Interview With…Marika McKennell

We chatted to the playwright about her audio play Cunch which is being made available as part of the Written on the Waves project.

Hi Marika, could you explain what ‘Cunch’ is about? CUNCH, is a slang word for County Lines – using children to transport and sell drugs from cities to rural areas – my play’s about female friendship told though a story of county lines. Two 15-year-old girls Janie and Lolita go from East London to Chichester in Sussex to sell White (Crack) but they end up in the surrounding countryside and discovering that there’s another mission as well as the drugrunning one they appear to be on. They also meet a weirdly wonderful women and experience
nature in ways they haven’t been able to before.

How did the idea for the play come about? I worked for 6 years in a PRU for excluded teens in Hackney some of our students were involved in or on the peripheries of county lines. I saw the way the media often presented these young people as one-dimensional victims, but I wanted my characters to be more truthful to the young people I’ve
worked with. I don’t think kids who do this for the first time always see themselves as beingexploited. I wanted to honour their stories even if the young people speaking were labelled ‘fantasists’. I’m interested in the space between fantasy and reality. My friend Angel also really helped me out, she works with girls who have survived gang exploitation, it was heart-breaking to hear what these young women are put though and the levels of exploitation. Another big motivation behind the idea is female friendship. I have incredible female friends from childhood, and I think it’s magic how you can have this sister like bond, even if you don’t see each other all the time. It is
genuinely ride of die. I also acknowledge that there can be complexity in these relationships, and I
think a part of this story is honouring those intense teenage friendships that one (or both) girls might
outgrow, makes me think of an Erika Badu quote ‘Pick your friends like you pick your fruit’.

How does it feel to be a part of the Written on the Waves project? Really great. Audio drama and podcasts have got me though the lockdowns for sure. I was a fan of Written on the Waves from the start I think it’s amazing to see how 45North and other theatre makers/theatres have been so resourceful and adapted in such powerful ways during the pandemic. It’s been so lovely working with them and to be part of this project is a genuine honour. It’s also mad exciting that my work could be heard wherever and by whoever, I love that it doesn’t excluded
audiences that can’t afford a ticket.

Was there any challenges in developing the play given all of the restrictions in place? Not really to be honest. I mean I would have loved to have some of the initial chats/meetings over a cup of tea and bit of cake in person but also it was quite handy being at home as I have a young son and working on zoom cuts out the travel time. Swings and roundabouts. Going into a studio to record was unbelievably exciting. Literally some of the best days of the year.

Could you tell me more about the issues covered in ‘Cunch’? Another theme/issue in the play is nature and the wild, and an anger at the ways we exclude city kids from accessing nature. There is no immediate monetary gain, so it’s unsurprising a capitalist society with a Tory government don’t meaningfully support young people in cities experiencing the wild. Nature is for everyone, and if we don’t help all young people access it and pass down our
knowledge of nature that appreciation will die.

Why would you say that people should take a listen? I can’t answer that, you’ll have to have a listen and find out yourself. I guess… it’s a good story well- acted and produced, it’s ultimately uplifting, it’s important and relevant.

What is next in store for you? No plans really. I’m about to finish an MA in writing for stage and broadcast media so I guess wrapthat up, drink lots of tea and take it from there. I’ve always got ideas buzzing around so I’m looking
forward to getting some of them down.

By Emma Clarendon

Cunch is available to listen to as part of the Written on the Waves Project.

%d bloggers like this: