“Three boys and a night of recklessness”: Mudlarks at the Bush Theatre

Vickie Donoghue is taking the plunge and becoming a full time writer. Having worked at Circus Space as an administrator for a number of years, trying to fit her writing around her work, she can now spend her days writing what she loves: drama. Her latest play Mudlarks has been on a long journey and is now enjoying a stint at the Bush, a theatre that Donoghue has visited a lot over the years.

“I’m over the moon. I keep sitting in the huge auditorium and pinching myself that my little play is on. It’s such a prestigious venue… I never ever really believed that my work would be put on there.” Mudlarks started out as part of the Escalator East project and was picked up by Hightide Festival in Suffolk where it was performed earlier this year. Following sold-out performances there, it transferred to Theatre 503 in Battersea and now to the Bush in West London. “I don’t think we could have done it as successfully as I think we’ve done it if we hadn’t had the same three amazing actors to go along the journey with, they understand that play so much now… they’re really being pushed in this new venue.” It’s important to her that the actors do “not take anything for granted and not try to recreate anything… in the other venues”, so that the piece remains fresh for the audiences and has the same impact that it had at Hightide.

Mudlarks is “about three boys and a night of reckelessness”. Set over one night, the three boys, who are running from the law, find themselves on the banks of the Thames; the audience follow them through the night and the fallout of their actions, how it affects their friendship, their future, and their dreams and aspirations. “I love theatre that is set in one place because it forces you to absolutely home in on what exactly is going on in these three boys’ lives… we get to know them… we fall in love with them and we hate them all in an hour and fifteen.” The inspiration for the piece came from an image; Donoghue says she is quite a visual person, hugely influenced by physical theatre where story telling is done with the body. Mudlarks is an exploration of youth in Britain: “why they act without thinking and why there seems to be this thing in Britain at the moment where teenagers are disenfranchised and hang around on street corners and generally feel pissed off with life”.

Interestingly, Donoghue was not influenced by the riots that happened across the UK last year as she was thinking of these issues before the riots happened, but she felt like she “was onto something that we need to talk about, we need to talk about the youth in Britain… I want to see theatre that those kind of people I’m writing about, the people in the communities I’m living in, want to come and see. I want to see theatre that’s challenging and I want to make work that’s challenging.” And that means writing the sorts of plays that have critics calling her “an urgent new voice in British Theatre” and not only writing challenging work (her next play is going to be about a young offender) but taking it out to the communities in which she lives so as to make theatre accessible to them. The dream for Mudlarks would be to take it to schools in Donoghue’s home county of Essex and to people who don’t feel that theatre is something they can connect with, but, as with everything in the arts at the moment, that will all depend on whether the financial backing is available. The Bush is working hard to get school groups in London to come and see the show, and has even contacted Donoghue’s old school in Billericay which might make her something of a role model in her stomping ground? “I hope so, yes, but I might have to try and get rid of some skeletons in my cupboard!” She laughs. Her hope is that if young people come and see Mudlarks they will be inspired and if they have ambition they will continue to put in the hard work necessary to get where they want to be. “If it can happen to me, it can happen for them.”

Donoghue is the first to admit that she is not putting forward any answers to the problems of youth in Britain today. “I’m just exploring; I’m not trying to find answers and I think the general message, for me personally, is to stop ignoring this problem of youth. They’re kids at the end of the day and ignoring them is what is causing the problem to get worse and worse.” The idea of the play is to get people talking about young people and the issues that are affecting them. “My play is a bit of a slow burner… I found it really interesting that people have to actually let it sink in and digest the themes. I love theatre that makes you go out into the bar and argue and dissect… really get discussions going. That’s the joy of theatre, that it’s a shared experience… and often you all come out with different views and opinions, that’s what I love about theatre.” For Donoghue, the Bush and Mudlarks‘ audiences, it’s time to watch the ripples from this passionate new play and playwright. They’re sure to be something special.

Mudlarks plays at the Bush Theatre until Saturday 20 October 2012. For tickets and more information, visit www.bushtheatre.co.uk.

Image credit: High Tide Festival Theatre in association with Lucy Jackson Productions and the Bush Theatre

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