We meet the writer and director of HOW TO BE A KIDWe meet the writer and director of Roundabout's HOW TO BE A KID, Sarah Macdonald Hughes and James Grieve and found out more about the making of this wonderful family show ...
What made you want to write Molly’s story?
Sarah: From the moment I started thinking about the play, Molly popped into my head almost fully-formed – she is an ordinary girl who is capable of extraordinary things, with an incredible imagination – a girl who doesn’t think she is special but who really is. I hope that people like Molly and see something of themselves in her. When I started writing How To Be A Kid, I had an image in my head of a girl standing outside her house clutching a bag of her things, waiting to see her mum again after a long time. Although the play has changed a lot since I first wrote a draft of it, this is still the beginning, and what the play is about, at it’s heart: a girl who comes home to her mum, and how they learn to live together again after everything that’s happened to them. I wanted to write a play that explores how children cope when they are in extremely difficult situations, but I wanted the play to also celebrate the power of imagination, friendship and brothers and sisters to help us navigate the most difficult times in our lives.
Why do you think Molly’s story matters?
James: Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the UK experience a mental health problem each year. Many young people, like Molly, have parents who experience common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Mental health problems can be exacerbated by major life upheaval such as bereavement, so many children will have experienced sharing the loss of a loved one with a parent who is suffering from a mental health issue, like Molly's mum. Mental health can be very difficult to talk about, particularly to children and young people. We hope the play will help people of all ages to better understand how children and their parents might be feeling when faced with bereavement, and when trying to manage mental health problems. We hope Molly's openness and honesty about how she is feeling as the protagonist in the play might help other people articulate their feelings and feel more confident in seeking the help they need. Molly shoulders a lot of responsibility in looking after her little brother Joe, and her Mum. Around 75,000 children aged 10-14 are carers in the UK. Their stories are rarely told. Molly's story is important because it represents the experiences of so many children who rarely see themselves on stage. Molly goes on a journey of discovery and finds support in her friendships, love in her family, escape in her imagination and delight in dancing to Taylor Swift, so her story is also important because it shows that even when life is hard, there is plenty of fun to be found in childhood, and joy in life.
Sarah: Like James says, Molly’s story is important because it’s a story we don’t often hear, but an experience that is shared by many children and families across the country. Molly goes into care because her Mum is too unwell to look after her, and there she meets Taylor, who is a truly exceptional and special person. I wanted to tell a story that explored the lives of young people in care because again, these are voices and characters we don’t come across often enough in the theatre. I also wanted to tell the story of what happens when Molly comes home, and how she copes with her mum’s illness and looking after her brother when their Nan isn’t there anymore. I hope that the play explores some of these important questions, about how difficult it can be to be a kid when the world is full of difficult obstacles like loss, and illness, and feeling like you’ve got to hide how you really feel inside.
What do you think are the main themes in the story?
James: Family, friendship, the joy of childhood and the thrill of adventure. We meet Molly at a momentous point in her life, the tipping point between childhood and her teenage years. She has to learn how to balance being a kid with her increasingly grown-up responsibilities. The play is full of fun, games, dancing, stories, imagination - all the things we associate with childhood – and all things Molly loves. She learns that even though it can be hard to be a kid in an adult world, she doesn’t have to stop being a kid altogether. That being a kid is a wonderful antidote to the difficulties, concerns and worries that are attendant to impending adulthood. Taylor helps Molly realise the value of friends and family. Taylor is a good friend to her, inducting her to Riverside, looking after her when she is upset, helping her to remember her Nan. In a time of need, it’s wonderful to have a friend to talk to. Molly hopes she can be a good friend to Taylor as Taylor has been to her. And now she has seen first-hand the value of friendship, she realises she might not have been a brilliant friend to Abi, and she wants to rekindle that friendship. Taylor also helps Molly realise the enduring value of her family. She helps her to keep Nan’s memory alive, and to appreciate how lucky she is to have a Mum to go home to. Taylor has no-one. Even extremely annoying little brothers should be cherished as playmates, partners in adventure, friends and confidantes. Molly comes to understand that it won’t all be alright all the time. Mum will feel sad sometimes, Joe will be annoying, she will miss Nan, she will fall out with Abi, she will wish she was with Taylor, but by sticking together and caring for each other and helping each other have fun and excitement and adventure, she will find joy in life even in the tough times.
Sarah: Love, loss, family and friendship. The play is about the power of Molly’s feelings for her family, and for Taylor, and how difficult she finds it when she’s separated from them and when things aren’t going well. As James says, Molly’s journey is about her learning that it’s ok to be a kid, even though she’s growing up, and that although things may not always be easy, she has people around to help her – and, importantly, that as a 12 year old, she isn’t responsible when things go wrong. I hope that the play celebrates the specialness in the ordinary, too. All of the characters in the play think they’re very ordinary when actually, there’s something special and extraordinary about each of them. I think that’s true of people in real life, too.
How will you make the show? What is your creative process?
James: We will spend some time reading the play, reading it again, asking questions, reading it again. We'll try to get to know Molly, Mum, Joe and Taylor as well as we possibly can. We'll talk about their backstories and how they got to where they are when the play starts. A play should always take place at the most extraordinary moment in the lives of the characters. So to understand why this is an extraordinary time for Molly, we'll try to work out what is ordinary. What was a normal day for Molly before Nan died. Understanding that will help us understand how dramatically Molly's world has changed. We'll divide the play into sections and give each section a title. So one section might be called 'Taylor shows Molly around Riverside'. This will break the play down into sections so we can rehearse it moment by moment.
Then we'll get on our feet and try to be as playful as Molly and Joe. We'll play lots of games and dance around to Taylor Swift and pretend to be dinosaurs and try to capture the unguarded, unbridled joy of being a kid. I won't ask the actors to impersonate kids, but I do want them to rediscover what it feels like to be 6 or 12-years-old. We're going to have a lot of fun with lights and sound, creating a technicolour world to match the scope of Molly's brilliant imagination.
Find out more and book tickets for HOW TO BE A KID here.