Showing at The Wardrobe Theatre for one night only, on 27 January, Skin Deep returns after its highly successful debut in 2013.

Exploring the complexities of contemporary life, cultural identity and the bonds that connect us – and divide us. Set in a Devon city, and based on an original film script first written by Rosie Mullin over fifteen years ago, this production tells the story of how music, politics and survival intersect.

Written by Rosie and Midge Mullin from Exeter’s Substance & Shadow Theatre, formed in 2012, this play is preceded by five productions by the same theatre company – with Skin Deep being the first of their work to be shown at The Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol.

“Sub-culture has the ability to provide people with the freedom of self-expression.”

Talking with Midge Mullin about the play, which is set against the backdrop of 1980s Britain, he explains how the script took shape and how their immediate surroundings influenced the setting:

“Unlike many stories of its genre that are set in Britain’s major cities, the action from Skin Deep takes place in Exeter in 1980. There was a conscious desire to portray our own experiences of sub-culture from the time and perspective of growing up in Devon.”

As much as the political landscape of the era in which Skin Deep is set, it was also born from an ongoing passion for music and the ways in which we create personal identities from the collective experience of certain music scenes:

“Music and its status within various sub-cultures has played a massive part in our lives and has provided a rich source of inspiration for the three original plays that we have written and produced (Skin Deep, Duplicity and Tribes and Tribulations). Duplicity was set during the Punk era in 1977 and Tribes and Tribulations was set in the free festival scene of the early 80’s. With all three plays we have explored the idea of how music and sub-culture provides people with a sense of identity and belonging with kindred spirits. This idea is especially powerful in circumstances where people feel marginalised, or outside of mainstream society. Sub-culture has the ability to provide people with the freedom of self-expression of and the sense of belonging to a tribe.”  Midge explains his inspirations behind the content of Skin Deep.

Drawing largely on personal experience rather than focus group interviews with people who were familiar with life during these times, Midge and Rosie have woven a tale of poignancy with the potential to resonate with audiences beyond their own experiences. Music forms an essential part of this stage play, and will be used to both accentuate and communicate the backbone of the narrative throughout Skin Deep:

“Music is the cornerstone of Skin Deep. There won’t be a live band on the night, as we feel it is important to use authentic Ska music such as The Specials, The Selecter, and Desmond Dekker to accentuate the action. These original, iconic anthems have the ability to reconnect audiences with time and place and create a powerful, emotive link with the past.” Midge explains.

“Music that is emotional and inspiring often provides the right backdrop to the creative writing process.”

Their hands-on approach to their projects, has always meant that they have been directly involved in both the casting and the production side of the creative process, as Midge tells us:

“We like to maintain control of the casting process. As a small, self-funded theatre company we tend to work with a core group of trusted actors who understand our ethic and principles.”

But the involvement doesn’t end there.  Both Rosie and Midge take up roles in Skin Deep – and in keeping with their trademark minimalist style, they tend to keep things simple – and hauntingly effective. The creative process might be largely a privately inspired experience, but the end result is both engaging and satisfyingly coherent – illuminating collective fears and responsibilities with a sensitivity and astuteness.

“Using a mixture of monologue, diologue and rich soundscapes, we create multiple locations and situations and take audiences on a sensual journey.” Midge says.

For a play that centres on the subcultures born out of a dedication to ska and punk music in the 1980s, it would be reasonable to assume that the writing process was both fuelled and maintained through sonic art forms:

“Music that is emotional and inspiring often provides the right backdrop to the creative writing process. When watching a play about Skinheads, Two-Tone and fascism it might be hard for an audience to believe that it was written to the likes of Kate Bush, New Model Army and The Cocteau Twins!” Adds Midge.

Skin Deep shows at The Wardrobe Theatre on 27 January.  
Tickets are priced at £8 and are available online: