Niall is best known to audiences for his work with Mischief Theatre. He is part of the ensemble for plays such as ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’ and ‘The Comedy About a Bank Robbery’.
His new play, produced by Eastlake Productions, written entirely in verse is a candid one-man show switches seamlessly between the innocence of childhood and the very real struggle of being fcuk’d by an unfair system, shining a light on the all-too-real experiences of young working-class men in Britain today. It is The Bunker’s slightly alternative Christmas show. I spoke to Niall about working-class stories and Hull’s place in the world of theatre.
What made you write FCUK’D?
I’ve always been interested in writing and FCUK’D started as a 15-minute monologue for drama school. After performing it there a lot of people encouraged me to continue with it and see where it could go so I committed to making it an hour long play. I knew I wanted to write about Hull and it was after visiting home and going back to my old school I had the idea. It stemmed from seeing some old friends, they didn’t all have the supportive backgrounds that I was lucky to have but I always remember how loyal everyone was. No matter what, you had each other’s back. Anyone is capable of making a bad decision when backed into a corner and with over 100,000 children running away from home every year the two went together and the idea grew from there.
You are also directing this production. Did you find it easy to separate the roles or did you consciously work as writer and director in rehearsals with Will Mytum? Were you ever tempted to act in it as well?
I was originally the actor in the show and have performed it a few times in different work-shopped performances. It’s been nice to step back and direct Will. We’ve been friends for years and I always thought of passing the role onto him at some point when I couldn’t do it. It’s great to see someone else own the words and that in itself has helped me switch off that part of my brain and focus on directing. Occasionally a line changes here and there but that’s something me and Will work on together.
The play is a monologue, after working as an ensemble with Mischief Theatre Company (The Play Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong and The Comedy about a Bank Robbery) were you seeking something more intimate as a writer or did it just happen?
It sort of happened really. I’ve been in Mischief for years and worked on a lot of our shows but FCUK’D was a way of focusing on another side of myself. I love comedy but I feel heavily connected to my Northern roots and this was really to get back in touch with that. After years of living in London and people asking me to say the word ‘boat’ or ‘oh no’ for them, it’s nice to get back. I got into theatre by watching plays at the Hull Truck and the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough, they spoke how I sounded.
There are a lot of diversity issues in theatre and the working classes get lost amongst race, gender and sexuality. Why aren’t their voices being heard and what more can theatres do to support working class stories being made.
I think all issues are important but do agree that the working class voice is being lost. What was great about theatres such as the Hull Truck when I was younger is they were doing plays about the people. Audiences recognized themselves on stage. I don’t think there are a lack of voices writing these plays they’re just not being given the chance. Luke Barnes is an example of a play write doing great work giving working classes a voice in theatre and recognizing that theatre doesn’t just live in London and the Fringe. Plays shouldn’t be ticking the boxes for the sake of it we should be creating the work and giving it a platform where all are welcome and where we can all work.
The concept of emotions and masculinity don’t go hand in hand. Men aren’t expected to show their emotions. Do you think writing is a way for men to show emotions without seeming flamboyant and, dare I say it, weak?
I think there is still a huge stigma with men speaking about how they feel. Particularly in the last few years in the news, there have been more people raising the issue of mental health and the importance to speak. I think the problem lies in that idea that showing emotions makes you flamboyant or weak. You want to remain in control but actually, you are taking control by being open. Writing has certainly helped me be more honest with myself and others. The boy in the play is forced to open up by explaining his actions to the audience and it’s only by doing this that he has an understanding of what has happened.
You are a member of the Mischief Theatre Company this play on appearances seems very different from their productions. How do you reconcile Mischief’s fun and comical output with something like FCUK’D, which seems quite serious?
I’ve worked with Mischief for years and although FCUK’D is a totally different thing and separate from the company I still approach this the same way as I have done with the Mischief shows. I focus on what the story is and the characters in that world. Although FCUK’D is a more serious play there are definitely lighter moments throughout and me and Will have had a great deal of fun working on the play. The boy, whose story we follow, is only young and the story is littered with moments where we’re reminded of this whether he’s chasing his little brother or playing in a thunderstorm. Although at Mischief we do big comedies we approach them as actors and invest in the truth. That’s what makes them funny and it’s the truth we find in FCUK’D that hopefully makes it compelling.
You grew up in Hull, which has a great theatre history and is the City of Culture 2017, do you think it is easier for working-class communities to access arts or are both sides affected by the cuts to their communities
I grew up on theatre in Hull and even did my work experience at the Hull Truck with John Godber when I was younger. I love flicking through actors CV’s when I see shows to see if anyone has worked there. City of Culture has been fantastic for Hull and has championed some great companies doing some very exciting work such as Middlechild, Silent Uproar and Bellow Theatre. It’s brought out the arty side of Hull which has always been there. It’s a very special city. I think the arts in working-class communities can be difficult to access as the money isn’t always there. I don’t think the importance of the arts are always valued as being great tools to bring communities together but they are. We must value them!
What are your plans, both as an actor and writer/director, in 2018?
I’m currently in Comedy About a Bank Robbery and finish that in Feb so once that’s done I guess I’ll dive back into the auditioning circuit which is exciting! There are plans to take FCUK’D on after the Bunker hopefully so we’ll see how that goes and I’m currently writing my second play at the moment so I’m excited to see where that takes me.
FCUK’D is on from 11th-30th December https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/fcukd/book-now