Cicely and David: a play

August 2022 saw the premiere of my play Cicely and David at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It tells the story of a Polish migrant, David Tasma, who is dying from cancer in post-war London, estranged from home and family. A brief, intense relationship with his social worker, Cicely Saunders, helps him to find some resolution to what he feels has been a worthless life. In the process, an idea is born that later becomes the world’s first modern hospice, founded by Cicely Saunders in 1967 and soon to become a beacon for end of life care improvement around the world.

The play comes in the wake of some 20 years of scholarly interest on my part in the life, work and legacy of Cicely Saunders. She continues to be regarded as the founder of the hospice movement and a key architect in the widely recognised specialty of palliative care. As an academic I wrote her biography, published an edition of her letters, and two collections of her varied writings, and also authored numerous specialised journal articles about her.

Despite all this, I still felt there might be other ways to communicate her contribution, and with it the wider message of hospice and palliative care. So in 2021, I embarked on writing a play about her and some of her formative influences: Cicely and David.

I hope you will find interest in the play and I take this opportunity to thank the many people, and especially my friend Dr Jo Hockley, who have all helped Cicely and David to come into being.

What you’ll find here

On these pages there are links to more detailed articles about how the play was developed in collaboration with staff and students at Queen Margaret University and also in workshops at Wallace Hall School, Thornhill and with members of the Dumfries Musical Theatre. There is information about past and future performances and about a film made at the premiere. You can also find out how to access the playscript if you are considering a production of the play.

Cicely and David can work at a number of levels. It can be effective in a lightly prepared reading, or it can be developed into a full production with elaborate design and staging. It can be used purely as a piece of theatre. Or it can serve as a platform for public engagement, professional development and group discussion.

Upcoming events

Spring 2023 Members of the Atlantes Global Observatory of Palliative Care and the Clinical Palliative Care Group at the University of Navarra, Spain, will take part in a reading of a Spanish translation of the playscript, as a team building exercise, at their annual ‘retreat’ meeting.

20 April 2023 Hospices of Hope have organised a screening of the play

Start: 20th April, 2023 at 7:15pm  End: 20th April, 2023 at 9:00pm 

Location: Otford Methodist Church, High Street, Otford, Sevenoaks, Kent TN14 5PH

For more information look here: https://www.hospicesofhope.co.uk/Event/cicely-and-david-screening?bcn_donation_amount=10

Contact: jess@hospicesofhope.co.uk

4 May 2023 A screening of the play for students and staff at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh will take place as part of Dying Matters Awareness Week Full details below.

Spring 2024 A full production of the play by drama students at the University of the Highlands and Islands is planned as part of a Highland Hospice conference and will take place in Inverness, Scotland. For more information, email: michael.loynd1@nhs.scot

First performance

Following a ‘taster’ performance of Scene 1 at a conference of the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care in May 2022, Cicely and David was first performed in full by the Pennyland Players on 16-20 August at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe festival. One of the performances was filmed and is available for screening.

The cast – Older Cicely (Serena Park) , Paul (Michael Johnston), Younger Cicely (Tegan Smith/Caladh Walker), David (Jaimie Busuttil), Woozle (Arlene Mckay)

Directors – Caitlin Truscott, Meghan Wallace, Caladh Walker

Producer – Jo Hockley

Writer – David Clark

Design and Tech – Alex Shanks, Danny Menzies

Music – Kath Bruce

Stagehands/Front of House – Theo Nicholson, Lulu Perren, Joy and Michael Nicholson, Sally Hockley

Our sponsors – Dr Fiona Graham, Gilbert Archer, James and Antoinette Galbraith, Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care, St Columba’s Hospice, Marie Curie, Irish Hospice Foundation, St Christopher’s Hospice, Highland Hospice, Cicely Saunders International, Marie Curie, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, Hospices of Hope.

Blogs, coverage and reviews

Initial script development

Reaching the Edinburgh Fringe

Blog for the European Association of Palliative Care

Blog for E-Hospice

Diary of the five shows at Edinburgh

Fringe review (just scroll down, the shows are in alphabetical order).

