FCUK’D @ The Bunker Theatre
11 December – 30 December 2017
Monday – Saturday at 7pm
Saturday Matinees at 4pm
So, I guess starting off with an easy one for those who don’t know you and your work, who are you?
Well, my name’s Niall Ransome, I’m an actor from Hull which is a lovely city up north in Yorkshire. I trained at Guildhall, but I did a year at LAMDA before Guildhall and that’s sort of how I got involved with all the Mischief Theatre people [The Play that Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, A Comedy About a Bank Robbery]. FCUK’D is a show that I’ve written sort of outside that.
And what can you tell me about FCUK’D?
It’s a one hour beat poem really. It’s all written verse and it’s about two young brothers who flee their council estate. The character Boy is the protagonist, he’s a young carer and he’s looking after his little brother. Since writing and making the piece longer I’ve researched a lot into what does it mean to be a young carer, how does it affect their lives, their well-being, and how it affects their chances of adulthood. And, child runaways really. 100,000 children run away from home a year. A lot of children return home and there are some who return home for a while, but there are a small percentage who never come back, and you sort of think ‘well, what’s happened there?’ It’s that unknown which I find interesting.
I’ve wanted to write for a long time. At drama school you can miss one of your big shows in third year and instead of doing those write your own 15-minute monologue. So, I always wanted to do that. Plus, at the same time I thought, well at drama school you want people to see you, so what better way than being like ‘I’m going to do a 15-minute monologue that’s just me!’ So, a lot of people in my year did that. And I think by the end of it I had this monologue which was the starting point for FCUK’D and I thought “I really like this! I’m really proud of it and I think it has legs to be a show”. From then it sort of grew really, I performed at the Royal Theatre in Holland – they asked me to go out and perform there. And I’ve done various scratch nights around London, did a few evenings in pub theatres. Earlier in the year we did two nights at the Vault Festival and that was its first full length hour long version I guess.
I’ve no longer been performing it so I cast a really old friend and a really wonderful actor called Will Mytum, and we’ve just built this team really to make this play as good as we think it can be.
“The play is a love letter to Hull, and a love letter to the city, and to the loyalty of those people”
In doing the research did you come across any particular stories that helped inspire the performance?
I read a lot. I read a lot of articles and newspapers about children running away, I wanted to lean away from basing it in true story. Purely because the story was about Mattie and Boy from the beginning of the monologue itself, and I wanted to honour it as its own story and not change the real stories by just putting them in. I very much felt that this is a runaway piece to try and encompass multiple aspects of that, as opposed to “these are based on these two people that this happened to”.
Again, it was just reading a lot of articles, looking at certain censuses and collections of data. Figures really, and I always think figures are strange because it’s just a number on a page and when you see 100,000 it’s just a number, but when you actually sit and think about how many children that is, and the equivalent to how many school’s worth of children that is.
Just to think of everyone in my old school times by whatever amount, and then of those people going missing. It’s terrifying.
I think it’s something that will always be within our consciousness because it’s always within the media. Whether it’s happening or whether it’s dramatized. There was The Missing programme with James Nesbitt a year or two ago, and there are always parents, so there’s always going to be that concern for what happens if your child does run away.
The play is a very particular story. The boys are forced to run away by their circumstance. There’s no father at home and their mother is an alcoholic. In the play I very much steer clear of painting her as a bad person or a person who’s made loads of poor choices, she’s certainly a strong woman who has had bad things happen to her. I think that’s another thing I really want to explore in the play and something I hope people take away from the play is – I think one of the problems we have in the media now is that we paint people as black and white, as good and bad, and I think that’s when we get into a dangerous territory of “well, this person said this about this group of people”.
Whether that’s young people, or that’s Muslims, or whether that’s the homosexual community, or women. We immediately want to tie something to a cause or to a belief system as opposed to thinking, “we’re all people, we’re all capable of making both good and bad decisions”. They’re not good and bad people, they’re just good and bad decisions.
I think that’s what I’m trying to say with the play. I really love the idea of the audience coming in and seeing this lad in trackies and trainers. He’s muddy, and he’s got an attitude, and he’s got a swagger, and I love the idea of an audience immediately having a impression of that lad and thinking ‘I know that type of guy, I don’t like that type of guy’, and it’s the job of the play to completely change your views.
By the end you leave hopefully feeling a bit more understanding to what he’s gone through and what’s happened to him. Because I think we don’t take the time necessary to understand what has happened in the situation, particularly in newspaper, you read the story and immediately are like “well obviously he was insane, and she was unhinged”, and actually you don’t know because you weren’t there. You’ve got the facts, but you haven’t got the feelings of it.
