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Aoife Kennan - Scratches Interview

After a critically acclaimed run at VAULT Festival, the OFFIE and VAULT Festival Award- nominated Scratches is heading to the Arcola Theatre this November. This raw, brutally honest new play aims to spark conversations around self-harm and mental illness through cabaret, humour and heaps of confetti! A celebration of survival and friendship, of youth and recovery, Scratches is a story of the events that shape us, told with riotous humour, dance moves and a glitter curtain.

Meet GIRL. For too long, she’s been hiding her scratches with unfashionably long socks, clever white lies and period pads. But now she and her fabulous BEST FRIEND (Zak Ghazi-Torbati) are here to set the record straight. Based on the writer’s own experiences, this confessional and self-deprecating comedy seeks to address self-harm, which remains a taboo subject despite the positive shift in how society talks about mental health. Rather than aiming to shock, this production seeks to encourage empathy and understanding, and address the ‘dark bits’ of it all with honesty and humour.

Ahead of the run at the Arcola Theatre we caught up with writer Aoife Kennan who also plays GIRL to discuss the show.

Can you please tell me a little bit about what inspired you to write Scratches?
I started writing it way back in 2019. It wasn’t really a full-conceived play at that point- it was just a way to process events at a time when my mental health was pretty bad. But when I wrote what is now the first scene of SCRATCHES, I started to see the dramatic potential. Not to give any spoilers, but it’s a pretty sad and scary memory that’s also bizarre and really quite funny at the same time. Sometimes when I’m performing it I have to remind myself that it actually happened! 

Photo by Ali Wright

How did you approach the writing process for the show and approaching the themes you discuss?
The show has been through so many drafts and re-drafts, zoom readthroughs, and workshops and I’ve been guided by our excellent director/dramaturg, Gabbie, and my co-star, Zak. They’re also some of my best friends, so it’s always felt like a really safe space to get honest feedback.
It’s been easier to really develop the play the more distance I have from the events- it allows me to be more objective. Ironically, in doing a show about your own mental health, you actually have to be in quite a robust place; you have to feel safe and secure enough to delve into vulnerable material, without it becoming a trauma dump. 
What was the biggest challenge you faced whilst developing the show?
Learning how to produce! Often through a lot of trial and error. It’s been a big learning curve, and given me an immense amount of respect for the people who are behind the scenes raising the money, organising everything and everyone and making art happen
At what point is your work as a writer done with a piece or do you continually look at the work?
I can’t imagine ever looking at a piece and going ‘yeah, that’s perfect’, but I think at some point you have to accept that actors are going to have to learn the lines, and rehearse it and block it and it will have to actually exist in some form as an actual real-life performance. What’s great about having developed the show over such a long time is that we can look back at a performance and think ‘What have we learned from this? What do we change for next time?
How important was it for you to use the topics and open discussions about self-harm and mental health?
In some ways the whole thing becomes very meta because the play ends up asking itself ‘Is it even okay to be having these conversations onstage in the first place?’ But the driving force behind the show (apart from shameless self-promotion) is to try and de-stigmatise discussions around self-harm. There’s so much shame attached to it, and often dramatic depictions only make it worse when they go in for shock value and violencePeople need to feel that they can reach out and talk to someone without being judged for it, because often that’s the first step in trying to recover. However it’s also a very sensitive issue, and I wanted the play to be frank and honest without being irresponsible. Looking at the Samaritan Guidelines really helped us realise that the play needed to be about the emotions surrounding self-harm, rather than the act itself. 
You also perform in the show, was that always the idea?
The show is just so personal, I can’t really imagine handing it over to someone else. And I hope that it’s also part of its appeal- I want to encourage people to open up some tricky conversations, and I’m sort of making the first move by saying ‘Hello, yes, this is actually me.’
How do you deal with the feedback of reviews and the audience as both the writer and a performer in the show?
Luckily the reviews we’ve had so far have been really lovely! I know a lot of performers deliberately don’t read reviews, but a). I’m just too curious not to and b). I find it really interestingto see what has translated, and what people have understood or taken away from watching. I find the art of theatre reviewing really interesting- you can have a good review that’s actually not that well-written or thought-through, and equally a scathing one where you think ‘Well, actually, they’ve brought up some interesting points there and maybe that’s worth talking about.’ Ultimately though, the producer part of my brain goes ‘STARS- brilliant- onto the poster they go!’
What keeps you inspired as a creative?
Surrounding myself with creative people, enjoying life outside of acting and writing and having multiple things brewing at any one time. 
What do you hope an audience member takes away from seeing the show?
I hope they have a fun and fabulous evening- I hope they salivate over the purple suit and the glitter curtain- I would say it’s definitely one to bring your mates to and grab a couple of pints! But on a more serious note, I hope it encourages people to talk to each other and realise that it’s totally normal to be sad sometimes, but hiding away and trying to deal with it on your own isn’t the answer.

Scratches plays at the Arcola Theatre from Tuesday 7th until Saturday 11th November 2023. Tickets are available from

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