The collected interviews of Jim Mulligan

Obsessed with celebrity

When she threw Jake over it was a very significant act. They had been going out for six weeks and in adult terms it was the equivalence of a divorce.

Mark Ravenhill was nearly thirty when he started writing. Before that he had been successful at his Haywards Heath comprehensive school and then at Bristol University, followed by work as a theatre director. His first full-length play, Shopping and Fucking, was produced to great acclaim by Out of Joint at the Royal Court Theatre and opened at The Ambassadors in 1996, prior to a national tour. Five successful plays followed, the latest being Mother Molly’s Clap House, which opened at the National Theatre in 2001 and transferred to the West End in 2002.

Totally Over You is a comedy based on a half-hour one-act curtain-raiser by Molière, Les Précieuses Ridicules. In the original play two young women are engaged to be married but they become infatuated with a servant who is affected and aspires to be a member of the court. Then they decide to finish with their fiancés because they are not courtly or mannered enough. In the end the women are horrified when they find out what the audience has known all along.

I’ve always liked that play and the idea that a character can put on a disguise and very easily trick other people who have known them for years. It’s not something we use much in drama today but it was a common device when Molière was writing. As I started to write Totally Over You I started to recall what my schooldays were like. Emotions are heightened and it is important to be seen that you are going out with someone. How up-and-down you are can depend on your popularity or status.

Totally Over You is a play about a group of teenage girls who are obsessed with celebrity. Led by Kitty, they decide to dump their boyfriends, convinced that they will be instant stars even though Jake tells Kitty, ‘You can’t sing, you can’t act, you’re OK-looking but you’re not models.’ The boys’ revenge is swift and effective. They turn the tables when Victor organises the drama class and convinces the girls that the boys they have just abandoned are in fact the celebrated band, Awesome.

When I sit down to write a play it is to tell a story and explore a situation. In this case I wanted to write about the obsession with celebrity and a media-led culture. Love and the affirmative power of pretending and acting turn out to be very important in the play. Jake and Kitty make a journey from an early teenage kind of crush to find they are closer to something like adult love. I didn’t see that coming – plays tend to creep up on you when you are writing them and surprise you. The idea of taking on roles and playing parts is something everyone enjoys but there is a particular pleasure when you are young and making choices or are scared about who you could be and what you could do. The excitement and thrill of taking on different personae and pretending to be different things is great. I think there is a basic pleasure in seeing the twists and turns of the plot – people pretending to be someone else, seeing a character fall for a trick.

The girls are familiar with every nuance of celebrity: sleeping in the totally fantastic house next to the totally buff boyfriend, the breakfast conference calls to Japan, the lunches, the red carpet at the film launch and the stalker.

Celebrity is an addiction and the girls are obsessive about it. It has become more and more important for people and now an interest in fictional characters has been replaced by people who are borderline real/fictional such as Madonna, J-Lo or Eminem. And now with Big Brother it is possible to attain celebrity without having any talent. One of the things that worries me is that I am so attracted to it. I like celebrity TV shows like Pop Stars and Big Brother. I understand the appeal. We have created adolescent adults, people who are refusing to leave adolescence.

One of the pleasing sub-plots in Totally Over You is the way Victor, insecure and desperate to go to the movies with anyone, and yearning for Letitia, finds himself through acting. He takes on the part of director with relish. He convinces the girls he is a visionary who can see the future where they will be megastars. The only problem is their fame comes from being associated with the band Awesome. Shame they’ve just dumped the boys. Victor wins the approval of the boys and Letitia asks him out.

At the beginning of the play Kitty is the leader of the gang and has been used to that position for some time. She is humbled and matures during the play. When she threw Jake over it was a very significant act. They had been going out for six weeks and in adult terms it was the equivalence of a divorce. At the end, Sinita, Rochelle and Hannah have been embarrassed but are not unduly damaged. Kitty, however, has been profoundly changed, calling herself, ‘Stupid freaking stupid freaking idiot bitch to believe. I just wanted to believe so much.’ Jake finds the courage to express his feelings. ‘I feel everything for you Kitty. I feel love. I feel like kissing and cuddling and all that kind of love. But also like sex kind of love. Like I want to see you naked…And I feel hate.’ Kitty also realises that love is terrible. It will take some doing for young people to get this kind of honesty into their performances.

I think they’ll have a good time enjoying participating in a story that takes them on a journey. They’ll talk about the celebrity culture. They will see Jake and Kitty on a journey towards maturity and this may be part of their own process of finding out who they are. Totally Over You may be their step towards maturity.