Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon chatted to writer Kieran Hurley about Mouthpiece, playing at the Soho Theatre from 2 April 2019.
Hi Kieran, for those who don’t know, what is Mouthpiece all about?
It’s a story about two very different people who transform each other’s lives for a very short period of time before things start to go quite horribly wrong for them. Libby is a failed writer in her 40s, living back at home in her unloving mother’s spare room, having fallen out of love with her art, with herself, with the world. Declan is a 17-year-old boy growing up in the trauma of poverty who does drawings as a kind of self-taught therapy and escape.
Libby opens his world up to art, and culture, and the idea that he’s even allowed to call himself an artist. Declan in turn inspires in her an urgent need to write again, to give voice to a story just like his. She sets out to do that, and that’s where things start getting messy. And I’m not telling you any more than that other than that it’s set in Edinburgh, with some fairly fierce Scottish dialect. I hope that it’s a story that’s funny and full of heart, but also about two people trying to figure out some quite difficult stuff about their place in the world.
How did the idea for the play come about?
Through a lot of rewrites is the short answer. The initial idea, of something that explored questions about who gets to have a voice in our culture and who is excluded, is something I took to the Traverse theatre ages ago – but the first version of it was absolutely shite and I ended up putting it in the bin, and starting again with a totally different story and a totally different form. It was the first time I’d ever done that, and it felt like a big scary leap. I knew I wanted it to be about Edinburgh, which is where I grew up, and there’s a lot in there that comes from me wrangling with my own class baggage in relation to what I do. I’m neither Libby nor Declan but there’s a lot of me in the play, I think.
How big of a problem do you think the exclusion of different voices in the arts industry really is?
Really, really massive! I honestly thought we’d reached the point where we could all implicitly agree on that, even if there is still reluctance in some quarters to actually do anything about it. It’s becoming something that’s discussed more and more and that’s good but there’s just so much still to be done.
What would you like for audiences to take away from Mouthpiece?
I don’t really like being too prescriptive on what I want people’s experience to be. The play sets out to start a conversation, and whether in the theatre or not if you’re going to try to have a conversation with someone it’s a bit rude to second guess what you want their take to be, maybe. I hope it challenges people in useful and interesting ways. But, to be honest, I also simply hope they fall in love with the characters in some way, or that they’re moved, or that they like the jokes. Folk in theatre can act like that’s cheap somehow but it’s not – I want it to be a rewarding night out for people that have stumped up for a ticket and bothered to organise getting the babysitter in or whatever. We’re blessed to have two really brilliant, really beautiful actors and honestly I think that spending an hour and half in their company is a really great offer for any audience.
How are you feeling about bringing the play to London? Really good! It’ll be nice to be back at Soho, and for a good-sized run too. It’s a really nice opportunity to share the play with a wider audience and I’m looking forward to that deepening and widening conversation. Also, I’m weirdly anxious about it all now I start thinking about it, because that’s just how it always feels to be putting stuff out in public. It never really goes away.
What has it been like for you to see the story come to life from page to stage? Massively rewarding and a huge learning experience, as it always is. It’s amazing to me that no matter how many rewrites are done in advance, so much script work is still done in that first week of rehearsal. Theatre is such a collaborative art form, and when you’re working on new writing you have to be open to that. It’s a joy to watch the play find itself in the room, in the bodies and mouths of the actors. There’s actually only so much you can understand a play before that happens. You can take notes, you can sit at a desk on your own and churn out new drafts, but the play is not a document on a screen and these words aren’t actually anything until they become someone’s breath.
By Emma Clarendon
Mouthpiece will play at the Soho Theatre from the 2nd April until the 4th May.