“We live in an epic time, we always do”
I’ve heard you talk before about ‘writing what you know’, so as well as the research are there elements that are autobiographical? About where you’re from?
I think it’s a little bit about Hull yeah, but not about Hull in terms of to put it down, because I love Hull and I’m very proud to be from Hull. I like to think I wear my accent with pride and all that sort of stuff. And I was very lucky, I have two lovely parents, I’ve got a lovely sister, I’ve got a nice supportive family. But I went to quite a bad school when I was younger.
It didn’t perform very well in surveys or OFSTED, it was always a very low performing school. There were many children from different backgrounds. Children like myself who came from quite loving families, but there were also children who came from backgrounds where there wasn’t parental support there, whether they just lived with the one parent or they lived with grandparents or uncles and aunties.
I remember there were certain kids in my year or in my class that if they’d get something wrong or they didn’t want to do work today they’d throw a chair across the room and then leave. Or there was one girl I remember was kicked out of a language lesson because she set fire to the curtains.
Again, it’s taking the time to realise that they’re not bad children, there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re lacking support, they’re lacking care and love and they haven’t had any of that unconditional love that you need as a child in order to approach things with more of an open mind as an adult.
I think there’s one line in the play that I keep coming back to which is “There’s only so many times you’re called shit before you start to believe it.” And I do believe that children will come in and swear and be abusive to other kids at school if that’s what they see at home. Because that’s what they’ve built in their mind of, well that’s what my parents do, that’s what I should be doing to my friends to make some sort of connection.
But I think one thing I would say about my school, is even though it was not a great performing school and not everyone came from the best backgrounds, by the end it was the most loyal connected group of people. Whether you were – I really hate to put labels on people – but people would refer to themselves as a chav, or an emo, or a rocker, or a library person. They would conform to those groups. And they existed in my school, absolutely, but everyone got on.
It didn’t matter from what group you were. It was this unifying This is England vibe of “well, it’s shit, but it’s our shit” and we earn it, and we can take ownership of that, and we can take pride in it. And I think going home and revisiting that school, just as it was being knocked down as I started writing the play – now it’s this beautiful multi-million-pound academy, which is excellent – but it was strange being there. Knowing that all the echoes of these kids who’d been there and lived there were sort of gone now. But they weren’t. School’s always a weird thing if you go back – I don’t know if you’ve ever been back to an old school – but it’s very weird isn’t it?
So, the play is a bit of love letter to Hull, and a love letter to the city, and to the loyalty of those people. It’s an aspect of Hull, and something we don’t see enough in theatre. That loyalty, that real familial bond you had with people.
I think we live in a time in theatre where everyone is fighting for their right to be heard. Which is absolutely right, every story should be able to be heard by anyone. It’s a platform. And I am definitely trying to push forward the working class. Like female presence in the arts, like diversity in the arts, the working class falls in that bracket that don’t necessarily have their voices heard, and it’s a story you want people to know about. To say “I think about that person in a different way because of what I saw. Maybe next time I walk in the streets and see someone who’s homeless I’ll give ‘em a pound. I won’t turn around and shrug”.
There’s starting to be this shift changes in the arts, particularly in the fringes. Fringe theatre, pub theatre, they’re particularly exciting to me. Those are the new writers, the new actors. The ones who go “I have something to say, and I’m going to say it”.
“It’s Greek tragedy in Tesco. Sort of like Medea meets Vicky Pollard”
Speaking of voices, why did you write in verse?
I love poetry, always have. I really loved it in school. Hull is very rich has a very rich history of poetry itself – Philip Larkin is one the country’s greatest poets. You also have Stevie Smith, ‘Not Waving but Drowning’, she’s a fantastic, fantastic poet who wrote these fantastic, quite brutal poems.
So, with Hull having such a rich history of poetry, and enjoying poetry myself. It just sort of happened, it just became that way. It was instinct, the weight of the character, and his swagger, and his age, and his accent. The verse, in a weird way really, really suits it.
There’s something so interesting about this classic verse poetry being juxtaposed. You know, it’s Greek tragedy in Tesco. Sort of like Medea meets Vicky Pollard, which works in a weird way. It makes it contemporary, and it shows that both are the same thing
You look at classic text, the Greeks, and Shakespeare, and it’s very rich, very reverential, very sacred-to-what-we-do masterpieces. And in some cases, you think “yeah of course”. But in others you think, “no, they’re stories and we’re going to find different ways to tell them”.
