Started rehearsals with Drama St Mary's graduates Michael, Katie and Joe for the Teenage Cancer Trust conference next Tuesday. We've simply decided to call the piece John's Story. Using the testimonies that the TCT have given us and some further research I've drafted up five key scenes detailing specific moments of anxiety or reflection for our protagonist John. I've interspersed these with some verbatim monologues.
The play covers a period of the last six years from John's first admission onto a paediatric ward in 2006, at 16, through to the monologues which are set in the present day.
The first scene is set three years after the initial diagnosis in 2009. John has been in remission for six months, but new tests reveal that his leukaemia has, once again, returned. Unfortunately his regular Doctor is away at a conference and so the news is given to him by a hassled, inexpereinced nurse. To complicate matters John's also turned eighteen which means a move from paediatrics to the Adult Haematology Unit, where a new team will be taking over his care.
The second scene is set on the adult ward where John's Mum is told that, unlike in paediatrics, visiting hours are regulated. John is the youngest patient by some considerable way and information is often given to him before his Mum arrives. The abrupt nature of this transition triggers a depression. John begins to fall further and further behind with his school work.
The third scene takes the audience back to 2008, when, after two years of treatment, John first went into remission, and was offered a trip for two by the TCT to New York. His girlfriend, who'd stopped visiting him in hospital, comes round to celebrate, searching out an invite. John doesn't feel he deserves the tickets and doesn't feel like going away with fellow 'survivors.'
The fourth scene is more intimate, set in the early days of John's diagnosis. It's really a late night, lights out conversation on coping between John and Danny, his friend in a neighbouring bed on the ward. John reveals that he's convinced himself that if 1 in 3 people get cancer over the course of their lifetime then his diagnosis is, in some karmic way, 'drawing the poison from two people he loves'. Danny disagrees and describes the random nature of the inflication 'God's sick joke.'
The final scene jumps forward to 2010. John has been clear for two months and his parents want to organise a party to celebrate. When John disagrees she bursts in to tears and tells him they all need an event to draw a line under the cancer. Finally he agrees, only to discover that the party clashes with Danny's funeral. John doesn't want to tell his Mum. In the end the party happens without him. It's a bleak ending to what essential should be a story about coming through. For the purposes of the forum though I think it's judged pretty well.
We worked quickly spending the morning the morning actioning each line and the afternoon establishing the blocking. On the whole the piece feels sturdy. Sue at TCT is going to look at the script overnight and feedback any last minute ideas.
Mark is the Academic Director of the Drama Programmes at St Mary's University in Twickenham. He has worked internationally as a theatre director and educator for the past 15 years, focused mostly on youth, community, and conflict resolution work.
As a lecturer Mark taught at Goldsmiths College, Coventry University and was Head of Performing Arts at Canterbury College prior to joining St Mary’s in 2006.
His Professional directing credits include Henry V (One of US?) and Valhalla for RSC Education; The Wind in the Willows, Jack Cade, The Red, Red Robin for Sevenoaks Playhouse; Tender Souls, The Quality of Mercy and Playhouse Creatures for the Ambassadors Theatre group.
Mark is a director of subVERSE Theatre company for whom has directed fringe premieres of Chief, Dinnertime and OxfamC**t at Theatre 503.
Site specific work includes Purka and Shadow on Icelandic volcanoes and Novocento with students from the University of Genoa.