Writer Jackie Hagan: ‘I started performing poetry because I’m a human who likes attention’
Following up on her success as a performance poet and comedian, Jackie Hagan has now turned to playwriting. Her debut play, Cosmic Scallies, puts working class and disabled voices on stage and is running at the Edinburgh Fringe in a production with Graeae Theatre. She talks to Tim Bano…
How did you get into performing?
I went to university and went mad. I had a really hard time and ended up in a psychiatric unit. There was a poetry workshop that I went to weekly for survivors of the mental health system. From that I started performing poetry because I’m a human who likes attention. And from performing poetry I realised that I liked the talking bits in-between so I started doing stand-up comedy. I’ve got one leg, so I do a celebrity stump thing where I dress up my stump as celebrities. Obviously.
You incorporate a lot of your own life into your writing, why is that?
You just don’t see many council estate voices and when you do they’re Benefits Street-style stereotypical chav stuff. That winds me up massively. You don’t see working-class voices that are just clever, that aren’t ‘on the rob’ all the time. And then disabled voices as well. I haven’t been disabled long. I had my leg off the year the Paralympics happened, in 2012, and everyone was saying to me ‘you could be a Paralympian’ and I was saying ‘well, you could be an Olympian. It’s the same deal, isn’t it?’ You don’t need to climb mountains with Prince Harry or whatever, there are people who are fully rounded people and disability is just a part of it. Being from a council estate is part of it. Those things are important because you just don’t see them in a good way very often.
What does the title ‘Cosmic Scallies’ mean?
A cosmic scally is someone who just sings their own way. You might have to go about things in a funny way because the game’s rigged. Sometimes people have got to cheat. The play’s set in Skelmersdale [in Lancashire], where I’m from, which is a forgotten town. In the late 1960s town planners built a new town 15 miles away from Liverpool. They had the best intentions but no experience of living on a council estate. You don’t have to ever cross a road in Skem because they’ve built it so that you go over bridges or under subways. But no one does that. Part of being working class is that you haven’t got the time or the energy for frippery, so if there’s a straightforward way of doing something then you do it. People aren’t going to walk the way town planners want them to, they’re not going to go over the bridge, you just go straight across. That’s what a cosmic scally is: you do it your own way.
How did you come to work with Graeae?
They ran a scheme called Write to Play where they get five writers and give you support to write a play. I’d never written plays before, I’d always wanted to but I saw it as something that was a bit out of my league. I thought, ‘am I clever enough?’ Then I got sick. I’ve got something called systemic sclerosis, which shortens your lifespan, and when your lifespan is shortened you don’t give a shit about that stuff anymore. You just go for it. So I got onto this scheme, then they commissioned this play.
Have you taken work to the fringe before?
I’ve done stand-up comedy up there. What I’m used to is being in the basement of a sports bar with the football on, so Summerhall is a step up and that’s really exciting.
CV: Jackie Hagan
First professional role: Some People Have Too Many Legs (2015)