Inspired by the words written as a child on the back of an instamatic photo, THIS IS ME is a collection of memories from the earlier life of Diane Samuels. These include experiences of Dancing, Stealing, Pets, Asthma, Painting, Shop-assisting, Almost-going to Australia, Bullying, Lying, Being injured, Friendship, and more.
But this is not an autobiographical monologue. These fragments are the material used to create a multi-dimensional collage that explores where ME, YOU and US meet. The order in which they are shared is decided spontaneously by the audience one by one and are then enacted by any number of performers from 1 upwards.
“Do I see myself in that image of the child, as I look at her, me, now, around half a century later? Can I still say THIS IS ME about her? Could she say THIS IS ME about me? Do you ever ask WHO AM I? Are you ever asked WHO ARE YOU? For there’s not only one ME here right now, is there? There are as many MEs as there are of you. Each one of you is also a ME. And each one of you sees the ME that is MYSELF differently. So there are the YOUs that are YOU and the MEs that are YOU and the MEs that are how you perceive ME. This is not just about ME. It’s for YOU too.”
Photo of set for CHICKENSHED production of THIS IS ME, Feb/Mar 2018
Dina is the only sister of Joseph whose technicolour "dream" coat has drawn so much attention. Her own story in the Bible’s book of Genesis is contrastingly brief, raising many more questions than it answers. Her role, feelings and what exactly happens when she encounters Shechem, prince of a local tribe, are unclear. If she is raped by him, why then does he go to great lengths to prove his love for her? How does she regard his marriage proposal and her brothers’ ruthless response, wiping out all the men in his tribe?
SONG OF DINA is a modern opera with music by composer Maurice Chernick and libretto by Diane Samuels that combines song, music and spoken word.
What new discoveries are to be revealed by probing the original family from which the Jewish people have sprung? How do their ambitions, relationships, cares, strengths and failings inform what has unraveled over the centuries and millennia since that fateful day when Dina first went out from their encampment to meet the Women of the Land and met one of their men? Hers is a different perspective that has been there all along.
At last, this silenced, often ignored, daughter of Israel finds her voice and sings from the bottom of her heart and soul. She has been waiting for millennia for the generation that will hear her voice.
Photo of the area in the vicinity of Nablus/Shechem by Jillian Edelstein
Since the first production of KINDERTRANSPORT at the Cockpit Theatre in London in 1993 the play has been and continues to be performed and studied all over the world.
I was a young mother with a toddler in 1989 when I saw on TV a documentary marking the 50th anniversary of the Kindertransport and how 10,000 permits were made available to children under the age of 16, mostly Jewish, in danger in Nazi occupied Europe in 1938/39 to come to safety in Britain. It hit me that whilst in most cases a parent will choose to send a child away to be safe if the family’s life is threatened, the child will in most cases choose to stay with the parent and prefer to die with them. In the documentary a fifty-five year old woman described, ashamedly, that the feeling she felt most strongly towards her dead parents was rage at their abandonment of her, even though that abandonment had saved her life. I felt the urge to write about this.
he entire play is set in the present and reveals different levels of inner and outer reality. So the Eva scenes are not “flashbacks” but evocations of Evelyn’s repressed psyche. Past and present are wound around each other throughout the play. They are inextricably connected. The re-running of what happened many years ago is not there to explain how things were, but is happening inside Evelyn now.
Photo from Tower Theatre production, 2017
WALTZ WITH ME
WALTZ WITH ME is a play with music inspired by the life of Cornelia Connelly, who sacrificed her relationship with her family and children to become Reverend Mother and founder of an order of nuns and schools, including Mayfield near Tunbridge Wells.
