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Why I wrote a play about the CSA

I’m a salaried GP in Sale, Greater Manchester for three and a half days a week. But I also run a theatre company and I write and direct the plays we put on. I love both professions and they unexpectedly inspire each other. 

I trained as a GP in Salford. I found my registrar year quite stressful, so I took part in an evening course at the Lowry theatre about devising theatre. I’d always been interested in theatre but had to put this on hold whilst I was training. The course was absolutely fantastic and encouraged us all to create short pieces of work that were presented in a showcase at the end, judged by one of the producers at the Lowry. Our piece won best overall play and this inspired me to keep going creating work. Since then as a company we’ve had work performed at the Lowry theatre, Roundabout theatre, Bluecoat theatre, World Museum Liverpool and have been part of festivals in Liverpool and Buxton. We are currently rehearsing our latest play, which is going to be performed at the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Greater Manchester Fringe festival.

Do the weird situations that occur in general practice help inspire play ideas?

Definitely. The first play I wrote was about a television interview and it stemmed from my preparations for the CSA exam. The interviewer used a lot of different questioning styles and techniques which all came from my CSA preparations. As a GP, I’m in an incredibly privileged and unique position as you really get to understand people and how they think. Obviously I’m not allowed to use any stories from my patients but hearing the way people talk about things and understanding them is incredibly useful as a writer.

I’m always asked whether I would want to write anything about general practice but I need to have a think about that, at the moment writing is a bit of an escape and I’m not sure I would like to join those two worlds up. Maybe in the future. I think it would be interesting for the general public to see what it is really like to be a doctor.

Has your theatre work helped you be a better GP?

Well it’s definitely helped me stay in general practice and deal with the stress of the job. I’m not one of those people who can just go home and switch off, so having a theatre company to run (which uses a completely different skill set) means I can properly switch off when I’m not at work. We’ve been lucky enough to get funding from the Arts Council for this latest play so I don’t even need to do any out of hours or extra work because I’m paid for the time I spend on the theatre company which is a massive luxury.

Also, unexpectedly, my shows have helped me in the consulting room. The show we’re working on at the moment is about loneliness so I’ve been doing lots of research, learning about how loneliness and social media. I didn’t know that loneliness increases your risk of heart disease and a lot of social media use has been found to lower your self-esteem. Having this new awareness of a really common problem has been a big help to me as a doctor.

Which job do you prefer?

It’s difficult. I go through phases. Obviously general practice is quite stressful at the moment so I have periods where I feel like I want to do more theatre but then I actually miss the patient contact and the clinical side of medicine so I think I would always like to do a little bit of both. In the future I would perhaps prefer to split my time more equally between them, but the nature of theatre is that it becomes really intense for a short period of time then it goes quiet. It’s lovely that my current practice is flexible enough to allow me to change my hours according to the theatre work. Hopefully I’ll keep doing both – it’s a lovely position to be able to do two things that you really enjoy.

’I’m standing next to you’ will be performed at the Whitworth Art Gallery on the 30 June as part of the Art Garden Celebrations. It will then open at the Greater Manchester Fringe festival from the 2nd-16th July. More information is available here