In May 2014, just months after Dan died, the DSM Foundation commissioned award winning playwright Mark Wheeller to write a play about what happened to him. The title Mark chose uses Dan’s last words to his mother Fiona, before he left home for what turned out to be the last time: ‘I Love You, Mum - I Promise I Won’t Die’. In March 2016 this had its first public performances, in Southampton and London, with its premiere at the BRIT school, just a mile from Dan’s home in Croydon.
Dan loved drama, he was very good at it, and this idea of his drama teacher Izzy Forrester was inspired. Drama is an incredibly powerful way to communicate important messages to young people, and Mark Wheeller’s play has become a core part of our vision to enable young people to understand the risks, and potential consequences and impact of experimenting with drugs. The final play, however, is as much about love, friendship, forgiveness and loss, as it is about drugs.
For ‘I Love You Mum, I Promise I Won’t Die’, Mark used verbatim theatre to take the actual words of Dan’s family and friends, recorded in a series of interviews, which were painstakingly transcribed and then turned into the script of this two-act play. He took eighteen months developing the script and performance with Oasis Youth Theatre, based in Southampton. Through his incredible skill, and the huge talent and commitment of the young people and team of Osos Youth Theatre, these raw words were transformed into a stunning performance, which brought the audience to tears at each of its performances.
Mark has been writing successful plays since the 1980s, and writes powerfully for young people, using Theatre in Education to communicate about issues that affect them. His plays are extensively used in the drama curriculum in schools, he has been one of the playwrights recommended in the Edexcel GCSE drama syllabus for many years, and two of his plays, ‘Hard to Swallow’ and ‘Missing Dan Nolan’, are set texts on two out of four of the new GCSE drama (9-1) specifications for 2016, along with William Shakespeare, Brecht and Willy Russell. His play ‘Too Much Punch for Judy’, written in 1987, is one of the most performed contemporary plays in the UK.
Mark was on record early on as saying this is by far the best play he had written to date, partly at least because he feels the words he was given by all those involved, Dan's family and friends, are so open, honest and eloquent. In fact, it became two plays – or one two-act play -because Mark felt he had too much strong material in the testimonies he'd recorded to limit it to only one. The first play/part, 'I Love You Mum', focuses on Dan's friends and school, the night at the rave, the impact on everyone who knew him. The second play, 'I Promise I Won't Die', is the words of Dan's family, and his long-term girlfriend Jenna and her family. This play moves back in time, encompassing the trial and sentencing of the drug dealer, the funeral, the time in the hospital, and ends with his mother, Fiona, remembering her beloved son.
Published by Bloomsbury: Methuen Plays for Young People and Schools February 2017
On 9 February 2017 I Love You, Mum – I Promise I Won’t Die, will be published by Bloomsbury on their Methuen Plays for Young People and Schools list. This will mean that the hopes of the DSM Foundation that the play would be studied and performed in schools across the UK and further afield in the years to come, taking its important message about the risks of substance misuse and experimentation to generations of young people, is so much more likely to be realised,
The book is available to order from Bloomsbury here
Theatre in Education tour Spring term 2017
In July 2016 the DSM Foundation commissioned Mark Wheeller to adapt the play to take into schools, colleges and the community as a Theatre in Education tour. They then commissioned Stopwatch Theatre, a professional theatre-in-education company who have been touring the UK since 1990. Their reputation for quality performances and workshops is unrivalled. Their repertoire has included Mark Wheeller’s plays Chicken, Arson About, Hard to Swallow & Driven to Distraction, so are the ideal choice to professionally premiere this new play.
StopWatch began a nine week tour of ILYM into London schools and colleges in January 2017. A performance of the play is followed immediately by an interactive drama workshop in which the whole audience participate, that focuses on informed decision making and risk awareness. They aim to leave no student in doubt that they always have a choice about the decisions they make and that the risks associated with illegal substance misuse are incredibly high. They learn some facts that will help them make informed decisions and some tools to put their decisions into practice in a pressured situation.
The DSM Foundation will also leave classroom based follow-up activities that schools can use in PSHE or tutor time to further explore the issues of the play.
If you would like more information about the theatre in education tour or to book a performance (London-based) please email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to contribute financially to this please see our donation page.
Feedback from the first few weeks of performances has been consistently and overwhelmingly positive
Students were "really affected - intense focus and beautifully drawn in. Perfect for year 10. Utterly engaged." StopWatch were " beyond expectation. Performances were powerful. Acting quality top notch...Would love this as part of our core curriculum for Year 10"
Ray Oudkerk, Assistant Principal, BRIT School
“I would just like to say how much it moved all of us and how many tears were shed in that hall. Thank you for what you’re doing, for raising awareness of this topic that’s not mentioned enough.”
Alice Skott, year 10 student, BRIT School
“I would like to extend a massive thank you for a wonderful production today. In all my time here I have not seen an engaged and enthusiastic response from a tough Year 9 group. The reaction and performance was simply stunning."
