It’s always exciting seeing a brand new play, particularly when it’s a playwright’s first. The anticipation of whether it’ll be entertaining, have a unique voice, be pertinent, exciting and bold, is always huge – the disappointment then all the greater if the work doesn’t deliver.
The latter scenario is absolutely not the case where Mucky Kid is concerned: put simply, it is absolutely riveting. Given the heavy subject matter – the play explores the 36 hours of freedom Maggie Radcliffe enjoyed after breaking out of prison, where she has spent more than half of her life – you could be forgiven for thinking you were in for a bleak night at the theatre. Instead, Sam Potter’s debut play is fresh, full of life and highly intriguing; Mucky Kid will have you leaning forward in your seat from start to finish.
The play’s structure is immaculate: at its opening we meet Mae (Sonya Cassidy) and Naomi (Pamela Dwyer), thrilled by their new-found freedom and determined to make the most of it. Upon meeting Jason (Adam Loxley) and Derek (Rob Witcomb), they indulge in a night of hedonistic fun, which Mae (Maggie’s pseudonym) dubs “the best night of her life”. However, back in prison, being grilled by the unimpressed staff, we quickly learn that Mae is a stickler for lying. “Use your words,” she is constantly instructed, though the more she articulates her experience, the less we wish we knew. And indeed, as the play goes on to revisit the events of Mae’s escape, we learn more and more that not only is she still a danger to the outside world, but that it is as much of a danger to her.
With the story altering each time we visit it, becoming more dubious, more disturbing and desperate, it becomes clear that Mae might be able to escape the prison walls, but never what she did. This repetitious structure works brilliantly to encourage the audience to keep questioning the truth in what they are seeing and what they think they know, while also imitating the nature of memory itself: how we all spin our own narratives and remember events selectively in order to avoid admitting to more uncomfortable truths about ourselves.
The writer handles the subject matter and story deftly, with a deep sensitivity, allowing Mae to be a simultaneously sympathetic and unnerving character, brought to life with verve by Cassidy. Indeed, the whole cast of Mucky Kid is remarkably strong, with a gripping moment being the unsettling scene where Mae befriends 10-year-old Paige (played by the thoroughly convincing Serena Manteghi). It’s both incredibly sad to see how naive and young Mae is when paired with Paige, while nonetheless making for tense watching given our knowledge of Mae’s offence – killing another girl when she was only 10 herself.
Potter’s writing highlights the complexity of criminal minds, of neglect and abuse, with this multi-faceted play suggesting there is no simple answer and no situation which is simply black or white. We come to learn that Mae is incredibly vulnerable, in many ways a victim herself, making the piece all the more tragic. Indeed, Mucky Kid comes to a devastating head when Mae is pushed by her counsellor to explain what really happened when she was alone with Paige. As she searches for the truth in the tangled story of her escape, she instead stumbles across buried memories about her original crime and is overcome when she realises that this memory is definitely real.
I could continue to wax lyrical about the play – the ingenious set design by Nik Corrall reminiscent of body bags and crime scenes, the careful and detailed direction by James Farrell, and more. But in light of Maggie being constantly told, “use your words”, I won’t mince mine. This is a brilliant play. Go and see it.
Mucky Kid is playing at Theatre 503 until 7 December. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre503 website.