WhatsOnStage Logo

Past/Present/Future ... Gruesome Playground Injuries star Mariah Gale

Mariah Gale is currently starring alongside Felix Scott in Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries at the Gate Theatre.

Gale's recent theatre work includes Three Sisters, Vernon God Little (Young Vic), The Pitchfork Disney (Arcola Theatre), The Sea (Haymarket Theatre Royal), 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (Southwark Playhouse) and Twelfth Night (Open Air Theatre), for which she won the Ian Charleson Award.

She has also worked extensively for the RSC, with credits including Silence (with Filter), Morte D'Arthur, The Comedy of Errors, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Love's Labour's Lost and Hamlet.


I was a very shy child. I remember doing an improvisation as a school dinner lady in a drama class when I was about 12 or 13 and I felt bold for the first time. I guess that was my first taste of acting.

I grew up in Twickenham and I spent a couple of years in Brisbane, which is where my mum’s from. I come from a dynasty of architects: both my parents were architects and my mum's two brothers were architectural engineers. So I rebelled.

I went to Youth Action Theatre in Teddington where you didn’t pay any fees and you didn’t have to audition. It was not elitist in anyway - it was very accepting and that is an amazing thing when you’re that age. Acting can be enormously freeing for young people. It has an amazing way of giving anyone and everyone a voice and letting them be listened to.

Mariah Gale & Felix Scott in Gruesome Playground Injuries

I went to Birmingham University before drama school. I was quite naive and needed to have the University experience and do a little bit of growing up. I got to drama school (Guildhall) at 21, by which time I was much more grounded and able to look at myself in an honest way.

It’s a strange experience auditioning for drama school when you haven’t auditioned for much before. It’s like an initiation, a trial by fire. But I think there was something in me, despite the fact that I was shy, that made me very determined. If I could give any advice to anyone it’s that you’ve got to trust yourself and your instincts. I think that applies to the whole job really. You don’t have an opponent; your battle is with yourself.

So I'm glad that I did it that way round, but everybody’s journey is different. I just worked with Gala Gordon, for example, who went to Guildhall when she was very young and then went straight into Three Sisters and was happy and amazing and resilient.


People keep asking me what Gruesome Playground Injuries is about and I’m struggling to find the answer. It’s essentially two people in various rooms trying to communicate with greater or lesser degrees of success. I think the writing is absolutely exquisite. When I got the script I couldn’t resist it; it’s a rare and wonderful thing and I didn’t want to mess it up.

It’s set in Cleveland, Ohio, and it’s about being stuck somewhere you can’t get out of, what your history does to your heart and how to overcome it. There’s a girl and a guy who start out 8 and end up 38, and it’s about their interactions.

It’s got a really exquisite rhythm to it – it’s very witty but it’s also very beautiful. I was speaking to someone who grew up in Ohio and he said three things: It smells of rust, it’s very difficult to get out and sarcasm is very useful. And all of those factors are operating in the play.

A space like the Gate feels like a petri dish after the vastness of Three Sisters. I love the space, but it’s very exposing because the audience is going to be so close to us. There’s nowhere to hide. There’s an instance of nausea during the play and we were joking that if we’re a bit nervous on press night we could always add in a bit of extra vomit.


I haven’t got any concrete plans for the future, but am excited to see where the wind blows me.

I’d certainly like to do more screen work and learn more about that process. When I was at drama school acting for screen wasn’t in the curriculum as much as it needs to be, and what was true then isn’t necessarily true now. It's a slightly different kind of acting, and that’s what I really want to learn about.

In terms of theatre, I’d like to do more contemporary stuff. There are some incredible young writers coming up, like Nick Payne and James Graham, and I think we should support them. I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare and more recently Chekhov, and while I love having these encounters with the classics I think it’s important that our writing legacy continues.

I love work that challenges me. I really don’t have any guide ropes at the moment - I can pretty much do what I want and that’s amazing.

Gruesome Playground Injuries runs from 24 January to 16 February 2013 (previews from 22 January)


Tagged in this Story