Rowntree Players seek the missing pieces – the cast – for The Missing Peace premiere

Director Gemma McDonald and writer Ian Donaghy at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre box office

NOBODY thought this morning when they turned the key in the door lock, “well, that’ll be the last time I’ll see you.”

So begins the book The Missing Peace: Creating A Life After Death, written by York musician, author, charity event organiser and motivational conference speaker Ian Donaghy, now adapted for the stage by Rowntree Players performer and York teacher Gemma McDonald and Ian himself.

Gemma loved the book and could not help but imagine it on stage, and so she and Rowntree Players pantomime co-writer and director Howard Ella approached Ian with the idea.

“The Missing Peace lends itself beautifully to the stage and also allows an opportunity for actors of all ages to highlight their talents with heart-breaking and heart-warming monologues,” she says. “It’s a very different, original and powerful production.”

Billed as “One play…fifteen endings”, The Missing Peace will be staged at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, on April 17 and 18 with plans for further performances in Yorkshire.

Already confirmed is the recorded involvement of narrator Mark Addy, York star of The Full Monty, The Game Of Thrones and now the new ITV crime drama White House Farm.

Mark Addy: narrator for The Missing Peace

“Mark will be in New York when our play opens in April, playing Harry in the Broadway premiere of Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen at the Golden Theatre from March, so he’s very kindly recording the narration before he leaves for the United States,” says Ian.

Next, Gemma will hold an initial meeting for anyone interested in being involved in The Missing Piece on Monday (January 13) at 7.30pm at Door 84 Youth & Community Centre in Lowther Street.

“We’re looking for a variety of actors of all different ages; there really is something for everyone to audition for,” says Gemma. “This is a very exciting project and I can’t wait to start next week.”

Ian shares that excitement. “There’s a big buzz already about this very ambitious production of a truly thought-provoking look into people’s lives after they have lost a loved one.

“The Missing Peace will show audiences that they’re not alone, and I’m also delighted to say that we’re presenting the play as a fundraising event with all proceeds going to local bereavement and hospice charities.”

Rarely will York be so well represented in a production, reckons Ian. “York actors;  York production company;  York set designers; York play written by a man who has made York his home about people who live in York,” he says.

The poster for Rowntree Players’ premiere of The Missing Peace

“As the poster says, ‘One play…fifteen endings’, because it includes Talking Heads-style monologues of people who have survived losing loved ones, illustrating how the power of kindness, friends and family have helped them through.”

After reading numerous self-help books and “I know so much better than you” guides, Ian felt there was a need for a book that “doesn’t tell you how you should be feeling”.

Former teacher, host of A Night To Remember at York Barbican  and still the larger-than-life Big Ian frontman of York band Huge, Ian has branched out into writing about dementia and campaigning to combat loneliness in the elderly, whether at conferences or in a series of moving short films on social media that he shoots in black and white.

He has written as one reviewer called it, “a 200-page cuddle”: a book where people share experiences and “you decide what you get from hearing their emotional stories”.

“My aim is to provide a survival guide for people to find their own ‘Missing Peace’,” says the inspirational writer and speaker. “It’s not a morose bereavement book. It won’t tell you how you should be feeling. It’s a book about how to be a better friend when your friends lose someone.”

Ian continues: “As we all grow older, our favourite characters are written out of our lives and we have to, somehow, carry on without them.

“Friends often feel powerless, so terrified of saying the wrong thing that they may say nothing, leaving their friend bereft and isolated.”

Ian Donaghy with Sally Rasmussen from The Missing Peace premiere sponsors The Chocolate Works Care Village

Consequently, the book and the play highlight the power of kindness and offer some tried-and-tested maverick ideas.

“The book is a scrapbook of monologues and stories from interviews and conversations I’ve had with people all over the UK in my work with older people and children,” says Ian, whose research took in bereavement groups, hospices, nurses, doctors and parents.

“There are stories looking at loss from many different angles. Many may surprise you…there’s even a short story about my father’s special Parker pen that cleverly illustrates how to get the best out of people.

“I’ve been invited in by some of the most inspirational, wonderful people, who have shared their innermost thoughts and emotions to help others, so thank you to them.”

The play will deliver an optimistic boost in the opening scene, saying, “If you are watching this play you, already have a 100% survival record. Congratulations!” It will go on to listen, in particular, to the views of children and our oldest generation, who are often ignored, says Ian.

“Children haven’t made their minds up yet and so give you unedited ideas, without any spin, and older people realise they can reflect on their successes and failures, so they either have wonderful experience or a hard-earned wisdom,” he suggests.

Sarah Atkinson, of St Leonard’s Hospice, one of two York charities to benefit from ticket sales for April’s premiere

“The play isn’t a magic wand, a flow chart through the grieving process, and it won’t kiss it better, but it will start the conversation you may need to have between siblings, family or friends.”

Every scene, by the way, is named after a song, such as Everybody Hurts, I Don’t Wanna Talk About It, These Foolish Things and All You Need Is Love. 

Two York charities, St Leonard’s Hospice and Bereaved Children Support York, will share the profits from the premiere production.

Jo Cole, founder of Bereaved Children Support York, says: “Grief can be very lonely and isolating. This play gives so many examples of how different people have coped with the loss of a loved one that you’re bound to find something that makes you realise it’s not just you feeling the way you do. To have this play raise awareness will help so many families.”

Janet Bennett, left, Lisa Curtis and Jo Cole, of Bereaved Children Support York, the second charity to receive a donation from The Missing Peace’s run at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

Ian concludes: “The stories and monologues will make you smile, some will make you cry, but they will all make you think.

“We’re all broken biscuits when we lose someone. We can either dwell on the cracks or make the best cheesecake ever.”

Rowntree Players present The Missing Peace, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, April 17 at 7pm; April 18, 2.30pm and 7pm. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk. This production is sponsored by The Chocolate Works Care Village.

Copyright of The Press, York