How To Be a Kid centres on a 12-year-old girl fresh out of care, struggling to adjust to a difficult home life. It’s hardly a picture book premise.
“I’ve found that the characters in shows and on TV are mostly white middle class kids doing really jolly things,” says writer Sarah McDonald-Hughes. “But that’s not the experience of most kids.”
As the title implies, it centres on a kid, Molly, who’s faced with the challenge of being a child with responsibilities beyond her years. It’s a dilemma many young people will be familiar with.
Aimed at 7 to 11-year-olds, the play was commissioned by new writing specialists Paines Plough, and it comes to Edinburgh as part of the company’s Roundabout residency at Summerhall. The popup venue is hosting nine shows a day for 24 days, and will tour extensively after the festival.
“It’s a great space to write for,” says McDonald-Hughes. “It’s small, so there’s no set or props. But this means you can do things like jump around in time very easily. The audience are sat so close that they kind of just come with you.”
Having written on a range of themes, primarily with her company Monkeywood Theatre, the Mancunian is developing a reputation as a writer with a sharp eye for topical issues. She names Dennis Kelly and Victoria Wood as heroes, though inspirations also lie closer to home.
“Having young children has made me more productive,” she reveals. “I used to have to wait until it felt right to approach something but now if I have an hour to write something I’ll do it, because I have to. It’s such a cliché saying that kids keep you in the moment, but they do.”
Besides keeping tabs on her own play, McDonald-Hughes is looking forward to visiting Edinburgh to binge on other writers’ work. “I’m inspired by everything so I try and see as much as I can," she says. "Though I could happily just watch everything in the Roundabout."