Writer and actress, Morwenna Banks, discusses her new powerful new play, 'Goodbye', due to air this week on BBC Radio 4.
My friends, my inspiration
‘Goodbye’ was conceived after the death of three friends, all of whom were diagnosed with breast cancer in their thirties.
Deborah- who is credited at the end of the drama- and I had been working on an idea she’d had for a book while she was ill. She wanted to write about her experience of having cancer, but in a funny way. We’d meet round at our houses, have a gossip and do a bit of work.
During this time, another friend- who was the first person I really knew to have breast cancer- died, leaving behind three young children and a husband. I couldn’t bring myself to tell Deborah. We just kept writing.
Deborah wasn’t a professional writer but she was a wonderfully witty and articulate person and her work reflected that. In the end, our writing sessions became too much. Deborah became very unwell and so eventually the writing stopped.
But before she died she entrusted the writing to me and asked me to ‘do something’ with it.
Starting to write
I couldn’t look at what had been written for a year after her death. I couldn’t face it. When I did look at the work, I was confounded by what I could do with it.
A respected literary agent told me there wasn’t enough material for any kind of novel. That made me feel very protective of my friend, so I decided to try to write a drama around the fragments and to see where that took me. In the interim a third friend died, strengthening my resolve to get the drama out into the world. It became even more important to ‘do something’.
It was not an easy process getting this drama made. Many executives found it too difficult a subject. However, thanks to a few brave and persistent people, the show ended up being commissioned for Radio 4.
I am indebted in particular to Heather Larmour, the tireless radio producer who eventually got the programme made. I also wish to thank the families of the women to whom the drama is dedicated; without their support and generosity it would not have happened.
The incredible cast
We recorded the show in early September this year, with a cast that I could not have dared dream would do it. I thank everyone who took part from the bottom of my heart.
Special mention goes to Olivia Colman who is compassionate, funny and breathtakingly brilliant as Lizzie, Natascha McElhone who is so warm and witty as Jen; you want her to be your best friend.
Darren Boyd plays Lizzie’s husband Matt with incredible dexterity and an ability to be natural, honest and emotional with perfect comic timing- he is amazing. John Simm lends a beautiful gravitas and nuanced troubled soul as Nick.
Alison Steadman encapsulates the warmth and heartache of a mother losing her complex but beloved daughter.
Fantastic Olivia Poulet played the waspish character of ‘Suze’ and the lovely Judy Flynn - who I had worked with on Shameless last year - played various parts for us. Chris Simon, actor and tireless film producer, played Sean, the Australian Nurse.
In casting the children we really wanted kids who would sound natural but who would be able to deal with the difficult subject matter. Harley Bird I knew because she plays my daughter, Peppa Pig, in the animation of the same name. Her voice is magical, as is she.
Seren Deeks handled the emotional arc of a troubled ten year old with incredible maturity and my own little boy tried out for the part of Billy and was cast because he sounded so natural and cheeky, having not done any acting before.
Dolly, my young daughter, provides the vocals for the song at the end, and Pete Baikie, my dear friend and ‘Absolutely’ co-hort, played the guitar on our acoustic version of the ‘Death Cab For Cutie’ song ‘I’ll Follow You Into The Dark’.
The recording was extremely emotional and took us all by surprise, I think. I didn’t expect to feel so re-immersed in many of the emotions I had felt at the time with my friends. So now it’s done and about to go out there into the world.
My hope is that the drama goes a little way to encouraging people (especially younger women) to be ‘breast aware’ and to not fear making a fuss if they feel something is not right.
Mainly, I just hope you enjoy it.
- Learn more about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer
- Hear Morwenna discussing her new play on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour here.
- The play will feature on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday 19 October 2014 at 14.30. Listen again to 'Goodbye' here
- Editors note, October 2015: 'Goodbye' has since been turned into a film starring Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette called 'Miss You Already'. Find out more.