How To Write A Play If You’re A Medic

PETER SKIDMORE is a medic, and he’s a playwright. Ladies and Gentlemen it is possible. Read on to find out how.

ADC theatre cambridge cambridge unviersity Comedy funny jokes medics peter skidmore sketch show write a play

I wrote a play. And I’m a medic.

Two beautifully juxtaposed phrases, two sentences which in all honesty should have the good grace to acknowledge each other swiftly before moving on to associate with sentences of their own kind. I’m here to tell you not to be afraid. Embrace the clash.

What saves more lives, the pen or the scalpel? Quite possibly a healthy mixture of the two. Here’s how to write a play if you’re a medic…

1. Escape the stereotype

Medics don’t do that sort of thing. They like blood cells and needles and complaining. Medics don’t have time for that sort of thing. They like working and dissecting and complaining.

Well, maybe. But in between all the blood cells and complaining, I have written a play. It’s being put on. With real people saying the words in front of other real people, who will be playing real money to see it. It’s all got a little bit out of hand.

2. Think of a plot. Don’t make it just about medicine. Think of something other than medicine.

Ah. Well, you see, here I do stumble a little. The play is about someone in hospital. I started working in hospitals last year, as part of my clinical training, and it kind of got to me. I started spending time on wards, and seeing patients, and seeing relatives, and seeing deaths, and I began to realise that in one hospital side-room, in just one day, there was something microcosmic. Here was real theatre, with humour and tragedy and pathos. Here were people at their most inspiring, and yet in their darkest moments. Here was a script ready-made, real and invariably honest.

And so I started to write, not drawing on a true story, but hundreds of true stories. I decided to condense what I could into a single hour in a hospital side-room, where a comatose woman lies dying.

Surgeon writing notesWrite in a hospital, but maybe not about a hospital. Or, write in a hospital about a hospital.

3. Put jokes in. People don’t like to hear about disease unless you lighten the mood.

It’s a comedy. Death and comas do not lend themselves easily to belly laughs, I’ll admit. But at the same time, I’ve found that there is an inextinguishable sense of humour in those facing illness, which is impossible to ignore when writing about these issues. For me at least, it’s the jokes made by patients which linger in my memory longer than the tears shed.

4. Create a believable protagonist

The main character has no lines. Just lies there. In a coma. It’s her family and friends who tell her story, remembering her romances and fights, dredging up old tensions, confessing dirty secrets. Her illness and approaching death provide a focus from which characters can explore the ties of family life and the nature of change.

coma_polishComatose protagonists have always been a fertile starting point

5. Make it relatable. All good plays are relatable to someone.

At the end of the day, this show could be viewed just as it is – the straightforward chronicle of one woman’s final hours, with a few silly jokes. But I hope it contains something more familiar than that, Ihope that it captures just an element of that universality found in a hospital bed.

And then I can go back to my blood cells and complaining.

Pete’s play An Earlier Heaven runs from 19th – 23rd November at Corpus Playrooms.