Musings on creativity from Yorkshire's Gangliest Diabetic Buddhist Theatre Director

The Fortune Telling Fish


I remember one Christmas in the cracker was this fish and she squealed with delight – she had had them as a kiddie. Don’t think I’d ever seen one before. She put it on her hand and it curled up a bit and waggled. Then she took it, all delicate, and put it on my palm. It didn’t do nothing, just laid there. Still. Then I looked at her, her eyes shining, and her touching my hand, and suddenly the fish started twisting and leaping on my palm and she laughed and laughed.

I found it the other day in a book she must have been reading before she left, like a bookmark. I put it in my hand and it lay dead still.

I think it must be broken.

Back in June I attended a workshop with Amanda Dalton at the Royal Exchange. She explored different ways of being inspired to tell stories by objects. I realised I have greatly underestimated the importance of objects in my own work and I’ve been thinking about this ever since. I think about the people, the relationships, the situations, wants and needs, but I’d forgotten that objects can tell the story of all those things.

The Architect


Kate comes into the hospital room and puts her bag down heavily on a chair. Karen, fragile and elderly, is asleep in the bed, tubes attached. Subika, in nurse’s uniform, is tidying up. Kate gives her a nod, and picks up one of the many architect plans curled up on side tables. She picks up a pencil and holds it up quizzically.

SUBIKA: (Sofly) She’s been making some alterations.

Kate rolls her eyes. Then moves over to look at Karen.

KATE:   It’s all work, work, work, isn’t it mum?

SUBIKA: She’ll probably be asleep for a while yet.

Subika continues to tidy. Kate stares at Karen.

KATE:   I wish we could have talked. I mean really talked. About music, or books, or feelings. Anything really. Anything other than which firm I was going to join once my apprenticeship was over. Which commissions I was putting in for. Which she was putting in for. One last push for the big signature building that would mean she’d be remembered. Or the breakthrough for me which meant they’d remember her through me. Just once, I’d like to have talked about something else. About you, about me.

SUBIKA: I’ve heard a lot of people talk like that about their parents. But normally after they’ve died. You can still have that conversation.

KATE:   I’m not sure either of us have the energy now.

KAREN’s eyes flicker open.

KAREN: Ah, Kate. How’s the tender for the Shaw House going?

KATE:   Beat. I’m sorry mum, I’ve got to go, just heard – waves phone unconvincingly.

KAREN: Quite right! Go get ‘em.

KATE leaves, avoiding eye contact with Subika.

KAREN: Give me a lift up will you. I’ve got to get this glass wall right for the Bayer Building.pexels-photo-239886.jpeg


Life, But Not As We Know It

galaxy-infinity-milky-way-110854 (1)

ULRIKE and MUN YI are sitting on some rocks, surrounded by thick primordial soup with a green film on it.

MUN YI:   Seriously though, what were you expecting?


ULRIKE:   I don’t know.


They stare at the goup.


ULRIKE:   It’s just. . .




ULRIKEL:  I don’t know. It was just,.. I thought it would be.. . That we would find. . . Something else.


MUN YI:   You thought we’d find Greys didn’t you?




MUN YI:   Come on, you thought we’d find big gangly grey aliens with big heads who’d try and probe you?


ULRIKE:   No! No, I was not imagining probing. I just thought we’d have a chat.


Silence. The slime pops.


MUN YI:   But it is life. We’re not alone! After all this time, life!


ULRIKE:   Yeah.




ULRIKE:   It’s just. I thought it might have the answers for us.


MUN YI:   What answers?


ULRIKE:   You know, the answers to the big questions.


MUN YI:   What, the answer to life, the universe and everything?


ULRIKE:   Fuck off.


MUN YI:   Well then?


ULRIKE:   Just, how we could be better. How we could stop making such a fucking mess of it all.


MUN YI:   And what might they say?


ULRIKE:   Like, love one another, treasure your precious little planet, grow up and stop squabbling. That kind of thing.


MUN YI:   But we already know all of that, don’t we?


ULRIKE:   Yeah. I suppose.


MUN YI:   We already know that that’s the answer, right?


ULRIKE:   Yeah.


MUN YI:   But we don’t do it do we?




MUN YI:   So, why would we do it if a gangly grey alien with a big head told us to do it? In fact, if a gangly grey alien with a big head turned up and told us to all love each other and treasure our precious little planet, grow up and stop squabbling, what would we do?


ULRIKE:   We’d tell it to fuck off?


MUN YI:   And?


ULRIKE:   We’d nuke the fucker.


MUN YI:   We would nuke the fucker.


ULRIKE:   So it’s probably just as well, I guess.


MUN YI:   I guess so. Pause. And what have we learnt from this particular alien, the small green gloopy one?




The slime goes pop.


ULRIKE:   (Puts her finger in her mouth and pops it.)


MUN YI:   (Nods. Puts her finger in her mouth and pops it.)




The slime goes pop.

ULRIKE and MUN YI are sitting on some rocks, surrounded by thick primordial soup with a green film on it. 

MUN YI:   Seriously though, what were you expecting? 

ULRIKE:   I don’t know.

They stare at the goop. 

ULRIKE:   It’s just. . .


ULRIKEL:  I don’t know. It was just,.. I thought it would be.. . That we would find. . . Something else.

MUN YI:   You thought we’d find Greys didn’t you?


MUN YI:   Come on, you thought we’d find big gangly grey aliens with big heads who’d try and probe you? 