In the newspaper you read these horrible, horrible stories, but remove the pictures and the modern references and it’s Greek. You read a horrible story in the newspaper about a husband who has killed his own children before killing himself, but because he does that now, in certain place, in a certain time, it becomes very trivial because it’s in the newspaper. But, if you just think ‘father kills his sons before killing himself’ and you put that in the Acropolis, or medieval England, suddenly it becomes epic. We live in an epic time, we always do, and the verse heightens that.
So, it just sort of happened! I enjoy writing in verse!
It’s very loose verse, not Oxford/Cambridge. It’s just what the words need to be.
How has being an actor informed the way you write?
I think dramatically, just understanding how I would have approached it as an actor. But it’s liberating to step back as an actor and say ‘whatever I’ve done, whatever you’ve seen me do, forget it. Let’s get it on its feet, let’s go!’ And we found some completely different thing I would never have thought of watching Will pick up the part. Just getting to hear Will read it, and feeling ‘wow!’ it’s really exciting.
“1% percentage of the world get to do what they really want to do, and if you find yourself in that percentage – embrace it!”
How does it feel to go from the comedy of Mischief Theatre to something like this?
I love Mischief Theatre, and I’ve been so lucky to be a part of them for so many years. I’ve seen The Play That Goes Wrong go from selling 11 tickets in a pub theatre, to sitting in the stalls watching it on Broadway. I’m in A Comedy About a Bank Robbery now. I filmed Peter Pan Goes Wrong last Christmas. It’s a very intense environment, everyone is exceptionally funny, so everyone has to be funny all the time.
But I’ve always been interested in lots of different things. One of the things I love about Mischief is that we made it, and we created it. But being Northern and wanting to write myself, I really questioned what is it I wanted to say. It’s been tiring to do A Comedy About a Bank Robbery, and hear all these people manically laughing, and during the day dive into this.
At the same time, I try not to approach them as different things. In The Play that Goes Wrong it’s only really be funny, if within those comic moments the characters themselves feel like it’s a tragedy.
And I think with FCUK’D, it’s Northern, it’s at Christmas, it’s runaways on a council estate. There are moments of humour in it. It’s warm. At its core it’s about two brothers. It’s the Bunker Theatre’s alternative Christmas show because it is set over Christmas, and Christmas is about family, and what will you do with your family over Christmas. Will you be watching films? Will you be putting up a Christmas tree? Will you be running away from police? What will you be doing?
So, I try and approach everything the same. You just have to focus on the character and be truthful, because that’s what’s important.
What advice would you have for other aspiring actor/writer/directors? What would you want to say to those people who are just starting out?
I certainly wouldn’t try sound like I know it all, I still feel like I’m at the beginning of creating work and putting it on. I’ve been very lucky for the experience I’ve had, but for anyone who does want to write, and who does want to put things on… You’re your own worst critic. So, embrace that.
Work incredibly hard, and when you work as hard as you think you can on something, there’s always a little bit more to go.
Don’t censor yourself when you have an idea, mine it for all it’s worth.
I’ve always enjoyed letting people read stuff I’ve written to just get feedback, even if someone gives you a note you disagree with its food for thought.
I always think there’s no one to stop you doing things except yourself. There are so many factors of why this industry is difficult and why it’s difficult to put on work, but at the bottom level it comes down to you. And it can be simple, there’s guy from my drama school who’d pick a play, cast it and we would just go and read the play. And even that is keeping yourself active and doing something. See a lot, read a lot. And enjoy it!
1% percentage of the world get to do what they really want to do, and if you find yourself in that percentage – embrace it! I always think if you’re going to fail, fail at something you enjoy,
With FCUK’D, it’s a play I’ve worked very hard on, that a lot of people have worked very hard on for a good few years. And I don’t know how it’s going to work, I hope it does well but there’s always a possibility people won’t enjoy it, it’s one of those go-down-the-ship mentalities, built your ship, be proud of your ship, sail in it and enjoy it! Know what I mean? And if it sinks enjoy being a skeleton at the bottom of the ocean, enjoy your Viking funeral!
If you want to put on work, just do it, you’re the only person stopping yourself. Even if it’s just an hour a week. I think that’s the way to look at it!
A massive thanks to Niall for giving up his time to speak with us, as well as to Poppy for organising it, and to Becca for all her immeasurable help this week in geting this piece online.