Jack Thorne has a confession to make. The writer might be best known for his work on Skins, the cult TV series about teen life, but he’s so far removed from his target market that when he had a job in Vodafone customer support, he didn’t even own a mobile phone. “I had no idea how to fix any of the problems,” laughs the 31-year-old. “A lot has changed since I was a kid. I didn’t grow up with mobile phones.”
Despite this, he’s always felt comfortable writing teenage characters. He recalls seeing filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski being asked at a Q&A session what he had learned about teenage girls when directing the young actors in My Summer of Love. The director leaned forward and said, “I am far more of a teenage girl than they will ever be.” Thorne feels much the same.
“I hope I can write any sort of character,” says the playwright, who has strayed from writing about teenagers in work such as Cast Offs, the Channel 4 series about a group of disabled people living on an island as part of a reality TV show.
It just so happens that with his latest play, Bunny, he’s back in teen territory. Staged by new writing company Nabokov, it’s a fast-paced drama about Katie, an 18-year-old white girl whose black boyfriend is beaten up by an Asian youth. Set in Luton, where the writer has lived for four years, it’s a vision of a fragmented multicultural society.
“It’s about the racial politics of Luton,” says Thorne, who grew up in the predominantly white town of Newbury. “Luton is a town that is totally divided racially. There are two very clear town centres: the Bury Park which is largely Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi; and then George Street which is more exclusively white and black. The two communities don’t mix.”
Wary about making too obvious a comment about racism in the town that gave us the English Defence League, Thorne has tried to avoid the clichés of white-Asian conflict and write something more sophisticated. He has aimed to capture the character of life in a modern-day British town. “It’s trying to engage with the town,” he says. “Luton is also a really good place, I love it here. My neighbours are amazing.”
His hope is that in setting the play so specifically in one place – with the scene set by multimedia animated projections – audiences will draw a universal story from it. “There are towns like Luton all over the place,” he says. “And the problems that are
true for Katie are just as true for a kid growing up in Newbury. It’s just the specifics of the town that are different.”
Bunny, Underbelly, 5-29 August (not 18), 2.10pm, From £6, Tel: 08445 458 252