ULRIKE:   No! No, I was not imagining probing. I just thought we’d have a chat.

Silence. The slime pops.

MUN YI:   But it is life. We’re not alone! After all this time, life!

ULRIKE:   Yeah.


ULRIKE:   It’s just. I thought it might have the answers for us.

MUN YI:   What answers?

ULRIKE:   You know, the answers to the big questions.

MUN YI:   What, the answer to life, the universe and everything? 

ULRIKE:   Fuck off.

MUN YI:   Well then?

ULRIKE:   Just, how we could be better. How we could stop making such a fucking mess of it all.

MUN YI:   And what might they say?

ULRIKE:   Like, love one another, treasure your precious little planet, grow up and stop squabbling. That kind of thing.

MUN YI:   But we already know all of that, don’t we?

ULRIKE:   Yeah. I suppose.

MUN YI:   We already know that that’s the answer, right?

ULRIKE:   Yeah.

MUN YI:   But we don’t do it do we?


MUN YI:   So, why would we do it if a gangly grey alien with a big head told us to do it? In fact, if a gangly grey alien with a big head turned up and told us to all love each other and treasure our precious little planet, grow up and stop squabbling, what would we do?

ULRIKE:   We’d tell it to fuck off?

MUN YI:   And?

ULRIKE:   We’d nuke the fucker.

MUN YI:   We would nuke the fucker.

ULRIKE:   So it’s probably just as well, I guess.

MUN YI:   I guess so. Pause. And what have we learnt from this particular alien, the small green gloopy one?


The slime goes pop.

ULRIKE:   (Puts her finger in her mouth and pops it.)

MUN YI:   (Nods. Puts her finger in her mouth and pops it.)


The slime goes pop.


Grayscale Photography of the Kelpies

Hannah is stood by some railings, looking over. SR is a ramp leading down towards the audience. She is sobbing gently. Sound of gentle water lapping.  

Harry walks past, swinging from a can. 

Notices Hannah.

HARRY            (Loud) Hey there, lovely lady! Why the tears?

Hannah wafts him away. 

HARRY            (Quieter.) Hey, no, seriously, babe. Why the crying? 

She turns away.

He sidles up and nudges her.

HARRY            Come on love? What’s up?

She looks down.

HARRY            I come here sometimes. When I need to get away from it all. Have a bit of a think. Not very often, obviously, cus thinking’s hard. I’m more of doer than a thinker! A lover not a fighter. But, yeah, it’s good down here. Watch the old Thames lapping up. And lapping down.

She looks up.

And sometimes (He throws the can over) it can take my troubles away with it.

Points after the can.

                        Bob. Bob. Bob. And now it’s gone.


                        What would be your problem, love? What do you want to throw away?

HANNAH         My boyfriend. He – Starts sobbing.

HARRY            Hey, hey, it’s alright.

HANNAH         No it’s not.

HARRY            Well, then, let’s make it alright. You got anything of his?

She rummages in her purse. Takes out a key ring with a fabric horse on it.

HANNAH         He gave me this.

HARRY            Well then. This is him. (Takes the keys off and hands them back to her.) This is him and all his shitty, not okay, behaviour. What do you want to say to him?

HANNAH         I want to say. . .

HARRY            Go on.

HANNAH         Fuck off Gary!

HARRY            Go on.

HANNAH         You’re a stupid twat, Garry, I can’t believe you’d go with her and I wish you’d fuck off and die.

HARRY            Yeah, that’s it!

HANNAH         And you were rubbish in bed, you’ve got a tiny cock and pimples on your arse and I fucking hate you Garry Spence!

HARRY            Yeah, alright, that’s done it. Now throw it away.

HANNAH grabs it from him and chucks it into the water. They both watch it bob away. She seems lighter.


HARRY            I know a story about a horse. (She looks at him. Pause.) N’ah it’s silly

HANNAH         Aww, go on.

HARRY            N’ah, you wouldn’t like it. It’s one of them fairy stories. Kid’s stuff.

HANNAH         Tell me.

HARRY            N’ah.

HANNAH         Pleeease.

HARRY            Alright, well in olden times, there was this magical horse, right?

HANNAH         Like a unicorn?

HARRY            Like a unicorn. But less horny.

HANNAH         Right.

HARRY            It’s this beautiful horse right. Fit and lively. And women, when they see the horse, they just can’t help themselves, they just want to get their leg over it.

HANNAH giggles.

HARRY            It’s not funny! They take one look at this horse with it’s flowing – what they call it? Yeah, mane – it’s got this flowing mane (Tosses his head) and these women see it and they just want to go for a ride.

HANNAH         Yeah?

HARRY            Look, I’ll show you. Bends slightly. Get on!

HANNAH         What?

HARRY            Hop on, I’ll show you! Piggy back! Well, horsey back!

HANNAH         You’re mad, you!

HARRY            Come on, let’s go for a ride.


HANNAH         Alright!

She jumps on.

HARRY            And then this horse goes for a ride, right! And it’s the most amazing ride these women have ever had. I mean this horse can keep it going for hours (running round the stage.) Up and down, up and down, it’s got stamina. (He jolts her up and down. She squeals.) And they fucking love it! Time of their lives! And the horse keeps on going until, eventually – (he stops at the top of the ramp.)

HANNAH         Yeah?

HARRY            Yeah what?

HANNAH         What happens then?

HARRY            When?

She play slaps him.

HANNAH         Once they’ve gone for this looong ride. Then what happens?

HARRY            What do you think happens?

