Q&A with playwright Lydia Marchant on Mumsy at Hull Truck Theatre

Hull Truck Theatre are extremely proud to be marking the end of their 50th anniversary year programme with Mumsy, a new play written by homegrown talent and Hull Truck Youth Theatre alumni, Lydia Marchant. 

This brand-new world premiere comedy drama follows the story of three generations of women living under one roof, exploring the highs and lows of motherhood and intergenerational female relationships. 

Mumsy runs from Thursday 2 to Saturday 25 March. In this interview with its writer, Lydia Marchant, we find out more about her journey with Hull Truck Theatre, her inspiration behind Mumsy, her experiences as a writer, and what advice she might give to new writers who have their own dreams of seeing their writing performed on stage or screen.

Hi, Lydia. How was it growing up in Hull?

It was great in terms of arts opportunities; I doubt I would be a playwright if I had not grown up in Hull. As a child I was really into writing, English was my favourite subject and so when my mum read in the Hull Daily Mail that Hull Truck Theatre were running a competition for the young writer’s festival, I really wanted to apply. I had to write a 15-minute play that would then be performed by the youth theatre, which I think is cool because the hardest thing about being a playwright is you need someone to perform your work too. So, that opportunity gave me that. After that, Hull Truck started a writer’s group, led by local writer Morgan Sproxton, which was where I really learned how to write for theatre.

You were also a Young Writer in Residence at Hull Truck Theatre, is that right?

That’s right. When I was 16, Hull Truck made me their Young Writer in Residence while Tom Wells was Writer in Residence. So he mentored me, which was lovely. Then when I was 20, I was made a Supported Artist, which felt like ‘I’ve stopped being a young person, I’m a proper writer now.’ I remember thinking ‘I’m a supported artist, Silent Uproar are supported artists, Roaring Girls are too.’ All these people I admire, so this made me feel really supported and gave me the confidence that I could make a career as a writer. I have always felt lucky to live in Hull, being that it is such a creative city.

How excited are you to finally have your play performed on the main stage at Hull Truck Theatre?

It means so much! It was the first theatre I ever went to. My birthday is on the 23rd of December, so my birthday trip with my friends would always be to go and see the Hull Truck Christmas show. I was an usher as well, which was the best possible job I could have worked at that age. Being able to see all the theatre that was coming in, all the independent films in the studio, gave me loads of inspiration – I was getting paid to watch theatre. To go from watching plays in the main house to then having my own play on is crazy.

When I was 18, and because I was a Young Writer in Residence, Hull Truck Theatre’s Artist Director, Mark Babych, said that I could come into rehearsals for a Taste of Honey, and I remember fantasising about one day being in this rehearsal room, with one of my own plays. I always dreamed of it happening and now it is.

As a writer, how have you dealt with feedback on your writing, has it helped your journey to receive honest feedback on your work?

Yes, current Associate Director at Hull Truck Theatre Tom Saunders, kindly took me for coffee after taking the time to read a very early draft of Mumsy and he told me honestly what bits he felt were working, and what parts to focus more on. Tom knows how to talk to writers; he knows that writers are very self-conscious about their work, and need to know what’s working, but he also knows the right questions to ask, to help you make it better. I really, really appreciated that.

Being part of Grow Festival, where Mumsy was first put in front of audiences, was a scary process. Fortunately, people laughed at jokes, and it was a positive experience – although there were some complaints about the swearing!

How has Mumsy changed since those early drafts?

My original idea was a dystopian piece relocating the American healthcare system to the UK, which did include a mother and daughter relationship about pregnancy, but it was not the focus. Mark Babych and Tom Saunders inspired me to look more closely at these characters, comparing them to my own experiences. At this time, I was working a zero-hour contract, and I thought to myself ‘if I got pregnant now, it’d be a nightmare’. This helped me write something that’s a lot more personal and, hopefully, more authentic.

Where did the inspiration for the nan character come from and how did you write a character much older than yourself?

I wanted a character who found fulfilment in life outside of just being a mum. I wanted the nan character to bring a different perspective and talk about some taboo things, like how hard it is to have children, how people would tell her that it would get better but at every stage she found it tough. I had a big chat with women from Act III, the over 55s group at Hull Truck, about aspirations and what they have learned as they got older, which helped me shape the character – and make sure I got the pop culture references right!

Sophie on the other hand is pregnant at 22 – my age when I started writing the play. She was inspired by some work I did with Hull Truck at the Boulevard School Centre, an amazing referral unit for women who have been teenage mums. After my visit I sort of knew that this was something I’d love to write about. 

How would you like to see audiences experience Mumsy?

I want them to laugh, identify and sympathise with the characters. I hope audiences will think about the themes of the play, like cost of living and female mental health, but most importantly have a good night out. In the same way that Motherland manages to go to some really sort of emotional places, exploring grief and losing your parents, but at the same time have audiences laughing every two minutes.

How did you get to be a writer on Eastenders, Holby City and Casualty, and would you like to see Mumsy go to screen in the future?

After the reading of Mumsy at Grow Festival, I sent it to the BBC to apply for a scheme called the BBC Writers Academy, which I was accepted onto. From this opportunity, I was able to go on to write one episode of Holby and one episode of Casualty and one episode of Eastenders and I absolutely loved it. I’ve since written more for Casualty and EastEnders.

Writing for screen is so different to playwriting because it’s such a quick turnaround, but ultimately, I would really like to see more female characters like those in Mumsy on screen. It’d be an interesting challenge because I love these characters, I love spending time with them.

What advice would you give to new writers, especially those who might be from Hull?

If you’ve not seen that many stories about people like you or the place that you come from, that is more reason to write, because those stories need to be told! I think sometimes people feel like they need permission to start writing or you must write stuff like what you’ve already seen on stage.

For writers in Hull, there are loads of opportunities out there at the minute. Recently, there have been groups and workshops at Hull Truck Theatre led by writer Kerry L Marsh, and Middle Child have Tom Wells’ playwriting group as well as a free feedback service with their Literary Manager Matthew Butchers.

So, I’d say take every opportunity that you can and be resilient. It’s a journey – you can’t expect to write a draft and it go straight on stage, unfortunately! The process of getting feedback and redrafting is all part of it. So is rejection – the same script I submitted to the BBC Writers Academy got lots of rejections elsewhere. Keep going, keep learning, hold on to why you wrote the play in the first place and keep believing you’ve got stories that are worth telling.

Book your tickets to Mumsy by calling the Hull Truck Theatre box office on 01482 323638 or book online.