Struggling to decide whether to leave a deeply unhappy marriage, Maggie Byrne finds herself unexpectedly praying for guidance to Cornelia Connelly, foundress of the Catholic girls school she attended in her youth. Sharing a common love for music, Cornelia’s remarkable life begins to waltz and weave through Maggie’s. During the acrimonious divorce that follows, including the loss of custody of her two children, Maggie continues to draw inspiration and courage from Cornelia’s progress from 19th century wife of the passionate, ambitious Pierce Connelly, mother of their five children, to sudden heart-breaking bereavement, the shattering of her own marriage, then alienation from her surviving children, as she discovers her own vocational calling to become an enlightened educational pioneer.
Throughout, Maggie never gives up hope that one day, she will be reunited with her distant children. As their separate yet connected dance continues across the years Maggie is ultimately transported to a kind of redemption, something that seems miraculous.
WALTZ WITH ME isa new play about marriage, devotion, devastation and what lies beyond. It explores the dynamics of marriage, the challenges of motherhood, the nature of personal sacrifice for a bigger cause and the impact of faith. It also acknowledges a human ability to transform adversity and loss into deeper understanding and generosity of action, with surprisingly moving consequences.
In a world not entirely unlike the world in which we live now, slightly sideways from the heart of the big metropolis, along the Hollow Way, down a side street, by the crossroads, is the Tea Room. Here, the tea is hot and the eggs are freshly laid, served with homely flair. But it’s far more than a watering-hole. Advice, help, information, assistance are on hand, served with experience, knowledge, understanding.
After all, this Tea Room is at the very same address as one of Marie Stopes’ first Mothers’ Clinics way back in the 1920s. There’s a green plaque on the wall outside to prove it, although time and weather have taken their toll and the letters have worn so thin these days that it’s almost illegible. No funds to restore it. These things are not a priority. So many resources, once hard-earned and then taken for granted, are too precious and in short supply to be free for all any longer. Public Health funds are stretched beyond their limits tending the sick. The healthy must manage as best they can, no matter how stretched or in need. “But this is still a matter of Life, never mind Death.” Says Lady Pearl Grey. So, here she is, a lifetime’s experience on hand, with her team of helpers, to provide what is still needed as much as ever.
Combining, song, music, the real and surreal, to tell stories of love and intimacy, THE RHYTHM METHOD asks what is your rhythm, what is your method and how on earth do you combine the two?
Based on extensive interviews and research with medical specialists, couples, singles, men, women, historians, people of faith, nurses, doctors and each other, composer Gwyneth Herbert and writer Diane Samuels embrace actual experience, the basics and complexities of pro-creativity to look again from different angles at the ever-changing facts and fictions of life.
POPPY + GEORGE
It is 1919. The Great War is over.
The East End of London. A Dressmaker and Costumier’s workshop.
Three men - Smith, the dressmaker; Tommy Johns, the music hall artiste; Georgie Sampson, the chauffeur.
One woman - Poppy, independent idealist in search of work.
Together they will laugh and drink and disagree, be beautiful and ugly, make clothes and friendship, fall into love and despair.
1919. The year in which they find out who is wearing the trousers and who they really are.
POPPY + GEORGE is written in the age-old British theatrical tradition of cross-dressing and confusion: Drag and Dames, Principal Boys and Comic Turns. It is set in a time when people were struggling with their sense of themselves no less than we are today.
PERSEPHONE (a love story)
Sephi is teenage daughter of Deo, goddess of Nature. Her future alongside her mother, nurturing all that grows, is assured. And yet she is drawn to the shadows, to the gnarled willow tree where, the Moon goddess Hecate tells her, Death himself emerges from below to prowl the world.
She does not realize that whilst she is questioning everything, she is herself being watched by an admirer. Hades, god of the Underworld is besotted. He secures permission from Zeus, Sephi’s father and god of the skies, to take her. A trap is set - a field of strange flowers. Sephi is mesmerized and picks one. The earth cracks open. Hades abducts her and proceeds to court her, offering eternal marriage in the shadowlands of ghosts. Meanwhile, on Earth, Deo’s grief at the loss of her beloved daughter leads to the shutdown of nature. Humanity teeters on the brink of extinction.