HANNAH         Well, if this horse is like any boys I know after he’s had his ride he dumps them of his back and runs off.

HARRY            Oh no! Not this horse!

HANNAH         No?

HARRY            Oh no! He sticks with them, the women who ride him, till the ends of their lives!

HANNAH         Aww!

HARRY            He takes them to a river. And they look out at it.

HANNAH         Awww!

He starts to walk down the ramp.

HANNAH         Then what happens?

HARRY            Hey?

HANNAH         What happens when he gets to the river?

HARRY            Oh! Then –

He is nearing the bottom of the ramp.

HANNAH         (Squealing with delight.) Look, out you nutter! You’re getting your shoes all wet!

HARRY            Then – he goes right up to the river.

HANNAH         (Laughing!) Careful! Don’t slip!

HARRY            Then he takes them right down to the water’s edge.

HANNAH         You’re crazy you!

HARRY            And then he jumps in. With them on his back. And he drowns them. And he eats them.


HANNAH         Oh.

He jumps forward. Blackout.


WARNING: I did almost no research on this one; that’s what happens if you write a play in a day – research and drafting fall by the way-side. But I think the idea holds true, even if the details are sketchy.

Also – swears


KELLY, white, early 40s, is clearing up her breakfast in a family kitchen.

KELLY               Laura! You’ll be late for netball!

SIMON, a black man in his early 40s comes in, sifting post. Sits. Pours himself some sugary cereal and munches as he sifts. 

KELLY               Anything exciting?

SIMON            Bil, bill, circular, pizza menu, bill – ooh!

KELLY               ‘Ooh?’

SIMON            It’s come!

KELLY               What’s has?

SIMON            Our future! The deepest secrets hidden in our lives!

KELLY               Sounds awful. What are you talking about?

SIMON            You remember last month when I got you to do those mouth swabs?

KELLY               Yes?

SIMON            Well the results are in! The secrets of our DNA!

KELLY               Simon, darling, this will come as a shocking surprise to you but I wasn’t really listening when we did the swabs – I just went along with it to shut you up.

SIMON            I’d never have guessed!

KELLY               So, do you want to take it from the top?

SIMON            From the saliva sample I sent they can analyse your genetic make up – they map your whole genome and run it against they’re database and they tell you things about yourself.

KELLY               Such as?

SIMON            Well. . . gene 7912 mine says that genetically my heart is likely to be strong. I have 2413 a slight tendency towards weight gain.

Kelly reaches over the table and slides his cereal bowl away from him.

                        Ha, ha. (Pause) Oh. Oh no.

KELLY               What?

SIMON            Oh God.

KELLY               What?!

SIMON            Oh my –

KELLY               WHAT IS IT YOU ARSE?!

SIMON            5028. I have a mild intolerance for coffee. I think my life is over.

KELLY              Mild intolerance versus never being awake? Tough call!

SIMON            I will find a way to soldier on.

KELLY               Alright, then Professor, let’s see mine.

SIMON            Well, it says here that genetically you are beautiful but very annoying.

KELLY snatches it from him.

KELLY               7823. Relatively tall. Nailed it. 3103 slight hypertension – (Pushes her own coffee away from her.) 5067 green eyes. You paid how much for this?

SIMON            Doesn’t it say ‘green eyes, exceptionally beautiful.’

KELLY               Creep. Well, according to this I am genetically average in every conceivable way. How dull.

SIMON            Not to me you’re not!

KELLY               Thank you!

SIMON            You are definitely never dull.

She thumps him playfully.

Let’s see what Laura’s says.

KELLY               You did Laura?

SIMON            Yes.

KELLY               Without asking her?

SIMON            Well, she said yes to a swab.

KELLY               But did you explain what it was for?

SIMON            No, wanted it to be a surprise.

KELLY               Shouldn’t we wait till she comes down.

SIMON            C’mon, just a peak. Don’t you want scientific confirmation that our daughter is extraordinary?

KELLY               I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me that.

SIMON            C’mon. Let’s have a look!

KELLY               Alright, fine – get on with it.

SIMON            7823 – relatively tall.

KELLY               Boom! That’s down to me.

SIMON            5067 – green eyes.

KELLY               Double boom! Told you she took after me. Mama’s got strong genes.

SIMON            Oh god, this is a long one. 8291. ‘The protein encoded by this gene belongs to the ferlin family and is a skeletal muscle protein found associated with the sarcolemma. It is involved in muscle contraction and contains C2 domains that play a role in calcium-mediated membrane fusion events, suggesting that it may be involved in membrane regeneration and repair. In addition, the protein encoded by this gene binds caveolin-3, a skeletal muscle membrane protein which is important in the formation of caveolae. Specific mutations in this gene have been shown to cause autosomal recessive limb girdle muscular dystrophy type 2B.’

KELLY               What the fuck?

SIMON            Erm. . .

KELLY               No, seriously, what the fuck does that mean?

SIMON            Mutation in 8291 causes autosomal recessive limb girdle muscular dystrophy type 2B.


KELLY               What the fuck is that!

SIMON            Hang on! (Rifles through the papers.) Here it is! Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, type 2B is one of many forms of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, a group of disorders that affect the voluntary muscles of the hips and shoulders. LGMD2B is characterized by early weakness and wasting (atrophy) of the pelvic and shoulder girdle muscles in adolescence or young adulthood. The age of onset typically ranges from 15 to 35 years, and legs are usually affected first. Symptoms include the inability to tiptoe and difficulty walking and running.  Cardiac (heart) and respiratory involvement is uncommon. It is usually slowly progressive, with need of a wheelchair 10 to 20 years after onset.


