Cicely and David: a play by David Clark

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.

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.

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

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.

Upcoming events

18th November 2022 Screening of the full play plus Q&A with David Clark and Jo Hockley, at Re-imagining Creativity and Care; 3rd annual online conference on Palliative Care and the Arts, organised by Dr Giorgos Tsiris of St Columba’s Hospice, Edinburgh in collaboration with Queen Margaret University. Register here: https://stcolumbashospice.org.uk/arts-registration-form (places limited to 100 people) or for more information, email: gtsiris@stcolumbashospice.org.uk

8th December 2022 Private screening of the film of the play, followed by discussion with David Clark, End of Life Studies Group, School of Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Glasgow.

27th January 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.

10 March 2023 A new cycle of training begins 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 will involve 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 (date tbc) 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

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)

%d bloggers like this: