theatre like this is exciting, where multiple languages of storytelling come together to create one thing. Fidaa being Palestinian, Junaid Lebanese, Alex from New York and myself of Ugandan heritage but with British theatre training, we are inevitably bound to make a piece of theatre that’s new and has its own identity. We hope you like it.

What was the importance of telling this story and what does it mean to you personally?
All my work as a creator is constantly challenging Britain’s colonial past and how it’s affected both the colonies and Britain itself. Good or bad, Britain is so multicultural because of its history. This history has some seriously ugly moments, which have been deliberately omitted or hidden. This is a mistake. If we are educated fully and understand our similarities and differences, and how this colonial past affects us all, I truly believe we will be less discriminative as a society. Lines draws on the commonality of two people from two parts of the world that might seem to have nothing in common. Personally, it’s in these differences that we can find similarities and begin to understand each other.

Highs, lows, solutions …
The team is made up of people from all over the world, all in different time zones. We had to initially work remotely. To be on Zoom for a meeting is one, but to be there for over 6hrs trying to write, collate ideas, formulate structures of a play, that’s a whole different challenge, but without pushing through we would not have found the core themes and subject of the play. The other exciting challenge was bringing multiple languages and styles of storytelling together to make one project. Of course we were going to have cases of miscommunication and misunderstanding, but it’s in these differences that I believe we’ve managed to create a show that’s hopefully accessible to multiple
audiences across the world.

John Rwothomack and Fidaa Zidan in Lines – Image Credit: Smart Banda

You sit on the board of governors for the Migration Matters Festival? Can you tell us more about the festival and your involvement and how it serves the artistic community?
Migration Matters Festival is one of the projects I’m most proud to be a part of. The festival’s main aim is to celebrate the fact that the community in Sheffield is made up of people from different parts if the world, particularly in providing a platform to artists who have been displaced and forced to migrate. We do this by programming a variety of artistic work including theatre, music, poetry, dance, workshops, exhibitions and so on. We program both international, national and community artists. From programming internationally celebrated artists that would never otherwise come to Sheffield like Seun Kuti, Sauti Sol, Lowkey or Les Amazones D’Afrique to giving opportunities to community members in Sheffield, making sure that tickets are either free or affordable so that those most financially vulnerable can access this unique and essential festival. We’ve been at it for eight years and every year feels new and vibrant.


What’s your current plan B?
No such thing. I do picture myself sitting on a farm at some point in life.

What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week?
Sad, our director received video messages of Lebanon being bombed during rehearsals. Mad, politicians never cease to fail in this arena. Glad, the new formula Mercedes car. I know.

What are you watching right now?
The Office – US of course.

What are you reading right now?
The Lantern Meet of Poets, a poetry Anthology by Uganda poets.

What are you listening to right now?
Koji Radical, Burna Boy, Asaka, Damien Marley. Nina Simone.

The last thing you saw on stage?
Brief Encounter at The Royal Exchange, Manchester. Baker Mukasa is unstoppable.

What’s on your bucket list?
Building a theatre from scratch. VIP at a Formula1 Race.

Where’s your happy place?
Anywhere my mother is. Ugandan sunshine and fruits.

Celebrate someone else …
Lee Affen. Legendary sound designer and storyteller, the way he works with sound and music to bring the
story to life is simply extraordinary. Love love working with him.

Whose footsteps are you following in?
I am inspired by a lot of artists.

What’s Next?
Far Gone international tour. Never Look Back production. Writing some new work.

Where can we find you?
@jrwothomack /

Where can we see you next?
Lines – Starting at The Crucible, touring the UK and closing in New York.

Lines runs until Saturday 9th March @ the Play House, Sheffield Theatre.


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