LAURA, mixed-race, 15, bounds on in her netball costume.

LAURA             Come on mum! We’ll be late!

Kisses Simon.

                        See you later Dad!

Grabs the car keys from a hook on the wall.

                        C’mon mum, I’ll be in the car!

She heads out. Kelly and Simon sit, unmoving.


Now that we’re at the end I can unpack some of my thinking on this – reading it back I wondered if it was ableist, making the diagnosis of a condition into a tragedy. The day nine year-old me became diabetic felt like a tragedy. But to 40 year old me it’s more of a constant low-level irritation. Although I’d definitely not swap my diabetes for the condition here, I am very sure that there are people with Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, type 2B who are living full and happy lives and making a difference in the world. I’m sure there are others with the condition who feel they could be living full and happy lives if society offered them better support. In short, I think the snap-shot here is true – a diagnosis like this feels like a bereavement, a loss which must be mourned. But it would be interesting to revisit our three characters over the following years and see if that feeling evolves into something else.

Boundary Issues

KIMMY is sitting on a JESSICA’s bed in student digs. JESS has put some effort into making her room feel at home – there’s study books but also posters, cushions, cuddly toys, maybe a pot plant. KIMMY is painting her nails.

JESS comes in, obviously having had a bad day, throws her bag down on the desk (which is line of sight from the door), then turns with a sigh – sees Kimmy, and jumps.

JESS:                Agh!

KIMMY:           Hey Jessie! Good day?

JESS:                You startled me!

KIMMY:           I came in to borrow your nail polish. That’s okay, right?

JESS:                Oh. That’s why I keep running out. Beat. Is that my t-shirt?

KIMMY:           Yeah, my stuff’s in the wash. Figured you wouldn’t mind.

JESS:                Right.

KIMMY:           So how was the meeting today?

JESS:                Yeah, the Prof was riding me a bit. About the last essay being late and all. Like, it’s fine, it’s just a bit. . . you know.

KIMMY:           Yeah. He’s a cock.

JESS:                I guess. I think it’s more about me getting my shit together.

KIMMY:           I suppose. But there’s no need for him to be mean about it.

JESS:                Yeah.


JESS:                I saw the groups for the practical module were up.

KIMMY:           Cool huh?

JESS:                Us being in a group together?

KIMMY:           Yeah!

JESS:                The other were saying that they were asked who they wanted to be in groups with.

KIMMY:           Yeah, it was that day you were all full of lurgy. So I signed us up together. Didn’t want to disturb you.

JESS:                Right.


KIMMY:           What are we doing tonight then?

JESS:                Beat. Well, I’ve been invited to a party.

KIMMY:           Oooh! Where is it?

JESS:                Over in Goldeney.

KIMMY:           Oooh – Goldeney. What should I wear?

JESS:                Huh?

KIMMY:           I mean all my stuff is in the wash. Ooh – can I borrow your red dress.

JESS:                I’m wearing my red dress.

KIMMY:           That’s fine. I like your blue one too. What time Is it?

JESS:                Err, sorry, Kim, like, I’m going to the party, not ‘we are going to the party.’

KIMMY:           Beat. Sorry?

JESS:                Mark asked me. To go. With him. Me and Mark.

KIMMY:           Oh. Beat. Oh. Beat. Well, that’s fine. I’ll come with you and then just hang out till your done.

JESS:                I don’t think that’s going to work Kimmy. I’m going to be with Mark the whole time.

KIMMY:           Well I’m sure you won’t be with him the whole time, you’ll need someone to hang with when he’s talking to his friends.

JESS:                I’m not sure he’s planning on talking with his friends.

KIMMY:           Yeah, that’s what boys are like. You’ll need me. I’ll be your wing woman.

JESS:                Errr, or you could find something else to do?

KIMMY:           Like what?

JESS:                You could go down the union.

KIMMY:           Nah, don’t like it.

JESS:                Or Watershed, I heard some of the gang from the department are heading down there.

KIMMY:           Nah, don’t like them.

JESS:                Or you could catch up on Netflix.

KIMMY:           Nah, it’s not as good without you. I’d sooner come with you. It will be cool.

JESS:                Look, err Kimmy. . .

Kimmy does pleading eyes.

JESS:                Err, okay, but don’t get all moody when I’m spending time with Mark.

KIMMY:           That’s okay. I’m sure you wouldn’t abandon me completely.


JESS:                Right, better go shower.

KIMMY:           Oh and Jess!

JESS:                Huh?

KIMMY:           You should wear your blue dress. Brings out your eyes.

JESS:                Okay.

JESS leaves for the shower.

KIMMY:           Painting her nails. And then I can wear your red one.







Moving Lights

I will be honest, of all of these plays, I really want to stage this one. Please someone commission me to do it!


The stage is lit. It is empty apart from five moving lights which are fixed to the floor in semi-circle with the open-end to the audience. The lights are referred to here as 1 – 5, with 1 being SR and 5 being SL. There is just enough haze to make the beams of the movers clear when lit.

As the piece starts the house lights slowly fade out and the light on stage goes to a low level (so we can still make out each moving light.) 

The moving lights suddenly snap into sharp angles.

Europe’s The Final Countdown starts. Loud.

