An alternative Christmas show, FCUK’D, is at The Bunker this December. Daniel Perks catches up with writer/ director Niall Ransome to hear more about this spoken word story of brotherly love and homelessness:
The Christmas period is a time for eating & drinking to excess; it’s a time to spend obscene amounts of money on presents for friends & family, only to receive gifts in return that you didn’t ask for and want nothing to do with. OK, maybe I’m a bit of a Scrooge. Christmas is also a time for reflection on the past year, for me to remind myself how lucky I am to have those I love around me. But for Niall Ransome, it’s important to highlight that, as in FCUK’D, there are many others less fortunate:
Ransome: No matter what time of year it is, it’s important to put on plays that say something about the world we live in, to not shy away from the fact that these issues don’t go on holiday. Over 100,000 children run away from home each year; there are many carers in Britain – that doesn’t just stop because of the time of year.
FCUK’D at its core is about these two young brothers who go on the run. They’re very close; it’s very family orientated. Christmas is a time to spend with family, so it heightens the stakes.
But it’s also a time for charity
Writer/ director Niall and I catch up in a cafe, managing to get in out the cold just before it starts snowing. We sip hot coffee and get served free macaroons by an overly friendly waiter. The disparity between this comfortable conversation and the play’s subject matter stands out like a sore thumb. Homelessness and the social care system have come up a lot in the theatre recently – Smoke & Oakum’s Kings or The Big House’s Phoenix Rising are two similar productions:
Ransome: I never wrote the play as a political statement. In any play, the story should come first and out of that grows what you want to say. It’s an ongoing issue; it’s not one that has gone away, but something that’s always happening.
There are always plays being put on about relationships; when revivals come back, they’re always described as being topical. But that’s the mark of theatre – it holds up a mirror to society.
It says something about the issue more than the play if it’s current
Niall speaks of holding a mirror up to society and it strikes a chord in me, not least because that’s a phrase I use far too often. If theatre is currently mirroring society, then it should heavily dominated by white, middle aged, middle-class men, all of whom are throwing their weight around and getting their way to the detriment of everyone else. Perhaps the industry is fairly reflective of the current climate after all…
Ransome: Theatre is a space for everyone to tell stories about everywhere. Working class, particularly in the arts, is still an unheard voice – there is not enough opportunity for individuals from these backgrounds. Luke Barnes wrote a play that recently played at the Hampstead Theatre, No One Will Tell Me How To Start A Revolution, about a non-specific working class family. People walked out of that show because this is theatre that challenges people.
Niall speaks of FCUK’D as being a character piece, a piece about people & story over taking a stance or making some kind of political point. He speaks as he writes – straight from the heart, with an earnest honesty that is warming and refreshing. FCUK’D may not be autobiographical, but it is clearly indirectly inspired by his experiences growing up:
Ransome: I went to quite a rough school in Hull, one of those places where we performed very badly in exams, or league tables. A lot of the children there didn’t have the supportive background that I was lucky enough to have. By the end though, no matter what kind of school group you came from – the chavs; the emos; the moshers; the cool kids – all of these people got along. It didn’t matter who you were or what music you listened to.
This was shit, but it was our shit, so we took ownership over it
I always kept coming back to the idea of loyalty, of family and the younger people that I felt protective over. There are not good and bad people, there are good and bad actions. We’re very quick to make a judgement about people, but we don’t take the time to realise what’s happened for them to make those choices. There’s a line in FCUK’D that I always come back to:
“There’s only so many times you’re called shit before you start getting to believe it”.
Prejudices are somewhat inherent in our culture. We see a guy in a hoodie and tracksuit and feel threatened; we walk past a homeless person on the street and assume they’re on drugs; we note a crowd of football fans in shirts and scarves and roll our eyes, expecting them to be drunk and looking for a fight. Then we admonish ourselves for instinctively assuming a negative stereotype:
Ransome: FCUK’D is a play about Matty – he is the only named character. But Boy is the protagonist, so hopefully the audience will realise that he could be anybody. I want people to come to the theatre and see Boy for the first time – he’s in a tracksuit, he’s got a shaved head and he’s got a real attitude on stage. They have an initial reaction to him, and yet they see him in a completely different light by the end.
They see him as a person, as opposed to the clothes he wears, the accent he has, the social situation he finds himself in