An interview with ‘Mugs Like Us’ Director Emma Sampson


We sat down with ‘Mugs Like Us’ director Emma Sampson to talk photography, identity and just how long it takes to make a show…

Describe each character in one word.

Dorothy: Lost
Rae: Damaged
May: Devious

Apart from the photographs, what inspired you to create this production?

We are incredibly interested in the nature of photography as well as the actual photographs themselves. How true an accurate representation are they of a person? These photos were taken in a time when identity was incredibly fluid and criminals had multiple pseudonyms and disguises, which is why the police decided to start taking photographs. The issue of identity therefore also became very important, how each of these characters represent themselves, how they see themselves and how the camera captures that.

Ultimately, as I think with all crimes, we wanted to get to the heart of why these people might have done what they did. What were their life circumstances? Why were they compelled to commit their crimes? Unfortunately we’ve discovered that women who commit crimes, then and now are often driven to it because of abusive relationships or a desperation to provide for children.

What was your process like? What sort of research went into the different shows?

Our process has been incredibly fun and incredibly long. We first sat down to talk about these plays about five years ago. To be honest I’m not even sure how long ago it was but it was a long time ago. I know that since our first meeting there has been a wedding, two births and one of our writers has moved countries three times.

In a way I think we all could have happily just kept being in a ‘process’ with this work. I have loved bringing three amazing playwrights together and being in a room with them and our creative collaborators Corinne Bibby and Sarah Cowan has just been really enjoyable.
Our research has taken us everywhere; into the history of photography, the nature of photography, the pscychology of the criminal mind, the history of Sydney in the 1920s and the stolen generation in Australia. It’s always been fascinating.

What made you bring these stories to The Space?

The Space is such an amazing venue for supporting and developing artists and new work. It’s always a great place to test something out and as this is the work’s ‘first outing’ and it is likely to have another stage of development we wanted to be amongst friends but friends who would give us their honest opinion. Kind of like taking your sister shopping for your wedding dress…

Do you like photography?

I’m fascinated by the idea of the photograph as a representation of something ‘real’ or of a ‘truth’. I used to work in documentaries and so I’m acutely aware of how every photo is a choice, everything is a construction. I think that’s really at the heart of ‘Mugs Like Us’ because ultimately we have created our own ‘truth’ about these photographs.

My favourite photograph is an old black and white photograph of a man in a very old-fashioned sort of pose. My dad handed it to me when he was throwing out a lot of stuff from my grandparents’ house after they’d died. I asked him who it was, expecting it to be a significant relation and he said ‘I don’t know Emma. Make something up. Instant relative’. And that kind of sums up what I think about photography, it’s something that sits at the centre of a story that we make up.

What would you want the audience to take away with them?

There’s loads that comes up in these pieces they might ponder but ultimately I think they’re going to have a really entertaining night of theatre. These are good stories and great performances and I just hope they enjoy themselves.

Why are these ‘Mugs’ like us?

These characters will entice you, charm you, deceive you and ultimately take you for a mug. But I promise it will be enjoyable.


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