During the lead-in the lights turn on, narrow focus and make slow, graceful arcs with their tight beams of white light, across the space. Then when the guitar kicks-in they make bolder direct beams, snapping on and off. This goes on long enough (probably about the time the lyrics start) for us to be impressed and to get the gist of the light-show.

Gradually it becomes apparent that 1 has started to lag behind the others.

This becomes more and more noticeable; the others keep doing the precise and energetic light show until stated otherwise.

1 starts to drift down towards SR, tries to lift up to join the others, but slowly drifts down again.

Finally 1 settles with its beam on 5.

1’s beam softens and slowly turns pink.

1’s beam starts to gently pulse, like a heart beat, slower than the beat of the music.

5’s beam starts to flick down, as if distracted, then tries to keep up with the beat. This happens twice. 

5’s beam finally comes down all the way to focus, open white on 1.

Slowly 2 – 4’s lights also come down and focus on 1. The music stops

1’s suddenly goes to white and scans across 2 – 4. It then snaps up.

2 and 4 drift back up to position.

3’s light, looks at 1, then sharply at 5, then back at 1, it narrows and brightens. Then it snaps become up. The music comes back on.

As before, 1 is in time, then falls out, and quite quickly returns to bouncing a pink late off 5.

5 realises and shines back at him.

3 stops and snaps at 1. The music stops. 2 and 4 come down too and look at 1, then back at 5.

5’s beam on 1 slowly narrows, becomes pink, then starts to pulse with the same beat.

3’s beam widens and goes blood red.

2 and 4 look at 1, then at 3, then slowly look up and meander around the space.

1 starts to move his pulsing pink light over 5.

5 shudders.

5 starts to move her pulsing pink light over 1.

3 looks between them sharply, and becomes an even deeper red.

1 and 5 continue to run their lights over each other. 

3 starts to flick back and forward between them, then starts to vibrate.

Smoke starts to come out of 3.

A pyro behind 3 goes off sending sparks everywhere and 3’s light goes out.

1 and 5’s pink lights grow brighter and start to move off each other to dance together in the space, occasionally the beams caress each other.

2 and 4, still white, accompany as backing dancers.

Debussy’s Claire de Lune plays.

As the music swells 2 and 4 peel off and fade to black.

1 and 5 return to each other, wide pink, pulsing.

Their beams narrow.

The pulse slows.

Their light fades. 






Notification of Death

I actually did some research for this one, in that I read a pamphlet on how to break the news that someone’s loved one has died. It’s a thing I sometimes think about – would I be able to do it? How would I feel receiving the news? We talk about each moment being previous but this is a tangible moment where you measure your life before it, and your life after it, where everything is different. Anyway, this play isn’t about that, really, but that’s where it started in my head.


Notification of Death

The ground floor of a house. The front door is visible SR and it goes straight into an open lounge area – there’s a flight of stairs going up centre stage and then the door to the kitchen SL. The flat is clean and relatively tidy with a few signs of personality; a pink lace cushion, a shelf with Forever Friend ceramic bears on it, etc.

SARAH is passed out on the couch. She is wearing smart business clothes.

The door bell rings. SARAH doesn’t move.

The door bell rings. SARAH suddenly grunts and sits up. She’s bewildered.

The door bell rings again. SARAH realises it’s the door and unsteadily walks towards it.

The door bell rings again. She fumbles the keys, which are on a hook by the door, and then finally manages to open it.

On the other side are AISHA, and TIM, police officers in full uniform.

SARAH is suddenly rigid and wide awake.

AISHA: Hello. Are you Sarah Bolam?


AISHA: Mrs Bolam, may we come in?

ADREA: No. . . What. . . Why?

TIM: Mrs Bolam. I’m Officer Timothy Kent, and this is Officer Aisha Kazi. We need to speak to you. May we come in please?

SARAH stares at TIM then nods and walks away from the door, leaving it open.

AISHA: Thank you Mrs Bolam.

They enter, Aisha shutting the door behind them. They both look around the room as they come into the centre.

SARAH stops and turns to look at them.

AISHA: May we sit?

SARAH nods. AISHA gestures to the sofa.

AISHA: Here?

SARAH nods. They sit on the sofa; AISHA noticing the vodka bottle as she does so. SARAH stays standing.

AISHA: You should sit too, Mrs Bolam.

SARAH sits straight down on the armchair.

AISHA: I’m afraid we have bad news.

SARAH is unmoving. 

TIM: I am very sorry to tell you that Steven Bolam died a little under two hours ago.

SARAH stares at him.

AISHA: Mrs Bolam – would you like me to call you Mrs Bolam or would you prefer me to call you Sarah?

SARAH stares at TIM, and continues to do so throughout:

AISHA: Mrs Bolam, we would like to tell you what we know at present about your husband’s death. We understand that this may upset or disturb you. Please stop me at any time and feel free to interrupt me if there is anything that we say which you do not understand, dislike, or need repeating. You may take notes if you wish. Would you like to do that?

SARAH stares at TIM

At 5pm your husband left work and was driving back here using the ring road. His car was described as driving at high speed, in a manner consistent with brake failure. We believe that, in attempt not to hit an on-coming lorry, he swerved, lost control of the vehicle and struck a tree to the side of the road. The lorry driver pulled over and phoned for an ambulance. Unfortunately, by the time the ambulance arrived Mr Bolam had already passed away; it appears he suffered a fatal head wound on impact, although that will need to be confirmed by the coroner.

His body has been taken to the York City morgue. Once you have hired undertakers they will be able to collect the body there, as the autopsy should be complete by tomorrow.

