Max Dickins is a comedian and playwright and has just finished a national tour of his last show, the Man on the Moor. Max’s new show ‘Kin’ will debut at the Edinburgh festival this August. It is also being published by Samuel French.
Kin is coming to Underbelly what can you tell us about it?
Kin is a darkly funny play that examines how a sibling can be both your best friend and your worst enemy. Two estranged sisters meet after 20 years. In a remote cottage over a single night they bury the hatchet. As their dying father lies in the room next door they’re forced to confront who they were and who they’ve become. When the only person they have left in common disappears, is their relationship worth saving? This gripping story looks at what the words ‘I love you’ actually mean when you say them to your family. And asks the question: how can you forgive the past when you can’t even agree what it looks like?
What’s the one thing about Kin makes it different from all the rest?
There are always a lot of very worthy but ultimately boring plays at Edinburgh. But this show – touch wood – is genuinely funny. As two sisters knock seven shades of shit out of each other as only siblings can. Come to be moved. Come to have your ideas about family interrogated. But come to laugh too!
Why did you want to write about this subject?
Kin started with a question. A question that had been niggling me for a while. When we say we love our family, what does that actually mean? Because it’s not the same love we feel for our romantic partners, and if it isn’t that, what exactly is it? So at the heart of this play is a love story between two sisters. I hope that the audience watching the play will come to the same conclusion as me having written it: and realise that love, at its heart, is best understood as a verb. It is an activity: a set of things we do for other people. The words ‘I love you’ mean nothing without the behaviours that show this to be true. In writing the play I have certainly reflected on my own complacency towards my family relationships. I hope the audience do the same.
How does Kin differ to other works you’ve written?
I am known for writing monologues. So, the obvious difference here is that it’s a duologue. I also normally perform in my work, but as this is about two sisters that clearly isn’t the case. (As much as I’d love to do it in drag.) This is the first time I’ve written for other people therefore. So that’s been a good challenge. The actors are also both women in their forties, which was another leap. I could have written it for two brothers rather than two sisters. It would have explored similar themes. But there aren’t enough good, meaty, complex roles for women full stop. With the problem especially acute for older actors. ‘Be the change you want to see!’ I thought. So here we are. I’m delighted with the results and can’t wait to see my work performed by our brilliant actors: Abigail Burdess and Kate Alderton.
How does it feel to be at the Underbelly?
This is my third play, and my third at the Underbelly so they have been with me at every step of my journey. My background is as a stand-up comedian and so I’m grateful that Underbelly took a chance on an unknown playwright. This year they’ve given me a big room at a great time and so the pressure is on, but the challenge has been inspiring. Underbelly Cowgate has such a great feel to it: as soon as you step inside and smell the wet stone, Fringes past come flooding back. It’s a special place.
Who will Kin appeal to the most?
This is a play for anyone who has a difficult relationship with their family and feels guilty about it. First and foremost, it’s a story about siblings. I have both a brother and a sister. I know from experience that siblings have a unique and often tempestuous relationship. Depending on the day of the week, your sibling can be your best friend or your greatest enemy. Love and hate are tightly helixed.
It isn’t just simple rivalry. (Although that no doubt exists.) It’s much more complicated than that. The psychotherapist Dorothy Rowe, an expert on sibling relationships, says the central cause of tension between siblings is each one’s ability to ‘annihilate’ the other. In short, your sibling knows you so well that, whether by word or deed, they can destroy your sense of self in just a moment. This is because the idea of who we are as individuals doesn’t just exist in us, it exists in relationship to other people. Specifically, in relationship to how they treat us. Most people will indulge our version of who we are out of politeness. But siblings will happily trample all over it, whether they mean to or not. After all, your sibling knows exactly who you are. Or at least they knew exactly who you were. But that’s another story.
Kin is at the Underbelly Cowgate – Belly Button from August 2nd– 26th (not 13th)