‘When you see a scar you know someone’s had pain, but if you can’t see it how would you know?’ In a school for excluded pupils in Hackney, Bailey waits for a decision that could change her life, whilst her headteacher prepares to leave it all behind. Full of humour and heart, Marika Mckennell’s timely new play, which is at the Fringe for August, E8, gives voice to those who have fallen through the cracks in mainstream education. Marika spoke with The Fountain about the show in more depth as well as her new Fringe experience.
TF: Are you excited to be part of the Edinburgh Fringe this year?
It’s wicked how individual shows come together and form one creative monster – it’s exciting to be a part of that. I love the collaborative nature of theatre, and the Fringe is kind of emblematic of that. I’m very happy and excited to be a part of this year’s monster, and a bit nervous. This is my first Fringe not acting in something I’ve written and it feels a lot more exposing. I’ll be watching E8 and unable to (literally) hide behind the curtain. E8 is based on real stories, it’s set in the specific and unusual world of the school I’ve worked in for six years. The wider world is of London youth culture, I don’t make allowances and I don’t apologise for this. The language is slang-filled and real, if you’re watching and you ‘get it’ I’m excited for you to see this under-represented culture on stage, if you’ve never heard of half the words in the play, I’m excited to share this new world with you, but I’m nervous about the possibilities of mistranslation or stereotypes of slang users encroaching on a middle class audience.
TF: E8 certainly sounds intriguing, what is the premise?
I’m glad it sounds intriguing. It’s set over real time just after school on a Friday, it’s a ‘slice of life’ showing the inner workings of a particular alternative provision school in London. There are four characters: two students, Bailey and Ryan, and two teachers: Mo and Polly. Polly is the acting headteacher but it’s her last day at the school, as she packs up to leave Bailey waits for an email that will change her life. It’s based on real-life and the events in all their tragedy and hilarity are true. The people who work with this cohort usually have their own stories and this is what the play explores, as well as the students’. I never set out to tell a political story but it is political, I guess telling the truth is a political act. It’s helped me frame myself as a writer of political scripts for people who don’t like politics. Borrowing words for Hip Hop I’m just trying to ‘keep it real’.
TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie?
I’ve worked for six years at an alternative provision in Hackney. It’s changed so much since I started, when I joined there were four students, two years later ten, then 26. The school is for excluded young people between the ages of 13-17 with complex behavioral needs. Some have been school refusers, some moved from other boroughs due to ‘gang’ involvement, or sent via court order, but most of the referrals come from Pupil Referral Units (PRU), so it’s essentially the PRU of PRUs. It’s a full-time school, charity and local authority funded. I got into working there because I was interested in Hip Hop Education. I was involved in a project at the time called School of Hip Hop, helping to facilitate Rap workshops in school with ‘at risk’ students, the guy who I did that with worked at this school and he offered me a job. When I started it was radically different from my idea of a PRU, the premises of the school are to meet the kids on their level, it tries to create a ‘family like’ atmosphere and was centered around a therapeutic creative curriculum and Hip Hop Education, it’s all based on attachment theory.
TF: What are your plans for the Fringe, having been before are there any tips or musts you would offer to first-time companies?
I’ve just had a baby! So, it will be a very new Fringe experience for me. He’s not really old enough to enjoy kids shows so I will probably just take him to things I like, which are dark comedy and gritty urban stories, and we can sit by the exit. Or we will find a baby friendly show. I’ve been to the fringe twice before, the first was for the whole month with a circus show where I shared a bed with a girl who ate cold baked beans out the tin. The second was for two weeks and that was more enjoyable. It’s a full-on month if you’re up there for the whole time, it’s really important to pace and take care of yourself, get some early nights and try to chill out. Drink hot lemon and honey. Resign yourself to not seeing everything so don’t stress about it. There’s also a banging curry house by Greensides.
TF: And what are your future plans beyond E8?
I’m currently writing a new play that is similar to E8 but more expansive, it’s about life outside of the school, set in Wakefield and London. I also have a play, which will be touring schools in the autumn, accompanied by workshops so looking forward to that. I start a Masters in October. I’m also really loving watching my son grow and develop.
In terms of E8, I hope it will be its own force, if people like it, it will go on past the fringe. Of course, I want this to happen. It would work in any city across the country. It’s so specifically East London it would do well to tour and share these stories in places that are geographically different but politically similar. I would like as many people as possible to see it.
Marika McKennell’s show E8 will be at the Pleasance Dome from 31st July – 25th August (Not 14th) at 16:10. For tickets, go to www.edfringe.com