Church Times review

Lancet Oncology review

Review by Lisbeth Thoresen in the Norwegian Journal, Omsorg

Further performances and events

28th September 2022: At an evening event organised by Highland Hospice, in Inverness, Scotland a ‘taster’ from the play was read by two drama students at the University of the Highlands and Islands. After an inspiring opening talk by best-selling author Dr Kathryn Mannix, on ‘Tender Conversations’, Juliet Kelly and John Moar read scene 1 from the play to excellent effect. The scene is itself a conversation of great tenderness between the ageing Cicely and a newly bereaved father. Following thunderous, sustained applause and cheers from the capacity audience, there was much praise for the performances and several enquiries about further opportunities to see the play. Huge thanks to Juliet and John.

Juliet Kelly and John Moar

30th September 2022: An online presentation by David Clark to members of the European Society of Narrative Medicine and Health Humanities. David outlined his collaboration with Cicely Saunders in the last 10 years of her life (2005-2010), along with the projects and publications that emerged from it. He went on to explain how the idea for the play had been formed and the creative process involved in working with university and school students as well as with amateur actors, to develop the script. A film clip of two scenes from the play was also shown. More details of the Society can be found here: https://www.medicinanarrativa.eu/eunames

15th November 2022 As part of a two week programme of activities to launch a new palliative care service in Schleswig, Germany, Dr Georg Bolig hosted a screening of the play (its global premiere!) in the Helios Klinikum (University Hospital of the Universities of Kiel and Lübeck). Dr Bollig wrote:

“When I first heard about the play written by [David Clark] I thought that it would be good work with a sound historic and scientific basis. After I have seen it I have to say: it is brilliant! Congratulations you did a marvellous job!

The audience in our hospital was a mixture of doctors, nurses and hospice volunteers. The feedback from them was that the play was educational, but also moving. The people appreciated the subtitles very much. 

After the film we had a lively discussion lasting more than an hour where we discussed Cicely’s history, the impact of palliative care and the different themes from the field that are addressed in the movie. Thank you very much for the opportunity to show the movie and your kind support!

Some colleagues suggested translating the subtitles into German.  If you are interested to do so I could assist you to look for funding and manpower”.

15th November 2022: At the conclusion of a webinar hosted by the Cicely Saunders Society, two extracts from the film of the play were shown and notice given that the Society is planning a ‘one day festival of Cicely Saunders’ for a date to be confirmed in summer 2023. The festival will include a full screening of the film. More details in due course from the Society.

18th November 2022: We had the honour to host an online screening of the full ‘Cicely & David’ play followed by an open discussion with David Clark and Jo Hockley. The screening took place as part of the 3rd Annual Symposium for the Arts in Palliative Care which was co-organised by St Columba’s Hospice Care and Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and which focussed on the theme of Re-imagining Creativity and Care. This was the third annual event of its kind, bringing together arts therapists, socially engaged artists and other professionals from the wider palliative care field internationally.

The story of Cicely and David offered a wonderful opening to the symposium. Through an insightful, personal and informative account of the early beginnings of Cicely Saunders’ work and her relationship to the Polish patient, David Tasma, delegates gained some insights regarding the roots of the modern hospice movement. As David became a window in Cicely’s home, delegates were invited to consider who is the window in their own ‘homes’.  Who are the individuals that have played a formative role in their own work?  What stories have shaped their own professional identities and continue to drive their passion?

Such questions and insights fuelled wider discussions throughout the symposium as we considered the need for re-imagining creativity and care in the field. In these discussions, authenticity emerged as a key driver in the stories we grow about our work with people and their communities. Cicely’s curiosity and readiness to take risks, challenge conventions and push beyond existing boundaries were useful reminders that can drive our contemporary efforts in palliative care. This includes an expansion of our engagements with loss, change and grief within the wider society where a Western death-denying culture still prevails.

Dr Giorgos Tsiris, Arts Lead, St Columba’s Hospice Care gtsiris@stcolumbashospice.org.uk

8th December 2022 An online screening of the play took place with members of the End of Life Studies Group, School of Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Glasgow. Participants included staff and postgraduate students. The discussion ranged over issues such as: which characters were real or imagined, how backstories were constructed, the role of the imaginary character Paul, as ‘everyman’ in the play, the potential for further creative works to celebrate and explore the life and legacy of Cicely Saunders, and the possibilities of producing a full screenplay and ‘movie’ of Cicely and David. Members of the group undertook to plan a shared reading of the playscript in 2023.

