Trigger Warning: Drugs
Anyone who has gone through the pain of losing someone far before their time knows that it is something you can never truly leave behind. However, with distance comes a perspective which can change some tragedies into a powerful and enduring tool for education and change.
As part of Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s 2021 online selections, Tie It Up Theatre presents I Love You, Mum – I Promise I Won’t Die, a verbatim play by Mark Wheeller. Originally published in 2017, this is the true story of Daniel, a boy who died in 2014 after overdosing on MDMA at a rave aged only sixteen. The one-hour play clears away the negative preconceptions that come with the news headlines, focusing instead on who Daniel was and the things that mattered most to him: his family and friends.
Leading us into the pre-recorded play are direct interviews with Fiona and Tim Spargo-Mabbs, Daniel’s parents, filmed in the theatre. Much like a prologue, they bring a reality to the words of the play in a way that would not have been possible in a live stage performance.
What follows these touching tributes is acted out by a company of four (Amy Balmforth, Danny Mellor, Ashley Pekri, and Cobie Scott-Ward), all based on interviews with Daniel’s parents, friends, girlfriends, his brother and a paramedic on scene at the time of his collapse. Each lends a different voice and perspective to his character and the events that led to his sorrowful end. Their memories of Daniel are always positively charged, describing the relationship they had with him in an honest and emotional way, with the actors’ portrayals doing well to avoid indulging in too much sentimentality.
The way verbatim is used in this production is so artful, the words are speaking of a time gone by and yet feel so rooted in the present. This spills over into Daniel’s role within the play, who feels ever present throughout. Daniel is of course the one person whose opinion we really want to hear, the only one who can truly speak to his feelings and actions. And yet all the company are able to provide are his text messages – clouded in teenage self-consciousness – and things that people remember him saying, and so an image of him is painted before us by those around him.
Director Elliot Montgomery does a superb job of keeping a fluid motion on stage, the text spurring the cast onward at all times, never lingering too long, so that when there are truly poignant moments there is a decisiveness to their stillness. Small elements of costume indicate character, with the performers almost treating them as if the garments were the people themselves, most notably the red hoodie of Daniel which stalks the stage like a ghost. The character choices are subtle, clearly differentiated, whilst maintaining some semblance of respect for the real people behind them.
Gorgeous music and sound by Chris Bevan captures the rhythm of the piece, always complimenting unless deliberately trying to get in our faces – such as at the rave when it leaves us feeling uncomfortably transfixed in the inevitable events unfolding.
This play, which supports the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation (a drug education charity), is a touching tribute to a life needlessly lost. Striving to raise awareness of systemic drug abuse, the text also leaves me thinking of what we leave behind in the hearts and minds of those around us and how we must always cherish the good that people do.
I Love You, Mum – I Promise I Won’t Die is now available to stream online. For more information and to watch please go to Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s website.