Edinburgh Fringe 2021
Telling the true story of Dan, a popular 16-year-old schoolboy from South London, who took ecstasy at an illegal rave in January 2014 and tragically died two days later as a result of taking a lethal dose. This powerful and engaging verbatim production tells the story of what happened to Dan, his family and friends, from heartbreak to redemption.
When Dan, a sixteen year old boy loses his life under sad circumstances it is nothing short of a tragedy. The true story is enacted from verbatim interviews with Dan’s family and friends, curated by author Mark Wheeller into a one hour play, skilfully directed by Elliot Montgomery, artistic director of Tie It Up Theatre, a company which focuses on theatre in education.
Friends talk about Dan, telling us what he was like when they first met him and later when they knew him for a while. We hear about a first romance, teasing, every day things they experienced together. Dan’s parents share his childhood milestones and joys, growing up in a loving family, and how he made one mistake. One fatal choice one night at a party, when drugs were readily available.
A cast of four versatile actors play the parents, friends and family in Dan’s life – Amy Balmforth, Danny Mellor, Ashley Pekri, Cobie Scott-Ward. They wear a simple costume item for each person, such as a cardigan or spectacles, swiftly changing from scene to scene. All the props are placed downstage in a row on the ground, in full view of the audience. This choice effectively delineates the space, together with two large flats painted with huge coloured leaves placed either side of the stage, with several small black boxes that become chairs or platforms that are wheeled swiftly around the space. The action is creative and the interactions are realistic, in this filmed version of the play.
How did Dan, a responsible sixth form boy with good friends get into this situation? In a fascinating scene a teenager shares his honest point of view to taking drugs. Dan and his close friends did not take drugs, which makes these events even more shocking. A spine chilling monologue about the funeral is well acted and so poignant that it could stand alone.
Why do young people take drugs? Is it Grooming or peer pressure?
Theatre in education is an effective genre to inform, to educate and to make real life situations relatable and to prompt us to ask questions about how and why things happen. Conversations after seeing a play like this let the audience into the decision making process, problem solving and understanding the consequences.
Sadly the aftermath of this nightmare is raw and hard hitting when Dan’s parents’ disbelief morphs into reality. The fact that Dan’s family shares their true story with Mark Wheeller and this theatre company, is generous and heartfelt – and by doing so they hope it will help others to understand what happened and to learn from this experience and how to avoid it.
In moving and impactful scenes told with dialogue, physical acting, empathy, respect and humanity we learn that Dan enjoyed playing in the garden as a young boy, took part in everything at school and had already begun to support important causes. He was helpful, loved, lovable and accomplished in his short life.