Edinburgh Fringe blog: Bacon playwright Sophie Swithinbank on gender, sexuality and masculine behaviours

The award-winning piece will be staged at Edinburgh Fringe and Bristol Old Vic

A headshot of Sophie Swithinbank and a scene from Bacon, depicting two male pupils gazing into each other's eyes
Sophie Swithinbank / A scene from Bacon (© Ali Wright)

Bacon is about what happens when teenagers learn to bully and humiliate each other before they learn to love and accept themselves. Its two central characters, Mark and Darren, were born from a real act of bullying I witnessed whilst working as a nanny. I began to wonder if the little boy I was looking after might grow up to copy that behaviour, which led me to explore the idea of learned masculine behaviours.

Subsequently, other experiences attached themselves to the story. I connected the bullying incident with my own experiences of difficult relationships and friendships. Through my teenage years I found toxic relationships hard to avoid, because I never saw them coming. My intention with Bacon is to encompass that teenage lack of perspective, full of blindness. By the time you’ve figured out what’s coming next, it’s already happening.

Some people have asked me why I chose to write from the perspective of two teenage boys. Others seem surprised to discover that I am not male, while the play is seemingly rooted in masculinity. It is true to say that I have observed the behaviour of men more than the behaviour of women because men, historically, have been more visible. This is perhaps why I am drawn to writing male-dominated stories. I often feel my natural viewpoint is an open one, not particularly connected to gender, because I have sexual connections with both men and women.

Mark and Darren are the characters through which I can best tell this story and their journey makes perfect sense to me. A number of people, regardless of age or gender, have said on reading the play, ‘this is my story’. The notion that the boys’ story is, in some ways, everyone’s story, is what makes it a complex and vital narrative through which to explore identity and sexuality. The play also explores the binaries of class in relation to sexuality, and how confidence and acceptance can be closely related to social standing.

Bacon is a relationship drama for the modern age. At once tragic and euphoric, it questions whether we can do better to guide teenagers through the process of becoming adults.

This piece is re-mounted by HFH Productions, whose work has been tireless and flawless, even in the face of a number of setbacks. Matthew Illiffe has approached the re-mount with forensic precision, supported by Ryan’s intelligent lighting design, MWEN’s unnerving sound design, and Natalie Johnson’s see-saw design. Mark is played by Corey Montague-Sholay, who will melt your heart, and Darren is played by William Robinson, who will break it.

Matthew, Corey and William all won much-deserved Off West End Awards for their work on Bacon in 2022. The play also won the Peggy Ramsay / Film 4 Award 2023. This award scheme is now supporting me to work on a new play, Beans, which I am developing at the National Theatre.

Bacon runs at Summerhall in Edinburgh from 3 to 27 August (not 14, 21) before heading to Bristol Old Vic (12 to 16 September)