About fifteen years ago, Trevor Walker, Professor of Drama at St Mary’s, was invited to work with award-winning novelist and playwright Nell Dunn to develop a theatre piece about cancer. Dunn had collected a series of interviews with healthcare workers, carers, cancer patients and survivors, and their stories became the basis of her verbatim play Cancer Tales. Published in 2002, the play, directed by Walker, was performed at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and then, fittingly, at a Royal Society of Medicine conference on the role of the arts in healthcare.
The subject matter and the novel presentation struck a chord with the nation, and a great deal of media coverage ensued.
Cancer Tales was republished in 2007, with the collaboration of Professor Walker, as a medical workbook, and distributed as a free resource to doctors. The play script has become a teaching tool in medical training, and Trevor Walker a key figure and representative of arts in the healthcare industry, both nationally and internationally.
To date, more than 10,000 copies of this book have been circulated to healthcare professionals and it has won three Communiqué awards.
In 2009 Professor Walker was awarded the Allianz Business to Arts award in Ireland, presented by Irish President Mary McAleese.
Pharmaceutical giants Mundipharma International and Napp Pharmaceuticals funded a film version of Cancer Tales in 2010, directed by Professor Walker, and extracts of this are freely available to healthcare professionals as an online resource.
Nell Dunn’s second medical play, Home Death, was published in 2011. Professor Walker and his theatre company Strawberry Hill Creative were commissioned by the National Council of Palliative Care to present the premier production to the Royal Society of Medicine, and then-Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley.
In 2013, Home Death was performed in The House of Lords to assist the debate on Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. This was the first time a play had ever been performed at the Palace of Westminster
- Professor Walker and his company are touring both Cancer Tales and Home Death around Europe in 2014
- Marie Curie Cancer Care are sponsoring further performances of Home Death around the UK
- Current St Mary’s Drama students and staff are working on a spin-off production in collaboration with The Teenage Cancer Trust, which will be premiered in Autumn 2014
- Professor Walker has big plans for Home Death for 2015, and is currently seeking funding for a public engagement project, to be based in London
Did You Know?
- Cancer Tales and Home Death author Nell Dunn has won the Laurence Olivier award for Best New Comedy, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize
- Professor Walker’s theatre in healthcare work has contributed to government initiatives in Croatia to develop palliative care and hospice programmes
- Sponsors have included the NHS, the Royal Society of Medicine, MacMillan, Marie Curie, Maggie’s Centre, Cancer Research UK and the National Council of Palliative Care