Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Joseph Connolly and Gabriella Padula: Muck

By | Published on Friday 6 May 2022

The Come What May festival at The Park Theatre – which you may remember appearing in our Three To See section a couple of weeks back – is now up and running, and continues until 28 May. 

There are so many great shows in the line up, but one that especially caught my eye is ‘Muck’, a new work focusing on the difficult relationship between an estranged brother and sister, commissioned by Norwich Arts Centre and created by FenCity Players.

FenCity Players was founded by Joseph Connolly and Gabriella Padula, who wrote the two-hander, and also perform it. I spoke to them both to find out more. 

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘Muck’ is all about? What story does it tell? 
JC: ‘Muck’ is a story about an estranged brother and sister – George and Kelly – who are brought back together over the loss of their grandmother.

The play sees George come back from Norfolk to London, to the flat where he grew up with his family. Kelly is struggling with debt, addiction and grief, and George makes an attempt to help his sister get her life back together.

During this time George’s past catches up with him too. It’s a gritty, raw and unsettling story.

CM: What themes does the play explore? 
GP: ‘Muck’ covers a great deal of themes, from Kelly struggling with addiction to George hiding from his past, which eventually catches up with him.

We have their grief over their Nan passing and the play as a whole tells the story of how both Kelly and George have to rebuild their relationship again.

As writers we wanted to cover the issues around social housing, how people cope, and that not all stories have a happy ending, as in life.

CM: How would you describe it in terms of style and genre? 
JC: It’s a kitchen sink drama, with a very old school 60s/70s feel – British, working class – and colloquial language from London and East Anglia mashed together. ‘Muck’ was influenced by plays like ‘Saved’ by Edward Bond and films like ‘Nil By Mouth’ by Gary Oldman.

CM: What inspired you to create a play with this topic and these themes? 
GP: I think mainly what inspired us was our working class backgrounds, drawing inspiration and influence from the people and places around us.

With me being from West London, and Joseph growing up in Wisbech, in the Fens, we feel both places have large communities of working class people with similar backgrounds, struggling with life issues such as addiction and living in social housing. We mainly wanted to tell a story that those people can relate to.

We also both have siblings ourselves, which helped inspire us to base a story around a brother and sister relationship, which is something that we feel isn’t highlighted all that much in theatre.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creation of the play? How does it work when two of you are writing a script? 
JC: The play was first created back when Gabby and I were studying at university. We wanted to create a show about a brother and sister.

We used free writing exercises to create short duologues and then built the story from there. We used a lot of improvisation to create the characters and the world of the play.

We redrafted ‘Muck’ during the pandemic, which was an experience! We wrote over Zoom and it was mostly us pacing our bedrooms trying to get our ‘word vomit’ onto the page – then going back to it later to edit with director Toby Clarke’s outside eye.

CM: Did you always intend to perform it yourselves? Was it written with that in mind?
GP: Yes, I think because we knew what we were writing and have always had a joint vision of what we wanted to achieve when eventually putting the play on with these specific characters in mind. So we kind of knew that we wanted to play them ourselves right from the beginning.

We’ve always said that these characters are our babies, our creations in a way. We know the story and the characters inside out and have almost grown attached to them in some way. So yes I would say it was definitely written with that in mind.

CM: You’ve already mentioned your director – can you tell us a bit more about him and other members of your creative team? 
JC: Yes, as mentioned, Toby Clarke is our director and he helped shape the story of what ‘Muck’ is today. We had the characters and the world and Toby helped redefine it.

We first met with Toby a few years back in a pub in South London with our initial – unedited, rubbish! – draft and spoke about the vision of the play. He thankfully liked it and wanted to work with us – the rest is history! Toby is a diamond and such a giving director, he really knows his stuff!

Everyone from the Norwich Arts Centre has been fantastic too, we have created a long lasting relationship with them and we are hugely grateful for their continuous support.

Lucy, our producer, is another diamond: we wouldn’t be in the position we are today without her. Our whole team is just full of talented individuals who believe in the FenCity Players and are just genuinely nice people. We love them! 

CM: Can you tell us about FenCity Players – was the company created to produce this show?
GP: Yes, FenCity Players was initially founded when Joseph and I started writing ‘Muck’ back at university, ‘Fen’ representing the Fenland half of us and ‘City’ the London side.

We initially decided to create the company for ‘Muck’, but once we established our love for writing, we agreed that we would continue developing new stories together and individually through the company. It also acts as a platform where we can nurture and develop our writing together.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourselves now? What drew you to working in the arts? Was this always what you wanted to do?
JC: I was sent to my local drama group when I was young to help with my confidence and reading, and didn’t initially think I would make it my career. We both feel very blessed at what opportunities we have been given and the people we have met along the way.

Gabby and I both studied together at uni and had the same taste in theatre from an actor’s perspective and what we wanted to play. We were pushed to write our own work, which is how we ended up creating ‘Muck’.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you each have for the future? 
GP: With ‘Muck’, specifically, we have agreed that we want to develop the piece and explore it further through film, so we’re planning to continue writing ‘Muck’ as a short or series.

As for me, I want to continue writing more specifically for film and TV right now, that’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I want to continue drawing inspiration from my life and the people around me by telling working class stories that I can identify with.

We are currently working on more projects, one of which is a series called ‘Spin’, which will be under the FenCity Players banner.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? 
JC: We both work individually as freelance actors outside of FenCity players and have projects coming up throughout the year which is a great feeling.

We also are in the next steps of creating new pieces of theatre and scripts through FenCity Players in collaboration with Norwich Arts Centre, which we are excited about.

‘Muck’ is on as part of the Come What May Festival at the Park Theatre from 12-14 May. For more information and to book tickets head to the venue website here.

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Photo: Andi Sapey