‘So amusing, so moving, so acute emotionally… A remarkably rich first play.’ ★★★★ The Times
‘Fierce and compelling’ ★★★★ Evening Standard
‘Bold, funny and impressive’ ★★★★ Time Out
‘Full of lively wit and sharp observation… beautifully acted’ ★★★★ The Independent
Daisy is sixteen. She was normal. Now she’s just an ill person with a disease no one has heard of.
The hospital tells her father Peter that she must travel regularly to London for specialist treatment – but how on earth will he get time off work? There’s one person he could ask for help. Problem is, Daisy’s not going to like it…
Melanie Spencer makes her Hampstead Theatre debut as writer and director of a bittersweet comedy which examines the complexities of family life.
‘A dynamic and thrilling company’ Christopher Haydon – Artistic Director, Gate.
Made By Brick create work that explores modern life. Their previous productions include the sell-out run of Chicken at Southwark Playhouse.
Thursday 11 July – ‘Health in Art’ Post-show Q&A
Writer and director Melanie Spencer and members of the cast will talk with Professor Beverly Hunt who helped inform Responsible Other. Please join us for this free Q&A session to explore how medical input underpinned Made By Brick’s creative process.
Approximate running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including a 20 minute interval
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|Wed 26 Jun||7:45pm||Press Night||Archived|
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|Thu 11 Jul||7:45pm||With post show Q & A||Archived|
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This first play by Melanie Spencer got some press before it opened because Danielle Bux, the wife of Gary Lineker, has a small role in it as a teacher. Now that it has opened we can say, no offence to Bux, that she is not the story here. Responsible Other is an astonishingly good debut. It’s a bittersweet comedy about a 15-year-old girl with lupus, a chronic auto-immune condition that is keeping her off school and threatening her life. An issue drama? When you see that Spencer wrote it “in consultation with staff and patients at the Lupus Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital”, you imagine so.
But Spencer’s achievement, both as writer and as director for her company Made By Brick, is to spin her premise into something so amusing, so moving, so acute emotionally. It’s funny, in its depiction of Daisy’s teenage truculence with her widowed dad Peter, and of her changing friendship with her best friend from school. It’s sad, in her buried grief for both her mother and her own life, and in the way that she can’t connect with Peter. It’s heartwarming, in the bond that she forms with Diane, her damaged aunt, who takes her from home in Northampton to chemotherapy in London. And it’s so well balanced. We both flinch at and understand entirely Daisy’s flintiness and Peter’s irascibility. No canonising, no censuring. Just the good intentions and unreliable outcomes of real life that show how one of us tries to be the responsible one in any partnership. Alice Sykes as Daisy puts up her defences against her dad and lets them down for Diane as mock exams drift by and Hollyoaks washes over her instead: “I could sit a GCSE in ITV.” Andy Frame as Peter, Tricia Kelly as Diane and Candassaie Liburd as best-friend Alice are exceptional too in this remarkably rich first play.
Daisy (superb Alice Sykes) is nearly sixteen and might have expected to be tumbling through the teenage rites of passage with her peers – from studying for mock-GCSEs to trying to sneak into clubs with a fake ID.
Instead, she languishes at home in her novelty onesies, disaffectedly flipping between laptop and trash TV. Having lost her mother to cancer only eighteen months previously, Daisy has herself been been diagnosed with the auto-immune disease Lupus which can cause life-threatening organ damage.
Peter, her father (spot-on Andrew Frame) is a good man mortgaged to the hilt and struggling to hold everything together in the face of this second major crisis in quick succession. He and Daisy are close but still in their separate bubbles of grieving and, with this new additional stress, they can only communicate through the warfare of mutual exasperation.
It drives him mad that his daughter forgets to take her pills and neglects to keep up with her homework chart. Hurt and angry in her belief that he is treating her as set of problems rather than a person, Sykes’s Daisy brilliantly suggests the accumulating loneliness behind by the rebellious campaign of pouting adolescent truculence and stroppy one-liners. The crunch comes when Peter needs someone to take her to St Thomas’s in London for her weekly chemotherapy sessions and has to turn to a reclusive maternal aunt, played by Tricia Kelly, who’s transfixing as a chronically buttoned-up woman for whom it’s a battle to get through the front door let alone to the South Bank.
You might be thinking that this scenario is bit top-heavy with troubles and would make for grim evening. But Melanie Spencer’s exceedingly attractive and accomplished debut play Responsible Other is full of lively wit and sharp observation, as her beautifully acted production brings out. The scenes with Candassaie Liburd as Daisy’s school-chum Alice, who visits with work-sheets and gossip about Slutty Ashley and “drinking Malibu in Vicky’s bedroom” and group realignments, are little comic masterpieces about the proprietary nature of teenage female friendship. What’s touching is that the well-meaning Alice is blunderingly far from the epitome of cool (she’s hoping to “catch bulimia…before One Direction at O2”) and that, though sceptical, Daisy can’t resist being envious.
The potentially sentimental growing rapport with the aunt is likewise handled with humour and oblique poignancy, starting off with tentative train-journey exchanges about Heat Magazine articles on Lady Gaga and lactose-intolerance where, though the pair barely speak the same language, it’s an improvement on silence. Warmly recommended.
