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Powerful drama about drugs and friendship  

08 April 2016

Peter Graystone is moved by a double bill about a real teenager


Absent friend: the blue hooded jacket that represents the teenager Dan in the production of Mark Wheeller’s play I Love You Mum

Absent friend: the blue hooded jacket that represents the teenager Dan in the production of Mark Wheeller’s play I Love You Mum

WHEN Daniel Spargo-Mabbs died, aged 16, his final words to his mother had been, “I love you mum; I promise I won’t die.” In January 2014, he persuaded his parents to let him go to a party, but instead went to an illegal rave. He took MDMA (ecstasy). So did four of his school friends. One of the bags contained a lethal quantity. Whoever took that one would have died. It was Dan.

When his story was headline news, much was made of the family’s membership of a Croydon church. His parents, Fiona and Tim, founded the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation, which makes young people aware of the risks of substance abuse. Now Dan’s story is the subject of a double bill by Mark Wheeller, whose plays feature in GCSE drama curricula and are performed worldwide.

I Love You Mum tells the story of his final days in the verbatim words of his friends. Performed by Oasis Youth Theatre, it is, frankly, devastating. The production is constantly on the move, restless as a teenager. Dan is represented by a blue hooded jacket, sometimes animated and sometimes worn by the 16-strong cast, who play him in turn. Behind the stage, photographs of him appear and then disintegrate into flying sycamore seeds. In the play’s most shocking moment, Dan is revealed to have had a past more compromised than his perfect face suggests.

Honest about both the exhilaration and the wreck of drug misuse, Wheeller draws wonderfully committed performances from his cast. Lewis Evans as Daniel’s friend Jack delivers the play’s most touching line: “I had double English and no Dan.” The play is as much about friendship and potential as about drugs, and there is the banality of tragedy in seven words.

I Promise I Won’t Die is not quite so successful. It retells the story, this time from the family’s point of view. It works backwards from the funeral to the last time the family was together. It’s a more reflective, sometimes poetic, piece, and features an outstanding performance by Natasha Thomas as Dan’s mother, fragile but resolute. The closing moments, though, are undermined by the projection of home movies of Dan as a baby. They are heart-wrenching, and command so much attention that the climax of the play in front of them can’t compete.

The plays now move on to publication and, without doubt, to the drama studios of a hundred schools. But these plays won’t just bring children exam results: they will save lives.

For more information, see www.dsmfoundation.org.uk. #iloveyoumumplay

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