Derbyshire-born writer Tim Elgood has come a long way since winning New Perspectives’ Long Play Competition 2014. His winning play, Unforgettable, is about to go into rehearsals, directed by also Derby-born Theresa Keogh, before a national tour begins on 20 May 2015 at the Guildhall Theatre, Derby. We decided to ask him a few questions about the writing of the show and gain an insight into his Long Play 2014 journey.
How has writing Unforgettable clarified or distilled your own experiences, both as a social worker and as someone with experience of dementia in their family?
Whenever I or my wife (who was also a social worker) used to support families with relatives who were suffering from dementia-related problems – we would always qualify our advice by saying, “It’s all very well someone like me coming into your home and sounding objective, but you have to live with this difficulty day in, day out”. We never really appreciated how true that statement was until my mother-in-law developed Alzheimer’s and my wife and her brother and sisters commenced a 24/7 package of live-in care. It doesn’t matter what term you give the notion of full time care – the upshot is that your lives are turned upside down. For me the writing of ‘Unforgettable’ was wholly cathartic and helped me come to terms with two opposing sentiments. On the one hand the sadness of ‘losing’ a close relative whose memory and faculties are dying in front of your eyes – and on the other the awful sense of guilt and resentment that mounts within you because of the restrictions that relative’s afflictions are having upon your own life. The former sentiment of sadness is well documented – the second sentiment less so. I wanted to redress the balance a bit.
For a play with mental health issues as a central theme, Unforgettable is remarkably lively and funny. Was it difficult to find humour within these heavy subjects?
No. (Part of me wanted to leave the answer as brief as that). Life is sink or swim. ‘There is always a worse scenario than your own’ etc etc. My father and father-in-law were both great advocates of the half-full philosophy of Life, and they both made a big impression upon me and my wife. I must stress that my wife did 99% of the caring for her mother when we were on call – my job was to support her and exploit the humour that always materialises out of heartfelt situations. Look at any enduring comedies – whether they be TV sitcoms, films or stage plays – the vast majority thrive upon stressful situations and well-observed humour.
The play is unique in that explores a brother and sisters’ relationship in later life. What is it about this particular dynamic that interested you?
My own sister and brother. I couldn’t help thinking about how we would cope in my wife’s family predicament. Naturally I am close to my brother and sisters-in-law – but ‘Unforgettable’ is driven by the sibling bond between my brother and I and my sister and I. (Lord help my mother if she ever develops Alzheimer’s).
From first winning Long Play 2014 to now, what changes has the script undergone through your work with NP? How have you found this process?
Desperately not wanting to sound gushing – but what changes have come about are testament to the director Theresa Keogh. We had a working week on the script with 4 actors which helped me to hear it and Theresa to both hear and see it. It required changes. I don’t envy any director having to suggest to a writer that their ‘new born’ has health problems, but Theresa is a subtle and perceptive tactician. She commences any suggestion with the wording, ”This is probably a really daft idea but… ” (and they seldom prove to be daft). As a result I left the working week highly charged and motivated to make changes – because they were for the good of the piece.
What advice do you have for playwrights with a desire to write about subjects close to their heart?
Apply the litmus test. Make a start. Get something down on paper. Don’t pontificate about a ‘great idea that is close to your heart’ too long – else it will become precious and overstated (check me out ??). Once you have something tangible down on paper you will be in a better position to judge if your ‘new born’ has any chance of survival.
For details on the upcoming tour, visit our production page on the website HERE.