The worldwide success of US medical drama House gave rise to a popular T-shirt slogan. “It’s never lupus” poked fun at the diagnostic tricksiness of the show but in this fierce and compelling debut play from writer/director Melanie Spencer, it very much is lupus. The victim of this elusive and sometimes life-threatening auto-immune disease here is 15-year-old Daisy, and unfortunately there’s no Hugh Laurie on hand to find a solution in the 41st minute.
Illness dramas tend to fall into one of two camps. There’s either Hollywood-style grieving parents/cherubic children or hospital-centred action, where patients are mere foils for medical brilliance.
Spencer, who did her homework through long hours in an actual Lupus Unit, is having none of this. Instead she strips things back to a point of bracing everyday simplicity for Daisy (Alice Sykes) and her widowed father (Andy Frame). How will he find the money — and all the days off work — for the trips to London for her chemotherapy? Confined to the house as she is, how will Daisy cope with her friends embarking on all those teenage rites of passage without her?
Spencer captures with great sensitivity the way Dad and Daisy, each trapped in their own private snowglobe of fear and worry, have turned home into a permanent battlefield.
One might argue that a recently dead mother, a gravely ill teenager and a long-estranged aunt suddenly launched back into the fray is too much trauma for just one play with a single living room set but such rookie excesses — and some oddly cumbersome elisions between scenes — can be forgiven when Spencer gets much else right. The way she captures the dynamics of high-pitched youthful female friendship is exquisite.
The remarkable Sykes, whom we first encounter in the priceless outfit of a giraffe onesie and heart-shaped red sunglasses, is a wonderful repertoire of snappy disdain carefully cultivated to overlay boundless bewilderment. She’s well supported by Candassaie Liburd as ebullient friend Alice and Tricia Kelly as the socially awkward aunt. Danielle Bux, aka Mrs Gary Lineker, does a decent job in her very limited stage time as a teacher.
The arrival of a serious illness has the potential to disrupt the present, the future and every human bond. In her debut play, Melanie Spencer offers insight into the unforgiving and cruel effects of an illness that’s stubbornly lodged itself between every fibre of a young life.
Sporting a giraffe-style onesie and heart shaped sunglasses, sixteen year old Daisy (Alice Sykes) is confined to her living room sofa. With only her ungrounded father Peter (Andy Frame) for support, she must face the reality of having her life invaded by the illness, which we learn to be the auto-immune disease Lupus. Whilst Peter meticulously documents every aspect of her life, from symptoms to homework, she battles with the frustration of having limitations placed on the body and life that should be consumed with lighter affairs.
Spencer wrote the play in consultation with staff and patients at the Lupus Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital. The human vein that runs throughout is proof of this consultation, as well as her ability to acutely capture Daisy’s challenging circumstances.
Daisy’s illness sparks an unflinching conflict that underpins the whole play. There’s conflict between father and daughter, mind and body, maturity and youth. Acting as catalysts for the emotions that become restrained within these conflicts are, Alice (Candassaie Liburd) and Diane (Tricia Kelly). Alice is Daisy’s sweetly naive school friend whose sense of self is determined by the answer to the all-important question: Topshop of Miss Selfridge?
Daisy’s uneasy, estranged Aunt Diane who has been enlisted by Peter to accompany her to the treatment sessions in London, allows her to re-connect with her deceased mother. Like emotional atoms, their presence permits the feelings of fear and loss to seep out of Daisy and Peter’s tightly wound personas. Liburd and Kelly offer affecting performances in these pivotal roles, and Sykes’ turn as Daisy is pitch perfect.
Spencer’s debut, (which she also directed) is swathed in natural warmth. There are moments when the play feels padded out and flags, but this can be attributed to the scope of her gaze. Most important however, is the question posed by the play: How do we cope when the body designs the journey?
‘Do you even know what a kidney is?’ It’s a question asked by Daisy, protagonist of Melanie Spencer’s debut play. Well Daisy does, because she’s on the verge of losing one.
She’s a typically rude, brash, know-it-all teenager. But she’s also got lupus, the symptoms of which are notoriously hard to pin down, debilitating and often life-threatening. Having recently lost her mother to cancer, Daisy struggles through her bleak fifteenth year, looked after by a father who is fraught with worry at his daughter’s illness and disintegrating school grades and his own money problems.
There’s a lot of woe potential there and towards the end, it does all get a bit much. At the play’s climax, the drama will most likely leave you blubbering all over the 80-seater Hampstead Downstairs.
But aside from slight emotional overkill, Spencer’s script generally paints a realistic, witty portrait of a complicated modern family. Spencer, who also directs, focuses on the journey Daisy and the rest of her family must take to stop feeling like victims and enjoy life as best they can.
As Daisy, Alice Sykes throws her harsh, smart-arsed one-liners about with gleeful comic timing. She is excellent and hits the perfect balance of teenage loathing, confusion and vulnerability. The rest of the cast are strong too, with a hilarious turn from Yetunde Oduwole as a Nigerian nurse who offers Daisy’s family some timely, well-considered advice. ‘Responsible Other’ isn’t perfect, but it is a bold, funny and impressive debut.