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Scratches @ VAULT Festival
Photo Credit @ Ali Wright

Interview: Plain Heroines on SCRATCHES

Aoife Kennan and Gabriella Bird talk to us about Scratches

Writer Aoife Kennan and director Gabriella Bird from Plain Heroines have been waiting years to bring SCRATCHES to VAULT Festival. This year it finally plays from 31 January to 5 February and we were delighted to be able to have a chat about their journey and some of the roadbumps along the way.

Why don’t you kick off by telling us what audiences can expect from SCRATCHES?

SCRATCHES is a funny play about self-harm, and about how two friends navigate telling a difficult story whilst still being silly, and loving and supporting each other. It’s also a true story. I hope audiences who don’t know about self-harm come away feeling a little more enlightened, and audiences who have been directly affected come away feeling more able to talk about their own experiences. I also want people to have a fun time, and enjoy a pint in the bar afterwards! Self-harm is still such a taboo subject, but I’m hoping comedy can be the way in.

Plain Heroines is the theatre company you co-founded with Kate Reid a few years ago, tell us about your aims for the company?

Aoife – We first founded Plain Heroines as a way to take two plays up to the Edinburgh Fringe just after we left uni. I had written a play based on the Brontës, so I pushed my agenda to secure the name ‘Plain Heroines’! After uni, Kate and I went to drama school, and Gabbie did lots of assistant and associate directing. Then a few years later we came together again to start making our own work. We struggled for a long time to find a company ethos, but I think the best way to describe our work is ‘funny plays about difficult subjects’.

Gabbie – We want to make plays that make you laugh and make you think and I think our work has been combined by our similar ways of dealing with difficulties – breaking down barriers with jokes and laughter before talking frankly. But also we want to make plays that can only exist in the theatre with an audience. Everything we’ve made together has always engaged with the unique and brilliant experience of having a live audience sharing time and space.

Gabbie, when did you become involved with Scratches? Does the company come together in the early ideas stage or is it further down the line, later in the writing stage?

I became involved ages ago – I honestly can’t remember when I first read a script but it was back when we were living together so probably 2018 or 2019? I often read drafts of things Aoife writes for theatre so I read a really early draft of a few scenes and thought it was brilliant, and honest and vulnerable but also really funny and thought it would be a great show for VAULT Festival and I guess I’ve been working on it as director ever since in someway. However, I’m invested as a friend as well as a director or producer. It’s a true story about love, friendship and mental health and times in Aoife’s life which I was there for and there’s a few moments in the play where (spoiler alert!) the nameless ‘friend’ is me or people we know. A lot of my involvement has been about what we can and should stage and how and we’ve done lots of experimenting and rewrites in response to rehearsals and feedback. Zak Ghazi-Torbati, who is also a brilliant writer, has also been involved for years and been essential to the development.

Zak Ghazi-Torbati plays ‘Best Friend’. How did he become involved? Having seen SCRATCHES, and I think I can speak for anyone who will see it at Vault Festival, we’ll be a little heartbroken if you just held a casting call and not some long friendship!

Plain Heroines in Zoom rehersal

Credit: Plain Heroines

Fear not! Zak and I are real life friends! (Right, Zak?) We first met through a pantomime at Uni where Zak was an incredible dame, and I was a very diligent ensemble member. We remained friends and probably both peaked when we played Sweeney and Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd– (we looked very sexy on the poster). Zak, Gabbie and I have been working on multiple drafts of the script since its inception- probably in 2019? I won’t lie, the play began as a strange, rambling way for me to rant about my ex-boyfriend (there is nothing more dangerous than a woman scorned and armed with a laptop), and Gabbie and Zak were very kind in enabling my madness over many a zoom read through, but over the years and the drafts and the workshop performances, we’ve all collectively honed it into the story it is today.

Aoife, this will be your third time playing at VAULT Festival, what have your experiences been with the festival over the years?

It’s my third time! I love it. Over the years I’ve played a liturgical dancer with a penchant for violence, a civil servant in Stormont, an English lawyer who gets entangled in Soldier F and this year I’m finally getting to play myself. VAULT is an absolute health and safety nightmare (damp and electricals should not mix), but it’s also such an amazing theatrical hive. When I think VAULT, I think comedy, pints and scurrying around in the dark with all the other creative rats.

SCRATCHES played one night in Jermyn Street Theatre in November of 2021 – is it safe to assume that the intent had been to bring it to Vault Festival in 2022 before the cancellation?

It was indeed! We’ve been trying to get it to VAULT Festival for years! We originally applied for the 2020 festival, 2021 never happened and finally got a slot for the 2022 festival last year but found out that it was cancelled while rehearsing The 4th Country by Kate Reid in Park Theatre in January. We were absolutely gutted, but also very grateful to still be making theatre, and we just hoped and prayed that we’d get to go again in 2023, especially as we’d had such a brilliant experience with The 4th Country at VAULT 2020. We did think about the Edinburgh Festival, but it’s such an expensive risk to take so we decided to wait for VAULT Festival to rise again!

What’s next in 2023 for each of you and for Plain Heroines?

Who can ever really know what’s next for freelancers and artists? However Aoife is developing a new comic play with the Sky Comedy Rep scheme, which will be performed as part of a festival at the Birmingham Rep Theatre in late May. Zak is developing several projects for TV. He’s also recently filmed on BBC Doctors. Gabbie’s working on a number of theatre projects and continuing to spin plates as a freelance director.

Hopefully 2023 will be the year in which we all become wildly famous and horrendously rich. Say what you like about fringe theatre, but we’re in it for the money.

Finally, just how much of the budget actually goes on confetti?

All of it.

Huge thanks to Aoife and Gabbie for talking time to chat with us.

This interview was conducted ahead of their run at VAULT Festival 2023.

The show will also now play at Arcola Theatre from 6 – 11 November 2023. Further information and bookings can be found here.

About Dave B

Originally from Dublin but having moved around a lot, Dave moved to London, for a second time, in 2018. He works for a charity in the Health and Social Care sector. He has a particular interest in plays with an Irish or New Zealand theme/connection - one of these is easier to find in London than the other! Dave made his (somewhat unwilling) stage debut via audience participation on the day before Covid lockdowns began. He believes the two are unrelated but is keen to ensure no further audience participation... just to be on the safe side.