By the time Zeus intervenes, asking for Sephi to return home, she has been utterly transformed. Hades’ devotion and passion has moved her deeply and she now returns his love. She has come into her own as Persephone, dark goddess. Hades offers her a pomegranate and a choice - if she eats the fruit of the Underworld, she is bound to live with him there forever. Or she can go back to her mother and the world above. Persephone struggles to come to terms with her longing to be both a woman and a girl. Finally, she eats six seeds. She and Hades pledge themselves to each other. Yet she still longs to see her family again. He agrees to a compromise – for each seed eaten she will stay with him, which leaves six months of the year to return. As they are bound to each other, he sets her free, and Persephone leaves for half a year to bring new life to the ravaged Earth as the first spring awakens.
PERSEPHONE (a love story) is set in the a world of “Now and Forever” where one young woman’s journey affects all humankind, evoking the essential cycles of all our lives: the poignant parting of child from childhood, emergence from the protective motherly embrace and facing the fear and passion of sexual awakening with a dark soul mate. How do we find balance between who we think we are and our deepest hidden longings? What do the seeds of the pomegranate promise? Is the most powerful love one that lets you go?
Music by Maurice Chernick, Words by Diane Samuels.
Photos by Adam Petto of Jessica Martin as Deo, Kara Lily Hayworth as Sephi/Persephone, David Bedella as Hades, Ken Christiansen as Hermes at Rosemary Branch public read/sing presentations funded by Arts Council in 2013.
IMAGE BY JAKE GARFIELD
LAND OF THE FREE
1969, the shores of Lake Champlain, upstate New York. Rosa Gold, wife of radical lawyer Joe Gold, and mother of five, sees a naked woman emerge from the water in the moonlight. Uncompromising and determined, Heidi lives the life Rosa, herself a communist, failed to sustain. Rosa had been arrested for spying for the Soviets in 1949. Joe had been her defence lawyer - he rescued her from the death penalty, then she married him. Still haunting her is the mysterious figure of Bud, FBI agent, defender of the Land of the Brave and the Free.
LAND OF THE FREE explores what it is to be a revolutionary in the USA in the late twentieth century, the nature of personal and political love, marriage for life, betrayal and the struggle to make a fairer world.
THE A-Z OF MRS P
In 1936, Phyllis Pearsall left her husband in Venice and came to find her way in London.
Only she got lost.
And here begins the story of how an eccentric Bohemian artist put down her paints and picked up the drawing board to map an entire city. Follow her incredible journey through the thoroughfares and alleyways of London as she clambers over cobbles and scales new heights to build an iconic business midst the tangled labyrinths of her own troubled family saga. All this, under the shadow of a father who knows better.
For anyone who has ever searched to find their way, here is the amazing myth and even more remarkable reality behind the handy, all-purpose, pocket-sized A-Z Street Guide of 23,000 streets (with house numbers).
Singer/composer Gwyneth Herbert and playwright/author Diane Samuels have joined forces to make their own journey of invention, imagination and emotional courage, exploring the trail left by Phyllis' footsteps to relate in words, music and song the moving story of a pioneering woman who truly found her own feet.
Paper cut-out artwork by Su Blackwell.
Set design for Southwark Playhouse production, 2014, by Klara Zieglerova
HOW TO BEAT A GIANT
It is bedtime for Sniff and his older sister Lenny. Time to retire to their respective bunks. Lenny has the top bunk. Sniff has the bottom bunk. Lenny calls the shots. Time also for the story about Molly Whuppie and how she tricks the giant. But what happens after the story when the lights are out and the babysitter is downstairs watching telly? What happens when Lenny forces Sniff to act out the story taking all the best parts for herself? What happens when the giant comes to life and Sniff, for once, gets the upper hand?
This is the story of how Sniff and Lenny struggle with their giant and, in the process of beating her, find a new way of getting on with each other which doesn’t depend on force.
