When actor/writer and safety outreach worker Peta Brady brought the idea of Ugly Mugs to director Marion Potts, she was ‘horrified, moved, confronted by our own ignorance’. 

Ugly Mugs began when Peta Brady came to the theatre in early 2012 to tell myself and our Associate Writer Van Badham about what she’d been working on. She pulled an ‘Ugly Mugs’ pamphlet out of a thick file of research material and we were immediately transfixed. Horrified, moved, confronted by our own ignorance, this was documentation that pinpointed the brutality of the streets we drive through every day. It exposed a woeful tendency to hide our heads in the sand – a kind of collective collusion that we felt compelled to interrogate.

Marion Potts and Peta Brady photo by Pia Johnson

As with all good playwrights, Peta’s text does a lot of work for us: her language captures her characters, their universe, their dilemmas and informs the context. When the creative team broached the show’s design, it felt important to create an environment that allowed for these frictions to be in constant, uninhibited play: a space that offers clues but which we as audience members would have to complete in our imaginations

It may have been difficult to create the piece without Peta’s long-standing experiences as an outreach worker and her complex understanding of this world. She would be the first to downplay it and would certainly never claim that her knowledge approximates those who live it every day. Her respect and appreciation of her characters’ strength, humour and vitality give Ugly Mugs a great authenticity. But it’s her simple desire for people to understand what goes on that gives it so much integrity.

Malthouse Theatre commissioned Peta to write this play shortly after our first meeting. Once we’d seen a draft I spoke to my colleague Lee Lewis at Griffin Theatre Company, who said, ‘Well, if our companies can’t program this sort of work, who can?’ We are lucky that our companies have the freedom to be responsive enough to take on curly, public subjects that need to be aired. Lucky also that we have the amazing medium of theatre to help us imagine what we may never experience, to be entertained while being provoked, and all in the company of great performers and writers.

Marion Potts is Artistic Director at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne and director of Ugly Mugs

Ugly Mugs plays at Griffin from 18 July – 23 August. For more information and to book, click here.