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Formerly titled as Goodfellow

An advantage of being a project-based company is that the development of an idea is not constrained by the economic pressure of keeping a company on the road at all costs.

However, the current funding climate is testing our determination to get this play in front of the audience that we feel it deserves. The initial development grant from the Wellcome Trust, allowed us two weeks of work with a small cast, leading to a well-received showcase of sample scenes. Two further applications to the Wellcome Trust to mount a full production proved fruitless, ultimately because we didn’t fit the brief of ongoing partnership with a bio-medical professional – true, the play was researched and written, and further input would have been superfluous; though we certainly fulfil the public education remit.

Since then, in spite of committed interest from two established London Venues, two applications to Arts Council England have been turned down, even though both acknowledged a ‘strong artistic project’ with a ‘strong artistic team’.

During this time, the script has continued to evolve – some material has been cut and scenes and songs have been added. It remains an unconventional piece of documentary drama that challenges the simplistic myth-making of the Hollywood Western genre. Our charismatic central character, George Goodfellow, was a shameless self-promoter, and – as it has turned out – not averse to being a little economical with the truth. He was nonetheless part of a growing community of doctors. Most film Westerns tend to have one of everything: one sheriff, one preacher, one judge, one good-hearted prostitute, and one doctor. Well, when Goodfellow arrived in Tombstone, there were already twelve doctors practising in a boom-town that had barely existed for two years and was still calling itself a camp. In all, four of these doctors feature in our cast, along with their collaborations and petty rivalries.

Our subtitle ‘Anatomy of the Gun’ has been promoted to headline, not so much to reflect a change of content as a shift of focus and appeal. While ‘Goodfellow’ set out to be a theatrical biopic of an under-recognised pioneer trauma surgeon, it has also contingently been a historical examination of guns and their ambiguous role in constructing a social order. I didn’t set out to write a worthy piece about gun control, playing to the prevailing British horror at the USA’s second amendment legacy of mass-shootings. My characters are all real people and as far as possible have been allowed to speak for themselves in their actions and their own words, recorded in diaries and quoted in newspaper articles. Sober and worthy I am not, and my personal views have been restricted almost entirely to the epilogue song ‘Gunorrhoea’!

However, it can’t be ignored that Arts Council funding leans towards issue-based drama and that, often, topicality parading itself as ‘relevance’ starts with an advantage. Well, on this front we have a good case to make, with an important piece of background that gives significant insights into how things have come to be the way they are… while not forgetting the duty of popular theatre to entertain!

So where do we go from here?

Faith in the play remains undiminished and the quest for funding continues. A sponsorship drive has begun. £5,000 would at least give us a shot at going out as a profit-share but would also improve our chances for a third shot at ACE. While primarily aiming at the UK audience, exploratory moves at reaching a US audience are also underway. Beggarsbelief – it’s in the name.

Carl Heap

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