Thursday, April 27, 2023




JO CROSS   e.mail:  mob.: 079756565473


I am a Bristol based actor, writer, activist,  para-academic and drama workshop facilitator. I identify as she/her and am proud of my east London background.

AN ACTOR:  Theatre Training (Guildhall School of Music and Drama)  followed by Theatre in Education training at City of Birmingham College of Education. I spent some twenty years teaching in East London (South Hackney and Kingsland Schools). I continued to develop my  theatre skills at Chat’s Palace Community Theatre  in Hackney.

2006 – 1017 I worked as a freelance education facilitator working for Bristol City’s Museums, Galleries and Archives, also developing  actor/character led schools’ workshops at the Red Lodge, Blaise Castle and MShed.

2021-22 I  was employed as an actor on “The Creative Histories of Witchcraft”, a collaboration between Will Pooley of Bristol University’s History Department, playwright Poppy Corbett and poet, Anna Kisby Compton.

WHAT I CAN DO:  Develop and deliver bespoke drama workshops across the age  range  for collaborative/ developmental purposes.   Below part of a drama workshop I delivered at Trinity Centre Bristol, exploring ageing and identity:-


Play the part of an older woman -  so long as it’s not a stereotype!   

With Rebecca Braccialarghe in “How Many Things Can You Think About” 2021 Café 5, Easton.


A WRITER:  2021 a saw me awarded support from Theatre West for my script “Age Queer” under their Arts Council funded, Zooming Ahead scheme for Women Writers.  A Zoom performance was followed up by a live performance at  Bristol’s Trinity Centre last year.



From Heather Lister   : That was wonderfully moving, funny and inspiring (from the P.O.V. of someone 70ish!!) I enjoyed all the performances; it is beautifully written, original and ingenious in many ways and I cannot think of any ways in which I think it could be improved. I'll look out for a future performance. Thank you!

From James Peries   : Very much enjoyed the detailed history of the early 80s for the characters; all felt very true.  Established very strongly the history, activism, and engagement that gets negated when older (in others' eyes). 'Elders' recruiter being a funeral director in his day job a good twist!  Decline of Norma at the end was strongly written and acted.  Thank you. 

From Jean Cooper Moran   : Jo's 'Age Queer' play was a superb idea, with realistic and robust themes, humour and a touching friendship between these chippy characters. The actors all jumped into character immediately; the PO's monologue at the beginning was gripping. The dramatic sequencing and dialogue were true to life and held our interest throughout.  Bobby Sands was a tragic theme, and foreshadowed Nora's own last act as a 'refusenik' - great phrase.  I accepted the use of sadism in the earlier scenes pointed up the internal conflicts of being gay, and the terrors and rewards of joining that community. My brother would have identified with Alan.  Brian the happy lanyard was a well acted and telling character.  God save us from the 'home' at the end of life...


2021 I wrote (within three weeks!)  “How Many Things Can You Think About (When You’re Lying Under an Immigration Removal Van)” for Odd Lot Theatre, this performed as a fundraiser for Bristol Refugee Rights at Café 5, Easton.

Current project.  A show for solo performance, working title The Benefit.

Elevator Pitch:   In this gothic  satire on human frailty – and the art of tailoring - a  black gentleman’s  overcoat passes through a turbulent, 20th century, European  city attracting a random  mix  of owners along the way.  Who gets to feel the benefit of this most universal of garments and who’s left out in the cold? And what purpose does our coat serve when it surfaces in the 21st century?


WHAT I CAN DO:   Develop script for a variety of media.  Serve as ‘writer in the room’ on projects as they develop. 



I have kept this simple blog going for the last, few years A progression from my doctorate and building on my concern for the subordination of later life in U.K. society, my experience of spending most of my life in multicultural Hackney where I raised my dual heritage family and myself being a ‘child of the 60s’ appalled at the monocultural assumptions about older people.



  From my ‘Artivist in a Box’ performance in Broadmead Galleries 2022.

My doctorate was in Applied Aesthetics:  how cultural diversity can best be understood through our everyday, aesthetic lives; the sensuality of the  very stuff that defines who we are, this being particularly important as we grow older.    

WHAT I CAN DO Advise on or  review  representational practices, whatever the media, which include older people.

Devise and deliver drama / storytelling workshops using artefacts of any type for the purpose of exploring their aesthetic worth and  significance to a project.  


I keep updating and expanding on my skills base attending Meisner and improvisation workshops, script writing workshops (recently with Matt Grinter) community theatre workshops with Acta under their Elevate scheme and recently workshops organised by Bristol Old Vic’s Ferment team.   

 I have served as  the lead on Bristol City Council’s  DIY Artists' Network Equality and Inclusion sub-group, as a Theatre Bristol agent  and am a trustee of Travelling Light Theatre.  I am a member of the actors’ union Equity,  Diverse Artists’ Network and Bristol Old Vic’s Artists’ Forum. 


Thursday, January 12, 2023



2022 has been good year for watching amazing theatre, particularly at Bristol Old Vic.   Also  keeping my script Age Queer ticking over around my networks, including the Old Vic where it reached the second round of the Ferment (new work) commissioning process for further development. Glad I got that far!  At the time of writing this I plan to submit Age Queer for two imminent competitions prompting me to update/enhance it even more.

