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Amanda Wilkin: "Finding a character's truth can be painful"

Amanda Wilkin: "Finding a character's truth can be painful"

Amanda Wilkin: "Finding a character's truth can be painful" cover photo on Stagedoor
Lyn Gardner chats to Amanda Wilkin about telling the truth, learning to call herself a playwright, and her award-winning debut play Shedding a Skin

When Amanda Wilkin was writing Shedding a Skin, the joyful smash-hit debut play which debuted at Soho Theatre last summer, she kept a post-it note above her desk which said “tell the truth.”

Telling the truth can make you vulnerable and, as Wilkin says, “finding a character’s truth can be painful” and it can also make you feel exposed because “not everyone’s truth is the same and maybe no-one’s truth is pretty.” But it has paid off for Wilkin who won the Verity Bargate Award with Shedding a Skin, which is on the shortlist for the prestigious Susan Blackburn Smith Award and opens this week in a second highly anticipated run at Soho Theatre.

The return of the play—which Wilkin also performs—is no surprise. Shedding a Skin tells the story of Myah, a young woman who has left her job in difficult circumstances, lost her relationship and who knows “the space between where I want to be and where I am is deafening.” But when she moves into a room on the 15th floor of a tower block with the elderly Mildred, part of the Windrush generation, and a woman whose house rules come laminated, it is the start of what proves to be an unexpectedly fruitful relationship. Shedding a Skin may tell the truth, but it does it in a way that makes us all feel braver about ourselves and how we might live.

From 2021 performance, photo by Helen Murray.

“It’s not an autobiographical play,” says Wilkin, “but there are definitely things I share with Myah, particularly around how much space I take up. When I was writing Shedding a Skin I was really down in the dumps and wrestling with so much and finding it difficult to deal with a world in which so much of the discourse feels fragmented. So, I was questioning my place in the world and feeling unconnected to others. But I’m not Myah.”

But maybe we are all Myahs in some ways. Phoebe Waller-Bridge has declared herself a fan, and although the play was written before the pandemic it captures that feeling of both wanting to reach out and fearing to connect and taking delight in the smallest things. Part of the appeal of Shedding a Skin is the way it shows the crack and faultlines in a life but also finds the joy in the smallest moments, the tiniest of things. It has a giddying sunshine-and-showers quality, which is rare and infectious.

“We’ve all been so physically far apart because of the pandemic,” says Wilkin, “ and I think as we all come back into the world together we are having to learn to connect in a different way. I think we are all just yearning for those tiny human interactions that can mean so much.”

Wilkin certainly is. When she performed the play last June, she was well aware that if she contracted Covid that would be the end of the run, so she cycled to and from the theatre and kept her distance even when friends came to see the play and expected to see her in the bar after. “I couldn’t hug somebody after the show and then discover they had Covid the next day and I’d have to isolate. So, I was really strict with myself.”

This time round, she’s hoping to enjoy more of those benefits and boosts that come with having a hit play. She feels lucky to have second crack at the play and says that returning to it is like “greeting an old friend.”

From 2021 performance, photo by Helen Murray.

Wilkin is currently writing a play for Audible and is Headlong’s writer in residence, but she hopes to continue acting and writing in tandem.

“For a long time, I found it difficult to call myself a playwright. I was almost apologetic about the fact I was writing and wanted to write. But winning the Verity Bargate changed that. It allows you to take up that space,” says Wilkin, in an echo of her character’s words. But now she is very definitely naming herself as “an actor playwright or sometimes a playwright actor. I definitely feel joyful putting them both in the same sentence now. I don’t have to be just one or the other.”

She is also aware that she is in it for the long haul.

“Winning the Verity Bargate and having the play on has been a lot. It has been wonderful, but exhausting too. There have definitely been times when I’ve had a creeping self-doubt and wondered whether I will ever write anything again. But I’m learning to push that away and I tell myself that the more I write the more I get a sense of who I am as a writer, what I want to say and what’s burning inside me and needs to come out. I’ve realised it’s a process; not a race.”

Cover image from Shedding a Skin at Soho Theatre from 2nd March to 26th March. Tickets can be found here.

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Lyn Gardner

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