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I - am - nowt

Runner-up in the Trinity Playwriting competition 2014

A boy who was involved in the London riots runs away to a cove by the sea. There he meets an enigmatic girl who is determined to help him, even in death.

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The Lady Next Door (short play)

Shortlisted in the Chesil Theatre Playwriting competition 2016

1983. SYLVIA (16) has to contend with the unwanted attentions of a school bully. Still, David Bowie's 'Let's Dance' inspires her to try to choreograph something for the school talent contest, an opportunity to show people that she can do and be something. When LILIAN, the reclusive lady next door, hears the music and sees her trying to dance, she makes contact, wanting to teach her,

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A Mammy of all work (monologue writing sample)

Selected  as part of 'The Female Gaze' a competition to write about a female figure from history.

CARLOTTA SMITHSON is a 50-year-old African-American woman who, in 1940, works as a maid. She has received a letter from her daughter telling her that she wants to become an actress. Carlotta gives her thoughts about this and talks about LOUISE BEAVERS, actress.

(Carlotta scrubs a floor with a brush; pauses to look behind, as if expecting someone, then takes a letter out of her apron pocket. Inside the letter is a photograph of her daughter. She reads the letter and looks at the photograph fondly.)

Darling daughter. You’ve asked for your mother’s approval about appearing in a play and becoming an actress. (pause) Well, if there’s one piece of sound advice I can give you it’s this: "I’d rather play a maid and make $700 a week, than be a maid for $7." (laughs) I wish I’d coined that phrase. It’ll go down in history. ‘…play a maid…than be a maid.’ So true.  I know Miss Louise Beavers would agree with that, even if she didn’t say it. (awe-filled) Miss Louise Beavers. What an inspiring lady she is – as a black woman and an actor. I’ve a lot of respect for her, and you need to look to her, daughter, as an example of what you can be in life.  (pauses) If people let you be what you want to be. And - I’m going to be honest now - that’s what you don’t have control over - how others view you, what they’ll allow you to be - and do. I can’t lie. I can say to you, and I’ve always said this, that I want you to do what you want in life and I’ll always be there to support you, but you’ll have to fight every step of your journey.

So… You want to be an actress – do it! Walk in Miss Beavers’ shoes. (pensive)  I wish I had the energy and grit to do and achieve what she has. I’ve asked myself, time and time again, why I can’t be more like her. She’s - what’s the word? Innovative. Trailblazing. That’s it. A trailblazer. Black folk have always performed – are some of the finest tap dancers and singers – but they’ve often played to white folk’s ideas of what it is to be black. I can’t tell you the number of revues I went to where black folk, scantily clad, rolled around the stage playing so-called African savages. You won’t see Miss Beavers doing that. Of course, when I watched these shows as a child, I thought it wonderful that people like me were performing – they were being seen - but now, I want more; want folk to blaze a trail towards equality.  We know that white folk don’t think we’re equal to them. Well, we won’t be, if we continue to accept it as a fact. (pause) Listen to me: I’m all talk.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you, but I first saw Miss Beavers in Gold Diggers of Broadway. 1929. 11 years ago.  I was amazed that she’d been given an opportunity to appear on the big screen. Small part, but still…  Then her major break came in 1934.  Imitation of Life. I remember it like it was yesterday.

(Lights fade. Flickering of lights to suggest a film being shown. Carlotta stands, faces forward.)

Big screen. Centre seat. Front row. Me. Alone. Sweethearts at the back. Good.  All that making out puts me off. Me. Alone. And popcorn. Sweet popcorn. Eyes wide. Miss Louise Beavers in ‘Imitation of life’ with Claudette Colbert.  Miss Beavers stealing the show as Delilah. Humble. God-fearing. Hard-working. Kind mammy. Loyal mammy. My heart’s in my throat. Poor Delilah. Dark skinned mother. Lighter skinned daughter. Passes for white. Poor Delilah. Rejected. Denied. Anguished. Died. Sadness. Such sadness.

(Flickering ceases. Lights up.)

(emotional) Goosebumps on my skin… Watching a woman, a black woman and mother like me on the big screen, for white and black folk alike to see. There was a line in the film - Delilah’s line to her daughter. What was it? ‘Bow…learn to take it’? No! It was - ‘Bow your head! You got to learn to take it!’ That’s what Delilah said. (pause) We don’t have to take it. Delilah didn’t have to take it. She was the one with the pancake recipe. She could’ve blazed her own trail and been in charge of her own empire. Even as I watched this friendship between Delilah and Beatrice - Claudette Colbert’s character - I wished that Delilah hadn’t let Beatrice take her recipe and run with it, wished that she hadn’t refused a percentage of the business.  She accepted her lot – with dignity, yes – but just accepted it.