Mr Bolam’s car was irrevocably damaged and has been taken away for analysis to identify if a fault was responsible for the incident and then it will be destroyed. We have here the case number of the incident for you to use when contacting the insurance company, and here (she proffers a carrier bag) are the personal effects we removed from the vehicle.

SARAH continues to stare at TIM. AISHA slowly places the bag on the sofa next to her.

TIM: Mrs Bolam. It was an accident. A tragic accident. And no one was to blame for it. We are very sorry for your loss.

AISHA looks at him sharply then looks back at SARAH

AISHA: Do you have any questions, Mrs Bolam?

Beat. SARAH suddenly stands.

SARAH: You must be thirsty. I’ll make you tea.

AISHA: No really, Mrs Bolam there’s no. . .

SARAH turns and walks into the kitchen and closes the door behind her. AISHA immediately turns to TIM.

AISHA: Why did you say that?

TIM: What?

AISHA: About no one being to blame?

TIM: Well, what? Nobody is to blame!

AISHA: That’s not up to us to decide – that’s up to the coroner.

TIM: Yeah, but it wasn’t anybody’s fault. Did you see the look on the poor lorry driver’s face? He’d have caved and told us if he’d been going too fast. The shakes on him.

AISHA: Not our call, Tim, stick to your training!

The sound of a kettle boiling off stage.

I do death notifications all the time. This is your first, right?

TIM: Yeah, and I appreciate you letting me come with.

AISHA: Don’t know why you were so keen.

TIM: Got to start using all that training sometime, right?

Pause. AISHA picks up the bottle of vodka. 

AISHA: There’s something not right here. 

SARAH suddenly comes back in.

SARAH: Biscuits?

AISHA: No, thank you.

TIM: No, no, thank you, Mrs Bolam.

SARAH abruptly turns and leaves.

Tim looks at the bottle.

TIM: So? She likes a drink?

AISHA: At 7:20 on a Tuesday evening?

TIM: Maybe she’s got a problem?

AISHA: That’s what’s weird. Does this look like the house of an alcoholic? Place is spotless.

TIM: Is that what they teach you when you become a family liaison officer? How to snoop into the public’s drinking habits?

SARAH comes back in with a tray which she puts on the coffee table. She is now wearing an apron with a large front pocket. She passes AISHA a tea, and then does the same for TIM. He nurses it. SARAH sits.

AISHA: Did you have any questions for us, Mrs Bolam?

SARAH (Pause. Not looking at Aisha:) Will I have to see the body?

AISHA: No. We were able to identify his body from the photo on his driving license so you won’t have to see Steven’s body until he’s been prepared by the undertakers. Or at all, if you’d prefer not to.

SARAH: I see. (Beat.) Do I need to sign anything?

AISHA: Not today, no. There will be paperwork at the morgue but the undertaker’s should be able to complete those on your behalf.


AISHA: I have this letter for you which details how to contact me if you have any further questions, and details when you can expect to hear from the coroner’s and about the inquest, which of course you are free to attend, but are not required to do so unless we inform you otherwise. I also have this leaflet about grief counselling services in the area.

AISHA offers the paperwork to SARAH who does not move, so she places them on the table. As she does so: 

AISHA: Black tea.

TIM: Sorry?

AISHA: Your tea is black. Mine’s got milk in it.

TIM: Yeah, I like mine black – lactose intolerant, you know that.

AISHA: I know that. But how does she?

SARAH: } He said –

TIM: } She asked me –


TIM: Just now.


AISHA: No she didn’t.


AISHA: Mrs Bolam, do you usually drink vodka at this time?


AISHA: Where you at work today?

SARAH: Yes, you can phone the office if you like.

AISHA: Where is the office?

SARAH: Barretts and Johnson, Gillygate.

AISHA: What time did you finish work?

SARAH: Normal time. 5pm. I try and be strict.

AISHA: So you left work, came straight back here and drank most of this bottle of vodka?

SARAH: (Beat.) It had been a tough day.

TIM: Mrs Bolam, you don’t need to answer these questions, you’re not been accused of anything.

SARAH: (Looking at Tim.) Where did you go for lunch, today, Tim? We didn’t see you in the canteen. In fact, we didn’t see you between dropping off that shoplifter at Liddl and then you turned up at the car crash. You got there very quickly too. Almost like you knew it would happen. And the hour or so when I didn’t see you would be enough to go Mr Bolam’s place of work and cut his brake cables, wouldn’t they?

SARAH starts to reach for her radio. TIM reaches over and takes it off her.

TIM: Look Aisha, me and Sarah love each other. We’ve been together for years now but Steven wouldn’t give her a divorce, so –

AISHA: Timothy Kent, you are under arrest. You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.

SARAH takes out a large kitchen knife from her apron and lunges at AISHA’s back. 


Two plays about communication

I noticed, re-reading the plays I wrote in 28 Plays Later, that two of them were on a common theme; the emergence of new emotional tools. Here’s the first:


A white room, two white plastic chairs. Doors SL and SR

SAMEERA enters SL, wearing a white suit.

RUBY enters SR, identical.

The two nod at each other.

They sit neutrally.

SAMEERA: What is the topic?

RUBY: Gender equality.

SAMEERA: What assertions are you positing?

RUBY: One, despite substantial improvements in the last 120 years, women, on average are still disadvantaged in society.

Two, that this is not morally acceptable.

Three, that action needs to be taken.

SAMEERA: One. Define your terms.

