By David Haworth
Long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize 2019
‘Winter Came’ is a fast paced, energetic ride; dealing with issues of mental health, physical fitness, love and death. At times epic fantasy, at others hard hitting reality, with a skewed and surprising angle on life and death seen through the complex mind of a bipolar young man.
Dan and Kelly are university students, in love. Early in their relationship Kelly dies as a result of SADS (Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome.) For Dan, this loss unlocks memories of his mother’s suicide when he was 15; she had Bipolar disorder which he has inherited. Through a disjointed timeline we see Dan’s attempts to explain his girlfriend’s death. His mania leads him to speak to his dead girlfriend and an angel. He takes up running in an attempt to reach peak fitness, along the way he meets a running coroner, a step class that is also a bipolar support group, and an angel psychiatrist. Meanwhile Carol, Kelly’s over-protective mother, tries to come to terms with the death of her daughter. We also see Helen, Dan’s mother. During manic phases of her illness Helen was a wonderfully creative storyteller, her bedtime story of Daniel and the Golden Wagtail provides metaphors for her doomed relationship with her son.
The majority of my plays to date have been commissions but this play was written for myself, with no specific commission in mind. It is inspired by a story I stumbled on during a trip to London, a free newspaper on a tube train, tiny news item, one paragraph on page 7, a girl died immediately after her first kiss with her new boyfriend. She died of Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome. This was the first time I had heard about this condition that kills 500 people a year. The news item gave very little detail but the sad story struck me and I couldn't get it out of my head.
Months later I was entering a new writing competition, 'Dialogue', run by The South West Writers Network and Salisbury Playhouse. The idea was to write the first 15 pages of a new play. I wanted this 15 pages to be as exciting as possible, I wanted to play with the form, chop up the time-line and play one scene repeatedly from different angles. I remembered the 'first kiss' story and decided to look at that moment from several people's perspectives; I decided my couple were university students, their relationship was a secret one, the girl's mother knew nothing about the new boyfriend until she was speaking to him on the phone as her child was dying. I wanted to look at the story of those left behind when someone dies and how we search for reasons, or blame, when faced with such inexplicable and horrific events.
My first 15 pages won the competition and the prize was to spend a year as 'writer on attachment' at Salisbury Playhouse. While there I wrote another play and my 'First Kiss Goodbye' play was put on the back burner. A couple of years later I spent a few months working it up into a full length, one act play before again shelving it due to other commitments.
My problem with the script was that I had filled the first 15 pages with such fireworks that it was a challenge to sustain it over a full length script. It excited me but also scared me a little bit and I wondered if it would ever make a play I was happy with.
Fast forward to January 2019 and I had come to a very different place in my life; in the space of four years I had changed jobs, got divorced and moved 160 miles away to a new home. Now living in Manchester and possessing a new-found excitement for theatre and life in general. I decided it was time I entered a play into the Bruntwood Prize, the deadline was June 5th. I didn't have time to write a completely new play from scratch. I looked at 'First Kiss Goodbye', showed it to a couple of people, including a past Bruntwood winner Nicola Schofield. She told me it was refreshing to see a play that tackles male mental health issues. This was a shock to me as I hadn't realised that that is what my play was about. The more I thought about it the more I realised that my character 'Dan', the boyfriend left behind, was displaying classic symptoms of a man unable to cope mentally with the trauma of his girlfriend's death. I decided to explore this further. This caused me to throw out a lot of the original text and develop new plot-lines, situations and characters. In short, I completely re-wrote the play. Another friend, actress Dawn Buchanan, gave me invaluable feedback and encouragement, pushing me to take risks with my writing, for which I will be ever grateful.
So here we are now, the play has a new title, 'Winter Came' and after several drafts, a reading with some actor friends, and more re-writing, I feel it is at last the play I wanted to write all those years ago. I entered it for Bruntwood and was lucky enough for it to be long-listed (top 100 plays out of over 2500 submissions). I have started sending it out to New Writing venues and companies. I feel this is a very exciting and relevant piece and I will gladly talk to anyone who is interested in reading it and taking it on the next stage of its journey!
FOR A SAMPLE SCENE FROM 'WINTER CAME' PLEASE SEE THE NEXT PAGE.