Lorna John, teacher, Oasis Academy Coulsdon
"I already knew the story of Daniel, but I was not expecting the play to have such a massive impact on me. So I would like to give my personal compliments to all involved – the DSM Foundation is a wonderful organisation that does fantastic work, the play was written in such a superb way and the actors were some of the most engaging I have ever seen – so thank you for making the play possible”
Justin Morgan, tutor, East Surrey College
What Mark Wheeller says about the play:
Gail is Dead was a TV programme my 4th year class (Year 10) was shown back in 1974. I remember it vividly. It became the bedrock of my unequivocal attitude towards drug misuse. (It’s still there on YouTube). This programme also became the standard bearer for all the “message” plays I have written since then. If this story can make such an impact on me, surely these stories will also impact on others? I have never had the opportunity to do my own drug education play… until I was asked to tell this tragic tale. I jumped at the chance.
The newly formed Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation originally approached me to write it for Dan’s own school to perform. I hope they will one day. It soon became obvious that it would be better to have some distance between the real event and first performers and so the idea was mooted for OYT to perform it. Dan’s family’s loss became our opportunity to generate a legacy production for the DSMF. It has, throughout, been a challenging but always worthwhile process.
One of the beneficial side effects of involvement in such a project is the relationships we form, both within OYT and with Dan’s friends and family who have come to see what we have been doing at various points in the rehearsal process. I am certain that we will all cherish not only lifelong memories, but relationships formed as a result of challenging collaborations.
It is my hope above everything that Dan’s family and friends can find some solace from the production and the hope that something good may come out of such an appalling tragedy.
What Dan’s parents say about the play:
When Dan’s drama teacher, Izzy Forrester, suggested in the early months after Dan died that we consider drama as a powerful means of communicating with young people, we have to confess it wasn’t something we’d really thought about. Dan loved drama though, he was really good at it, and this was something we knew he’d have been wholeheartedly behind. Nevertheless, it was a huge step for us to entrust this precious story of our lovely son, who isn’t here to speak for himself, into the hands of someone who would recreate it. From the very start Mark has shown the great integrity, sensitivity and respect for truth that we needed in order to know these were safe hands. He has also been very mindful of the pain for us in this process and product.
The play soon became an integral part of our personal journey since losing Dan, as well as becoming at the heart of the work of the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation. For us, although deeply painful to re-inhabit the worst moments of our lives in this way, it has been an incredibly rich and rewarding process, which has brought us people who care about Dan, who feel they know him without ever having met him, who care about the fact that he died, who feel the wrongness of this. It can feel very selfish to us at times, but the power of the play to create such strength of relationship is the very power it will have to change hearts and minds. The play embodies our passion and commitment to do all we can, as Dan’s mum and dad, and as founders of the charity that bears his name, to make this very bad, wrong thing do as much good as it possibly can, and to tell our boy’s story in the hope that others will learn the lesson he’s not here to learn. Through the play he can tell them himself.
What the audience has said about the Oasis Youth Theatre production of the play:
"Fascinating for their actuality, honesty, matter-of-factness at times and such impact at others. Informative, complex and subtle – real life on stage. Such an important story to be told. We want our young people to hear it."
Ray Oudkerk, Assistant Principal, BRIT School Performing Arts (email)
"Last night's performance was absolutely devastating! I haven’t stopped thinking about it all day. A beautiful, heart breaking and truly important piece of theatre. Incredible. I have never seen a piece of theatre like it. The kids are so affected by Too Much Punch. The impact of this new play blows that out of the water. It’s a Drama teachers dream. If you get a chance go and watch as I promise you will want to teach it."
Alice Mitchell Drama teacher, John Bentley School, Wilts.
"I would like to thank you for inviting me to the premier performance of ‘I Love You Mum, I promise I won’t Die’ at the Brit School on Tuesday this week. It was an overwhelmingly powerful play and wonderfully performed by the Oasis theatre kids. I have never seen a play in a ‘verbatim style’ before, and I just felt that it was such a compelling way to tell such an emotional story. I struggle to imagine how it could be shortened in any way as both plays flowed so well. The plays and the performances were incredibly moving and left me wanting to do something positive to support this hugely valuable cause to convey the dangers of drugs to youngsters."
Martin Corney, Chief Executive, The Whitgift Foundation (email)
Inkpellet theatre review: I love you Mum - I promise I won't die. A production by Oasis Youth Theatre. Read Holly Barradell's review here
Photos of the original OYT production in March 2016 by Chris Webb
About Oasis Youth Theatre
OYT is a Southampton based youth theatre, which has developed an enviable reputation over the last thirty years, and the audiences they attract are well beyond the normal Youth Theatre audiences of parents and relations. They are well known for their documentary/verbatim plays and new writing, and two original OYT productions (Hard To Swallow & Missing Dan Nolan) have been selected as set texts in the new GCSE (9-1) Drama courses alongside other plays from publicly funded Theatres. This is an accolade and a unique achievement for a regional Youth Theatre group.
These high standards are not accidental; they are the result of intense hard work and long periods of preparation. The OYT motto is “Participating in Youth Theatre for the fun of doing it seriously”. The DSM Foundation was honoured to have OYT working with Mark Wheeller on the development of this play, and their commitment, talent and creativity played a very significant part in its success.