RUBY: Substantial improvements would include that women-

SAMEERA: Clarification. Define the meaning of society in this assertion.

RUBY: The West.

SAMEERA: Clarify.

RUBY: Retraction. Britain.

SAMEERA: Clarify.

RUBY: Britain, circa 2017.

SAMEERA: Define ‘substantial improvements’ for women in Britain between 1897 and 2017.

RUBY: One, women in Britain are now able to vote.

Two, women in Britain are now legally protected from domestic violence.

Three, women in Britain are now able to own property.

Four, women in Britain are legally protected from discrimination in employment.

SAMEERA: Elaborate on ‘still disadvantaged.’

RUBY: One, women in Britain are more likely to suffer domestic violence.

SAMEERA: Clarify ‘more likely’ than who?

RUBY: Women in Britain are more likely to suffer domestic violence than men.

SAMEERA: Proceed.

RUBY: Two, women in Britain earn 17.5% less than their male counterparts.

SAMEERA: Clarify ‘male counterparts.’

RUBY: Men in equivalent roles in the same profession.

SAMEERA: Proceed.

RUBY: Three, women in Britain are more likely than men to encounter sexual harassment in the workplace.

SAMEERA: Define ‘sexual harassment.’

RUBY: Bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours.

SAMEERA: Define ‘on average.’

RUBY: Oh, good –

SAMEERA slightly inclines her head. RUBY returns to neutral.

RUBY: On average means that while there will be individual cases where a man is disadvantaged in a particular situation versus a woman, that, on average, the significant advantage lies with men.

SAMEERA: Clarify.

RUBY: In any given situation, a man is more likely to have an advantage over women than a woman is to have an advantage over a man.

SAMEERA: What possible counter-arguments are there?

RUBY: Citing of individual examples where a man has advantage over a woman.

SAMEERA: Response?

RUBY: The assertion ‘on average’ acknowledges that there are some situations where a woman might have advantage over a man but the likelihood in any given situation is that the man will have the advantage over a woman.

SAMEERA: Define ‘morally unacceptable.’

RUBY: Pause. Further preparation required.

SAMEERA: Time required?

RUBY: One day.

SAMEERA: Nods. Till tomorrow.

RUBY stands and leaves. 

SAMEERA stands and leaves.



In the past I have encountered clean language: a therapeutic tool aiming to ‘reduce to a minimum any influence from the facilitator’s ‘map of the world’ via the therapee’s metaphors, interpretations or unwarranted assumptions.’ (My play in no way depicts actual clean language, though!) I have also been exploring coaching, and the power of questions to clarify thought. While I’m very interested in in gender equality, in the writing I was more interested about how one person could, by being as ‘clean’ and neutral as possible. enable another to develop their thinking. (Reading it back Sameera interrupts which is a big coaching no-no.) Of course, the real value of therapy or coaching also lies in actually having a human being listen to you, as Nancy Kline discusses in her book A Time to Think, but at the time part of me was yearning for a gentle, emotionally-cooler way of exploring ideas than the heated polemics on social media.


Then I explored a different idea, that sometimes the best communication between two people might be silent:


Sasha enters the house, looking harassed. She’s wearing loose, comfortable clothing in light colours. The lounge is simple – no obvious screens, but there are some pictures on the wall, mainly landscapes. Abhin enters from the kitchen and looks at Sasha.

She sighs.

He takes both of her hands and they kneel together on a rug in the centre of the room.

They sit, cross-legged, holding hands. They look into each other’s eyes.

Several minutes pass during which something is happening, but there’s no obvious movement or expression.

Slowly they break, stretching life back into their limbs. They stand.

They hug and he kisses her gently on the mouth.

She sits on the couch with a contented sigh.

Abhin re-enters with a cup of tea and passes it to Sasha.

Abhin makes a gesture and music begins to play, the light shifts slightly, becoming warmer.

ABHIN: Good?

SASHA: Good.


 When I’m teaching acting to students I lead an exercise where I ask them to stand completely still; no fidgeting, no raising an eye brow or the corner of a mouth, nothing, and then hold eye contact with each other and have a silent conversation. I’ve yet to see a group who felt that nothing was communicated in that time, and some have quite profound experiences. I must have been taught that exercise by someone but as I’ve been using it for 20 years I forget who!

I sometimes wonder what the effect of it would be in terms of a relationship, rather than a theatre workshop, hence the above vignette; imaging a world in which we are unafraid to be really present with another person in complete silence.

If anyone wants to see some of my professional work, Horace and the Yeti is out on the road, and my more Buddhist project, Generation Hope is thundering towards March 17th!

Five Short Plays About Hope: 5

CONTAINS: Swears, Unreasonable expectations of empathy

(Best to read from the beginning if you haven’t already.)

I love theatre with something to say, which makes me think, gives me new ideas or ways of viewing the world. For example, last year, Rash Dash’s Two Man Show changed how I thought about gender (see it if you can!) However, I’m not in favour of hectoring an audience so I don’t think I would ever want the following piece staged! But as a companion piece to the previous four it throws up some interesting things for me. I’ll see you on the other side.


Half a tube carriage. Half full. Specifically UZMA, LAURA and AMINA are sat on three consecutive seats. AMINA is reading a book, LAURA is on her phone.

UZMA starts to cry.

LAURA notices but goes back to playing on her phone.

UZMA completely breaks down.

LAURA looks at UZMA and then looks around – no one else has noticed. 

LAURA tries to go back to her phone.