(She gets down on her knees) Boy oh boy! Miss Beavers is a woman I’d give anything to swap places with right now - though it wouldn’t be right her scrubbing floors, after her determination to succeed. She wouldn’t want to go back to this way of life. (groans). Ohhh! My knees. Back. (pause) She rubs shoulders with Claudette Colbert and other Hollywood folk. (pause)  If I lived another life… (contemplates) Another time. (voice breaks; scrubs vigorously). Things should’ve been different. Should be different. (pause) What I don’t want for you is to have people like Miss Uppity Fran calling you a waste of space; that she has to employ us black folk because no one else’ll do the work so cheaply. (scrubs floor frantically) What is it English folk call some of their maid folk? ‘Maid of all work’? That’s it. Me. Maid of… Well, I’m a ‘A mammy of all work’. Miss Beavers isn’t a mammy of all work.  She wouldn’t just let Missy Fran take money off her hard-earned wage because Missy Fran thinks the quality of her floor scrubbing isn’t good enough. No. Miss Beavers is a star for black folk. A star… One lucky movie star.

You know, we are similar - me and Miss Beavers. Our upbringings are much the same. Girls who dreamed of something other than being… (scrubs) the mammy. We had mothers who encouraged us to sing. She appeared as a singer in a minstrel show. It’s nothing I haven’t done. So why? Why have I not tried to be the trailblazer she is? (under her breath)  Why? In a way, for all my criticism of Delilah in the film, I’m like her. Passive.

Miss Beavers then goes to work for actress Leatrice Joyce, star of Paramount studios. Eventually, she is spotted. Just like that. Given a part in a film. Folk say, don’t they? – right place, right time. (pause) I’ve never been in the right place. And this time I’m living in… it’s not right  (She is pensive.)

We’re both of a... What can I say? A type. A type that society and Hollywood likes… And can control. Me. Non-threatening. ‘Mammy of all work’ in real life. Miss Beavers… ‘Mammy of all work’ on the big screen. The difference is, and I come back to this word, she’s a trailblazer – controlled by others, but a trailblazer, nonetheless. Miss Beavers doesn’t want to roll around the set pretending to be some savage in Africa. She’ll play a mammy. And play a mammy again. Slowly, painfully slowly, she’ll chip away at Hollywood. (scrubbing intensifies; pauses to take photograph out of apron pocket) Who knows what more she’ll achieve: Lead actress in a film.  I - I want your life to be more like Miss Beavers. She has some respect from white folk. I have none. I know what some folk think. They think she’s getting ahead of herself because she’s had a big role in a film. And she’s shown everyone, hasn’t she? She’s shown everyone that black people are as good as white people. Intelligent. Talented. Good mothers. Good workers.

There was talk of an award for Miss Beavers for her role as Delilah in Imitation of Life. What would that have meant to us black folk if she had been nominated and won? If she’d even been nominated, it would have meant that white folk were starting to think of us as other than being slaves or there to serve. Maybe we would be allowed to speak up and say that we’re unhappy with things as they are… without fear of a beating, gaol or… Lynching.

                                    (Takes photograph out of apron pocket.)

So, you have my blessing to pursue acting. Just ... be careful. But don’t roll over and lie down - like your mammy. I could have, should’ve blazed a trail for you. I’m bright enough. Had some talent. I guess … I guess I was unable. (sadly) Knew my place: Being a servant to white folk. Didn’t want to rock the boat – on my own I might have managed stormier seas, but I had you to raise and keep safe. I wasn’t brave enough to do anything other. I’m talk and no action. I know you love me and tell me, time and time over, how much you admire me for working hard, but be like Miss Louise Beavers and aim for more. Black folk probably won’t reach the stars in my lifetime. It hurts my heart to admit to such a thing, believe me. But don’t let it put you off your goals. Be like Miss Beavers and push against the barriers; take a stand and say, ‘I want more and to be more.’ You might, my darling daughter, be the one to reach the stars.

(Carlotta wearily gets back down on to her knees. She kisses her daughter’s photograph and puts it back in her apron pocket.)

Your mother’s weary from scrubbing rich folk’s floors. (pause) It’s better to play a mammy than be a mammy.  Believe me.

                                    (She dips the brush in the bucket and scrubs the floor.)

                                    Lights fade.