The collected interviews of Jim Mulligan

Desperate stories about desperate people: it's enough to make you laugh

In the midst of all the political ideas there is a simple, rather sad relationship between a father and his son.

As a student at Cambridge University, David Farr and two actresses set up a company, Talking Tongues, to write and devise their own plays. The style was not naturalistic but visual in the style of Theatre de Complicité. One of their plays won the Guardian award at the Edinburgh Festival and did well at the Gate Theatre in London. Since then David Farr has covered a wide range of writing and directing, including Great Expectations and Coriolanus. He has written monologues and plays and directed over thirty plays and operas. He will soon be taking up the post of director at the Bristol Old Vic.

The Queen Must Die is a comedy set in a small town not unlike Guilford, where David Farr grew up. He regrets that he did not have a more exciting teenage experience, but feels: 'That's probably why I've ended up writing and directing, because it is continually exciting and unpredictable.'

All my comedies are set in small closed communities where people live frustrated lives. I call them desperate comedies. They're formed around a desperate idea with desperate people trying to achieve something in a world that does not quite allow them to do what they want. It's not a farce, although it uses farcical techniques. In farce you have to be dispassionate and have an almost callous view of your characters. I love my characters. You feel sympathy for them, but they are nonetheless undergoing torture and you cringe for them.

The Queen Must Die is subversive in intent. A crucial character is a papier-mâché statue of the Queen. At the end the play she should remain serene, not a scratch on her in the carnage and chaos that she has caused. The title is both literal and ironic, and the symbolism at the end will not be lost on the audience.

I see the play as a staunchly republican piece. It is a genuinely political play about England and its attitudes to change. The English have an extraordinary tolerance and put up with the most bizarre things. Their attitude to the royals is a good example. The royals don't have the power they used to have, but they create a mindset whereby we feel we are all subjects, not active citizens. I think we would be better off as a republic and I think it is inevitable. Until that happens royalty will continue to have a grip on the national consciousness.

Darren is a frustrated but dogged revolutionary whose ideas are not yet clearly formed and who has to cope with people not turning up to his meetings and being let down by the girl he fancies because she wants more than revolutionary rhetoric when she goes out with him.

Darren has to be a hero. He can't be a weirdo. When you look at him you have to be sympathetic towards him. He has to be intelligent and eloquent enough to be aware of his situation as it is. And he has to be good-looking enough for Shannon to fall for him when she thinks he is a filmmaker. Mad Mike, on the other hand, is a comedic creation and can be whatever you want him to be. He's wildly psychopathic taken to a ludicrous extreme, but he's not as much as he thinks he is in a small town situation.

Shaun is at the emotional heart of the play. In the midst of all the political ideas there is a simple, rather sad relationship between a father and his son. The fact that this is only revealed in the last few lines of the play is important. The abuse does not dominate but is a way for the characters to investigate issues.

I don't want to portray Shaun purely as an abuse victim because the play is not about that. The boy is being given an incredibly rough time by his father and it's important for the other characters to recognize that. In all plays people learn things and Lisa learns a huge amount. She learns that this boy she has always mocked is weird for a very good reason and in accordance with the comic genre she falls madly in love with him. He is totally unable to defend himself, so Lisa does it for him, and beautifully. She will wear the dog-dress in public rather than see him take an extra beating.

There is a range of characters in the play from the utterly realistic Billy and Shaun to Mad Mike, a rebel without a cause, and Darren, an embryonic demagogue who sees the futility of his dreams. The girls are much more realistic and the young people will probably be able to identify easily with them, but the actors will have to figure out the politics of their relationships: who is the leader, who is worried about being excluded and why hasn't Ronnie got a ticket for Britney when the other two have?

The Queen Must Die is primarily intended to be funny but part of it is about the loss of any kind of real political idealism. The market looks on the young as consumers and they have become single-issue activists picking and choosing issues as they pick and choose their clothes and CDs. They are the victims of US-led globalisation, exploiting innocent children and 'turning growing kids into rabid consumers demanding ever more impossible levels of satisfaction'. Of course the audience will laugh when Darren analyses the effect of Britney Spears in these terms but they will also have an uneasy feeling that there is some truth in it.

All good comedy should make you laugh and think. If it's really good it also makes you feel. I hope when they look at the untouched Queen at the end they will think that it is more than just a bit of fun. The central yearning of the characters, the sources of their desperation, must be understood. If the actors think this is just funny it won't work.