Interview with Aoife Kennan
Aoife Kennan is an actor and writer. She grew up in Durham, but identifies as Irish and has the passport to prove it. She studied English at Cambridge University and then trained as an actor at LAMDA. Her critically acclaimed new play, SCRATCHES (a funny show about self-harm) was nominated for both an Offie and a VAULT Festival Award.
1. What was the development process for Scratches like and what are the key messages you would like to convey to the audience?
I think the keys aim of the show is to try and de-stigmatise talking about self-harm, and make a very difficult topic more palatable for an audience who may not have any experience or understanding of it. It began as a series of disparate word documents, where I would just try and process how I was feeling or what I was going through by writing it down. But I think it became more and more apparent to me that there was dramatic potential there, and the opportunity to talk about a difficult topic in a unique and funny way.
2. Self-harm is not talked about nearly enough, why do you think this is?
It’s such a delicate topic- I think most of the time people are afraid of saying the wrong thing. But I think it’s so important that we learn how to talk about it, so that people who are struggling don’t feel like they have to hide away in shame. Isolating yourself only compounds the problem. I think Caitlin Moran described self-destructive behaviours like the tip of the iceberg- there’s actually a whole legion of ice underneath the water- and that’s what you’ve got to get to solve the problem. (I think the way you get to it is probably lots of therapy, which should be far more accessible than it is.)
3. What were your challenges when writing Scratches, turning a difficult topic into something humorous.
In a weird way, I wasn’t too worried about offending anyone while I was writing it, because it’s all my own experience and I’m more than happy to laugh at myself. I think the main worry was will the audience be willing to laugh, or will they feel dragged down by the darker material? But I hope we’ve struck a good balance! None of the jokes are about diminishing mental illness, but hopefully they show that the illness doesn’t define you- you can still be sparkly and funny and silly in spite of it.
4. Is it challenging to showcase the vulnerability associated with self-harm on stage, and what is it like to work with Zak on this project?
We’ve been working on the show for years now- since 2019- so as we’ve gone on, I’ve had more and more distance from the material, and I feel more robust as a person and a performer. I think when we workshopped it back in 2021, I really felt like I was laying out my soul, but now it feels like acting. I can put myself back in the shoes of my old self, but I feel like a different person. As Zak would say, GROWTH! Zak is one of the most wonderful, supportive, brilliant and annoyingly charismatic and charming people I know. We’ve been performing together since uni, so it just feels so natural to be onstage with him and making people laugh.
5. What’s next for Scratches and what other works have you got in the pipeline?
I don’t know what’s next for the show! I do know that there’s an inordinate amount of gold glitter curtain up for grabs if anyone wants it! I would like to see if I can adapt the idea for television in some way, so I’ll be tinkering with that. And then next week I begin rehearsals for a show up in Newcastle with Papatango called ‘The Watch House’. I’m very lucky to get to go home and work on such a lovely show for Christmas!