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The best place to write a play! / 22 December 2015

There can be few places that can be better to write a play script than on the beach in Durban, South Africa! Having been so impressed by the work of South African actor/writer Ellis Pearson, and made a plan to tell the story I wanted to tell about disability and ‘difference’, I went home. I raised enough money from commercial sponsorship through a family member to return to South Africa, and write the play.

I was writing with Ellis, who has no direct experience of disability, and he was really interested in what I wanted to say in the play. We talked for two days about my life, experiences and insights into disability. He asked searching questions: what frustrates me; do I get angry; do I feel sorry for myself; how does how I feel about myself influence other peoples’ attitudes to me. Ellis then went and talked in private to my wife. He wanted to know how life was for her living with a man with a disability. I still do not know what she said!

We then set-to with the writing – sitting under a sun shade outside a cafe on the Durban beach with the Indian Ocean surf breaking on the sand. We spent three weeks talking and writing. Every now and again Ellis would jump up and ‘become’ an African animal. He was amazing!

We created characters that fitted what we wanted to say, and that were true to the animals we used. We researched the behaviour of young male lions and hyena and then, with the script almost complete we flew home. Six months later Ellis was in the UK and we finished the script. Then Ellis went home to work on bringing the play to the ‘stage’.

We then flew back to South Africa for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. I watched nine performances of our play, Impisi, staged under a tree in a park. It was brilliant! Since then Impisi which means hyena in isiZulu, has been performed in schools in kwaZuluNatal, in festivals in Swaziland and Pietermaritzburg, at Durban University, and I have been involved in the production and direction of performances in schools and centres for adults with disabilities. It has led to me working with University students in the UK and putting on an exhibition of Impisi-related art in a regional art gallery. The script of Impisi is available to purchase online here. It is very adaptable, having been written as a two-hander but been performed by twenty five children! I am looking for drama companies – both professional and amateur – schools and organisations that work with people with disabilities/impairments – to put the play on as a way of informing people, from Primary school age upwards, about some of the issues around disability while entertaining audiences at the same time.

Keywords: theatre