Some exhilarating new writing landed at the Park Theatre this month in the form of Abigail Hood's new play, Monster. Questioning the repercussions of crimes committed in childhood, the twisted story of characters Kayleigh and Zoe provides a thoroughly thought provoking and gripping experience.
You can read my 5 star review of the piece here:
Discussing this more, Abi has expanded on how the show came about, and its deeper meanings.
What inspired you to write Monster, and where did the concept originate from?
I read an article about Maxine Carr - the woman who provided a false alibi for Ian Huntley after he murdered Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham in 2002 - living a normal life and marrying her fiance. This got me thinking about life after committing a crime and how - even when the custodial sentence may be over - the guilt would be something the perpetrator would have to live with for the rest of their lives. With these thoughts in my mind, I then began to wonder how someone goes on to live a normal life if they committed a terrible crime when a child.
It was at this point in my thinking that I first read about Mary Bell - a girl who (at barely 11 years old) murdered two little boys (aged 3 and 4 years old). With the question as to 'how one lives with guilt' at the forefront of my mind I set about reading the two biographies written about Mary Bell 26 years apart; the first documenting her trial published in 1972 and the second - after hours of interviews with Mary Bell, now married and a mother and living under a new identity. The exploration of her guilt and the course of her life gripped me and touched my very soul. I was horrified, saddened and unexpectedly moved. I knew I wanted to explore this story and others like it... what drives a child to commit such an atrocity, how do such people go on to live a life afterwards, is rehabilitation possible, should the victims of their crime ever forgive, do they deserve forgiveness? At this point, I knew I wanted to write a play to explore these questions.
How did you broach such sensitive subjects through your writing process?
When I wrote this play, I was aware that I was dealing with highly sensitive issues and raising questions to which there are no answers. As such, I did copious research, reading books written by/about perpetrators and victims and attempted to tell each persons story as fully and truthfully as possible.
Why did you feel that an abandoned playground was the perfect place to begin the narrative?
When I first began writing the play, I chose an abandoned playground as a metaphor for the lost innocence of Kayleigh and Zoe. However, during the rehearsal period, this became a 'waste ground' as it was more appropriate for all the characters living in this difficult, economically deprived part of Glasgow. This setting also reflects the desolate and poverty stricken lives of Kayleigh, Zoe and Hazel, and the world Rebecca and Steve find themselves dragged into. They have nothing but each other and by the end of act 1 they don't have this either. During rehearsals, the director - Kevin Tomlinson - and I decided that all scenes would be played in the same space and that each new location would rise from the 'rubbish dump'.
How did you start developing the characters, and did you always know you were writing the part for yourself?
I began by basing the character on Mary Bell- just as somewhere to start - but very soon Kayleigh Grey began to emerge and develop her own voice and characteristics. Other characters were also based on real people from my research but again, very soon became characters with different back stories and psyches.
I wrote the role of Kayleigh to play myself because I relished the challenge of trying to tell her story and make such a person real and three-dimensional.
Featuring heavy themes, how do you manage emotionally processing the show surrounding each performance?
As a cast we have spent a lot of time discussing the issues in the play and emotionally processing the stories that lead to its creation. We have all been touched by the real stories from which the play emerged, but are now focussed on our goal of telling this story and hopefully sparking discussions relating to the cycle of abuse, rehabilitation and redemption.
Do you think it possible to break the cycle, or that past actions should define the future, and why?
I think it is definitely possible to break the cycle of abuse; it is also not the case that the abused always become abusers - the ramifications of abuse are wide and varied. However, in the cases where the pattern looks to be repeating itself, I absolutely believe in the human spirit and the instinctive desire to be better. I also believe that as a society we are becoming more vigilant in noticing and nurturing those who are volatile. This play just looks at someone who has fallen between the cracks.
In terms of past actions defining the future... I think we should learn from our past mistakes, take responsibility for them and use them to make us better people. I don't think we should ever forget but continue to seek redemption.
Can you sum up Monster in just one sentence?
Monster is a provocative story that asks if we can we ever forget who we once were, escape our past mistakes and start again?
Huge thanks to Abi for talking to us about this, and congratulations to all involved for the extremely well-deserved 'Offies' nominations for your amazingly crafted show. Wishing you all the best for the end of the run and the bright future ahead!
Tickets to the last few shows can be purchased here:
Additional thanks to Emma Berge for coordinating this interview.