LAURA gives up, rummages in her bag and tentatively offers UZMA a tissue.

UZMA takes it with a nod but carries on sobbing. 

LAURA wavers then goes back to her phone.

LAURA looks up again and opens her mouth to speak – but then goes back to her phone.

AMINA suddenly looks up and says to us:

AMINA: So, you’re probably expecting that this young woman on my right will, eventually ask this other woman, the crying one, what’s up with her. Because this is a play, right? It’s the inciting incident. There’ll be a heart to heart exchange. Possibly a great, emotional speech for the crying woman which will show of the playwright’s talents and tug at your heart strings.

AMINA goes back to her book.

LAURA plays with her phone.

UZMA sobs.

This carries on for a good thirty seconds.

AMINA: (Suddenly looking up again.) Yeah, she won’t. The phone woman won’t. Ask the crying woman what’s up. So, there you go.


I know this because this happened on the tube yesterday and I’m just showing what happened. Phone girl does nothing for like seven stops. Then she gets off.


This isn’t on phone girl either. Like, nobody else does anything. So it’s not just her.

Reads a bit.

Fuck it, I mean I was there and I didn’t do anything either.


Would you have?


I heard a great phrase the other day. ‘We all just need a good listening to.’


It’s good isn’t it? Like ‘seeing to’?


I liked it, a) because it’s smutty but b) because it’s true. Most of the time, we don’t want people to give us the answers. We just want them to be with us. Not try to fix, or solve, or advise, but to just sit us in our pain, and let them know that if we want to talk, they’ll listen.


Fuck it. Let’s try it now.

Steps out of the train carriage, which is plunged into darkness. Lights up on the audience.

Right, find someone near you you don’t know.


I’ll wait.


No, seriously, get on with it.


Right, quieten down. Now label yourselves A and B.


Good, now A I want you to tell B a dream you’ve got. One item on your bucket list, something you’d love to do or achieve before you shuffle off. Yours is the easy job.

B your job is to listen. And maybe, if A starts to dry up, ask some good, open questions. But remember, mainly, your job is to listen. You’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason, as the philosophers say. No advice, no thoughts of yours, just listening and questions.

You’ve got three minutes.

3 minutes.

Great. Now swap over.

3 minutes.

Now, go back to the first way around; A – what are you going to have to change to achieve that dream. Like, in your life, maybe your circumstances, but better still in you. What do you have to change about you to achieve that goal. And Bs, no judgement, no advice. Just good questions and some warm nodding. Maybe even repeat what A has said to check you’ve understood.

3 minutes.

Now swap.

3 minutes.

I reckon to change the world we need three things. Courage, wisdom, compassion. And I reckon compassion might be the easiest. But if we care about other people, like the nice girl with the phone earlier did care about crying woman, what good is it if you’ve not got the courage to take any action towards it? I mean, then you need the wisdom to take action in the best way, but that’s the subject of another play. This one’s about compassion and courage.

So, yeah, I didn’t have the courage yesterday. But I’m going to try harder tomorrow. And you’ve just spoken to a stranger now, so how hard can it be, right?

Wanders back to the tube, which lights up, sits.

LAURA turns to UZMA.

LAURA: Hey. Are you okay? Sorry, I mean, you’re obviously not okay. I just. . .  if you want to, you can talk to me about it.


For the record, I still wear massive head phones on public transport and avoid talking to anyone.

Hope has been very much on my mind of late; I was asked by SGI-UK to be Artistic Director of Generaton Hope, an event aimed at inspiring young people with hope in their ability to change the world (you’d be welcome to attend!)

It’s based on this remarkable poem by Daisaku Ikeda:

This is your age

The future rests in your hands

I hope you will make the twenty-first century truly wonderful

Please make it a century in which the life of each individual is cherished and respected to the utmost.

A century without discrimination, without bullying, war or murder.

A century in which no child cries with hunger, in which no mothers or children take their own lives in despair.

A century without environmental destruction.

A century free from academic elitism, greed and materialism.

A century in which human rights are upheld as the most precious treasure.

A century of true democracy, in which the people hold corrupt political leaders to account.

A century in which the people exercise sound judgement and pay no heed to the lies of the mass media.

I hope you will make it a century in which each of your precious dreams come true and your unique individuality blossoms to the fullest.

To realise these goals, it is vital that you achieve victory, that each of you

grow into people of philosophy and compassion, into people who possess

both real ability and the sincerity to understand the hearts of others.

Your victory will be the victory of the twenty-first century.

You are our only hope.

It’s an unprecedented event; thousands of guests meeting simultaneously in Manchester, Bristol and London. It’s the biggest, more bonkers project I’ve ever worked on, either as a Buddhist or a director. In order to make it, everyone working on it has had to dig deeper than ever before to really believe in the potential of the next generation to be able to stand up and clear up the messes of the previous generations. I’ve noticed that many of us have been confronted by the doubts and fears we hold in our hearts in the process of making it; we’ve been shown the things we don’t believe we can change in our own lives and the world. And sometimes, when those things are getting me down I read this poem and it’s terrifying; living up to it’s expectation feels like an impossible responsibility.

But then I dig deeper  than I ever have before, and strive to believe in the infinite potential of myself and every other living being, and I become more confident than ever that we can make the world a better place, that there is still hope if we are prepared to change and grow ourselves, and take action based on that spiritual growth. Then we can have a human revolution.

Thank you for reading Five Short Plays About Hope! Normal fortnightly service will now resume.