PHOTOS OF UNICORN THEATRE PRODUCTION IN 2007
THE TRUE-LIFE FICTION OF MATA HARI
It is 1917. The First World War has taken its toll on 'gay Paree'. Everyone is struggling, not least the notorious exotic dancer, Mata Hari, formerly Margaretha Zelle from Holland. Arrested for passing information to the Germans but steadfastly proclaiming her love for France, her sincerity and innocence, Mata Hari is interrogated by two Frenchmen who are convinced that everything she says and does is a lethal fiction.
For years Mata Hari has been seen as a femme fatale and a dangerous spy. But the 'truth' behind this remarkable woman is a good deal more complex, with many having their own motives for their version of her story. Why is everything about her not quite what it seems? And what really lies beneath her many masks?
END OF ROMANCE
It begins at Casa Magni in Italy, 1822 and ends on the Mediterranean sea, 2100. Mary Shelley faces the drowning of her husband, poet Percy Shelley, fights for possession of his heart snatched from his funeral pyre by his publisher and meets a man who may be the central character of her next novel, or a visitor from the future.
When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein she was in her late teens. She had not only eloped with the poet Shelley, then married to another woman, but also given birth to a son and travelled across Europe. As the work poured forth during the turbulent winter of 1816/17, Mary’s half-sister then Shelley’s wife committed suicide. Her father, alienated by her elopement with the married poet, attended her wedding to Shelley in muted spirits. A dark work borne of loss and visionary imagination, “Frankenstein” has gone on, of course, to become a classic, still able to terrify readers and audiences the world over.
Not very many years later in 1822, Shelley drowned whilst sailing in stormy weather off the coast of northern Italy. Mary was left a widow with a young child, the only one remaining after six years of infant deaths and miscarriages. In the following years Lord Byron friend and poet also died, and the circle of Romantics disintegrated leaving Mary to pursue her own course, often lonely, bereft at the loss of her great love.
And now she began to work on a new novel that is less well known than her great iconic work, but perhaps even more terrifying. And why has this work been left to lie in obscurity when it is the first of a new genre, now so popular – the apocalyptic novel.
“The Last Man” begins with a visit by Mary to the cave of the sibyl of ancient Rome, soothsayer, seer. From the leaves on the rocky floor Mary discovers fragments revealing a voice from the final years of the 21st century foretelling the wipe out of humanity by Plague. Here Mary meets Lionel Verney, the central character of the Last Man and Mary’s alter ego, and he bit bit reveals to her how the characters in the novel and all of civilisation dissolve around his, the sole voice that remains to tell of the cataclysm.
Some works of literature are prophetic. Was it Mary’s intention to frighten her reader or enlighten them by offering a vision that looms beyond our collective horizon?
And how strange to discover that it is by going back to the 1820's that we can travel forwards to the final days of this, the twenty first and perhaps the last century.
IMAGES PAINTED BY ALICE FERNBANK whilst listening to a reading of END OF ROMANCE.
WRITERS MAGIC NOTEBOOK
SWINE is a modern road trip of mythical proportions, surreal, quirky, bold and surprising, that follows three very different, down-to-earth people on an unexpected spiritual quest.
One Friday morning, Ayesha, seventeen, sets off very early to fit in her paid-job before school. On her way she passes her local mosque. It has been assaulted, daubed with offensive slogans, a pig’s head pinned to the door. When the pig starts to squeal, begging her to help, Ayesha is astonished yet compelled to rescue it and follow its call.
And so begins a bizarre journey, lasting the course of the weekend, spanning the Muslim, Jewish and Christian Sabbaths, during which Ayesha and a middle-aged Rabbi called Judith travel the length and breadth of England following the call of a dead pig, pursued by a policeman called Peter.
IMAGES BY JAKE GARFIELD
In this author’s guide to the play, Diane Samuels investigates the historical background, drawing on the personal testimony of those whose lives were transformed by the Kindertransport. She explores the creative process that shaped the play through successive drafts. And she presents detailed accounts from the actors, directors, producers and designers who have contributed to the play’s most notable productions.
The result is an invaluable and authoritative guide for anyone studying, teaching or performing the play.