One participant, Miranda Cinchy, a PhD candidate in the University of Glasgow School of Interdisciplinary Studies, kindly offered the following reflection:

“I came to Cicely and David with very little knowledge of Cicely Saunders and the hospice movement. It can be difficult to tell a story such as this without being didactic, but the character of Paul and his opening conversation with the older Cicely enabled details to flow naturally. Having these characters present on stage while scenes from the earlier years were acted out successfully conveyed the sense of flashback and ensured that the hospice (where Cicely and Paul had met) remained a central motif throughout. I found the play very interesting and unexpectedly moving; the live music was affective, and there was real sense of the attachment between Cicely and David through their conversations and those between Cicely and her gently admonishing friend Woozle.  I would have liked to learn more about Marian, Cicely’s husband, who was tantalisingly mentioned early in the play, but understand that the relationship of Cicely and David took centre stage, and one of the big successes of Cicely and David was creating a both fascinating and succinct portrayal of a life’s work.”

January/February 2023 Members of the team at Hospices of Hope have been exploring how they can use the film in support of their work in the UK and their partner countries in Eastern Europe. Here are some of the team members’ reactions to their first viewing :

“Not having known very much about Dame Cicely Saunders previously, I found the play to be moving, educational and comforting. The actors were great, as was the music played throughout”

“I really enjoyed the way the play was set out, with Dame Cicely looking back at her life and the reasons she started her important work. I learnt a lot and found it quite emotional at times”

“The play was a great reminder of how one person can make a big difference – even if they don’t believe they can! It was very touching and gave a great insight into the life of Dame Cicely Saunders and David.”

“Cicely and David’s story is very inspiring and moving – I am glad to have seen the play as I had not appreciated the history behind the hospice care movement. It was very well written, informative and enjoyable to watch.”

10 March 2023 saw the start of a new cycle of training at St. Joseph’s Home, in Celje, Slovenia. The ‘Powers of Weakness’ programme is designed for anyone in the workplace who deals with the seriously ill and dying. The first meeting involved reflections on the importance of spirituality in palliative care using the Cicely Saunders’ book Watch with Me. In October 2023, six months after the introductory meeting, a film of the play ‘Cicely and David’ will be presented to participants who wish to deepen their approach. For more information, email irena.svabkavcic@gmail.com and see:  https://www.jozef.si/domov/publikacije/

March 2023 Members of the board of directors of the Italian L’Associazione di Promozione Sociale “Sul sentiero di Cicely – Per le Cure Palliative APS” have been viewing the film of the play and are making plans for a webinar event to explore its development, along with future activities relating to the provision of Italian subtitles and the possible translation of the playscript into Italian. For more information please contact francesca.bracco@gmail.com

planned as part of a Highland Hospice conference and will take place in Inverness, Scotland. For more information, email: michael.loynd1@nhs.scot

Accessing the playscript

If you are interested in using the script for performance or educational purposes, please contact me at: david.graham.clark53@gmail.com

Accessing a film of the first performance

A film of the performance at Edinburgh 2022 is available. If you wish to organise a screening of the film, please contact me at: david.graham.clark53@gmail.com

Some of my other writings about Cicely Saunders

Clark, D. (2018) Cicely Saunders: A Life and Legacy. Oxford University Press: Oxford. ISBN 9780190637934 (doi: 10.1093/oso/9780190637934.001.0001)

Clark, D. (2002) Cicely Saunders: Founder of the Hospice Movement: Selected Letters 1959-1999. Clarendon Press: Oxford, England. ISBN 9780198516071

Clark, D. (2001) A special relationship: Cicely Saunders, the United States, and the early foundations of the modern hospice movement. Illness, Crisis and Loss, 9(1), pp. 15-30.

Clark, D. (1999) ‘Total pain’, disciplinary power and the body in the work of Cicely Saunders, 1958–1967. Social Science and Medicine, 49(6), pp. 727-736. (doi: 10.1016/S0277-9536(99)00098-2)

Clark, D. (1998) Originating a movement: Cicely Saunders and the development of St. Christopher’s Hospice. Mortality, 3(1), pp. 43-63. (doi: 10.1080/713685885)

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