Brief Encounter With … Monday's Child writer Brendan Murray

Brendan Murray talks about teaming up again with children’s theatre producers tutti frutti on their new production, Monday’s Child.

On 22 April tutti frutti’s latest production, Monday's Child, starts a week’s run at the company’s home theatre, York Theatre Royal. Aimed at young children, tutti frutti’s work typically brings to life fairy stories and fables: Rapunzel was a recent success, the Autumn production is The Princess and the Pea and the writer of Monday’s Child, Brendan Murray, last wrote for the company with a delightful version of Hare and Tortoise.

Brendan Murray in rehearsals for Monday's Child.
Brendan Murray in rehearsals for Monday's Child.
© David Illman

So, when I read that Monday’s Child deals with an old lady visiting her grand-daughter and playing together and examines memory in the old and the young, I assumed that this would be an unusually naturalistic production. Not so, says Brendan Murray.

The initial idea for the play came from Wendy Harris, the artistic director of tutti frutti, and her way of working involves bringing all the creative talents together at an early stage to pool ideas for script, design, music, etc. Before those two days in October Brendan had assumed he would be writing a fairly naturalistic play, set in the little girl’s living room, but they happened to use a bench surrounded with leaves for working out ideas – and all of them "fell in love" with the bench.

So the setting became more impressionistic, but what of the characters? Initially Brendan referred to them as grandma and granddaughter, but are they? Do they even know each other? Deliberately he has given them no names – could they even be the same person, young and old?

The play is the result of serious research into memory, with academics at Sussex University and with a senior figure at the Alzheimer’s Society, but the result is, in Brendan’s most used word, "playful", though he is very happy to provoke thought: "Plays are like seeds; ideas grow from them." The old woman’s declining memory means that she is constantly looking for things; the play becomes a search for surprises as one character discovers the world while the other loses her grip on this world. As the old woman moves into a parallel reality, the play celebrates the joy of living in the moment.

When I spoke to Brendan, Monday’s Child had already been staged, with one-day performances and school visits, and his enthusiasm for the production was infectious! However, he deflected much of the credit onto others. For instance, Wendy Harris was clear that the play should not be too wordy and Brendan obliged: at read-through the script lasted a mere 20 minutes. In performance that has more than doubled to 50 minutes thanks to the music by Dominic Sales and the movement devised by Joanne Moven. The teamwork between all the creatives is obvious: Brendan is also delighted with the designs of Catherine Chapman as well as the "brilliant" performances of the two actors. Erika Poole (Woman) and Josie Cerise (Girl) have already worked together in children’s television: Ha Ha Hairies and the new series of Grandpa in My Pocket.

Monday’s Child began with Wendy Harris being inspired to do a piece on dementia by her mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s, but this is not in any way a gloomy piece. Wendy and Brendan were encouraged by the Alzheimer’s Society to look for the positive aspects of dementia and the result is funny, touching and dream-like. Brendan summarises it as "a gentle lyrical piece at heart, but with lots of fun along the way."

Monday’s Child plays morning and afternoon performances at York Theatre Royal Studio from 22-26 April, returning on 10 June. As well as some closed performances in schools, some in this area, tutti frutti’s tour includes the following:

1 May – Otley Courthouse

23-24 May – Howard Assembly Room, Grand Theatre, Leeds

15 June – Barnsley Civic