Thinking of changing titles, I’ll be moving  away from Ageing and Ageism to develop  new work throughout 2023.  Throughout the last few months of 2022 I started work on two new projects:  Euro Gothic – this an expansion of my early iterations of The Overcoat. I performed some of this at a fundraiser we held in December for Travelling Light Theatre / Big Give Challenge and will be considering its potential as  a solo  show.

Second up is Holiday Haunts for which I have been doing extensive research.  My source material is a battered, foxed copy of Great Western Railway’s Holiday Haunts Guide 1923.  I’m hoping to pitch  this historical artefact as a springboard for a community performing/applied arts project soonest. 

This blog  has served as deposit box for writing or an aide memoire rather than an interactive site.  The domain is just about to renew so I will stick with it for the time being.   I'm pleased with  some of the blogs I've written, particularly those I wrote at the outset and during Lockdown and plan to condense them.  Missing is a topic list and one of my things to do is to get help with the tech to sort it.   

Big love, big hugs.  



Thursday, September 1, 2022



Myself and Rebecca Braccialarghe, as respectively Hecuba and Cassandra, given yet another lease of life in an early draft  of The Black Overcoat. As captured in this image I am  feeling the cold. 


Another rehearsed reading for our summer slot at our spiritual base – Café 5, Easton Bristol. I hastily adapted early script for the above to fit Richard Worsnop’s theme of War in Times of Love. 

But ‘The Overcoat’ has been a brief working title.  Yes, I am profoundly influenced by Nikolai Gogol and Wolf Mankovitz’s brilliant play “The Bespoke Overcoat” and the relevance of both to anticipated fuel poverty in the U.K. 

There’s potential in this but I am mindful of Gecko Theatre’s recent interpretation of Gogol’s story. The Overcoat — Gecko ( I am also aware of the near universal association with the Shelby gang in Peaky Blinders.  And, relevant to Richard's theme, this image of a young Russian man wearing his grandfather's military overcoat on the subway, the back inscribed with anti-Putin slogans.  (A link needed for this). 

A future title might be“Bespoke”, given the connotations of the word.    A counter to the mass-production of warmth which we take for granted whether it’s a new boiler, an anorak or a duvet.  Anyway this is on the back boiler and the script as such has been fun to develop thus far. 

The Overcoat in my script is a character, speaking in verse:-

THE OVERCOAT:  Before you jump to conclusions,

Let me tell you,

I’m a cut above. Superior.

My origins on the back of a fat, greasy sheep,

But the very matter of my being  universal. 

Soaked, swivelled, stretched,

Flung folded, rolled and re-worked

into existence.

 Courtesy of J & J Crombie, Aberdeen.  


First the swift caress of the tailor’s chalk,

before  a brutal  intimacy with the very latest treadle machine.

 Courtesy of Mr. Isaac Singer.

 Second, the  tender tickle of the tailor’s needle and the exquisite pull of the waxed cotton.

Third,  a  communion  between myself and yards of  blood red satin lining.

Tiny stitches, a gentle   nibbling as we merge,

masculine and feminine.

 A  fusion.  Of sorts.

And four fittings!  Yes, four! Moulded and massaged over the broad shoulders of the man who

will never pay for me.

 Never pay for me to protect him from winter’s bite.

 Never, from this moment in time, mark him out  as a man of considerable means.……  


(and further on in the script)

THE OVERCOAT: Don’t forget I’m superior.  A cut above.

A work of my  tailor’s art.

And you’ve taken me for granted for decades.

On the ample backs of kings and generals,

Prime ministers and presidents,

Or day and night on the shrunken frames of men

In Round-ups,

Labour exchanges,

Marches or

Remembrance days,

No  poppy  on my lapel

Just a grubby, pawn ticket.

Take care when you unpick my stitching,

Take care when you deconstruct me. 

– I can’t be discrete –

Monday, April 25, 2022


  Bristol's multi-talented storyteller Kabbo Hue Ferdinand  Kabbo Hue Ferdinand | Facebook organized an amazing festival in March:The_Altered_Festival in the Galleries Shopping Centre in Bristol. This was intended to highlight the strong relationship between local artists and political activism.  This took place in a former large scale shop unit now occupied by an organization called Keep Art It.   
Artivist in a Box was a sealed off area in the shop window used as a performance space with microphone and outside speaker so you could be heard by the shoppers passing by.  Joined by good friend and fellow member of Odd Lot Theatre we jumped at the opportunity to showcase our work.  I performed a spoken word piece "Oddly Enough" from (heavens) 2020 and then some  monologues from Age Queer.  

The intention here was obviously to provide passers by with food for thought and if possible to do a bit of canvassing once I'd finished.  I did get some audience!  So once Andreea had performed a very moving piece she'd written about Ukraine we went off for a cup of coffee.  Something I realise, now I'm writing this, is a taken-for-granted activity not available to the Ukrainian families Andreea had drawn our attention to. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Live Rehearsed Reading of Age Queer


 My first experience of organizing a rehearsed reading. I learnt a lot!  Big thanks to my actors: Alan Coveney, Tom Cuthbertson and Poppy Germaine and my director Ellie Chadwick. Publicity and images below.

               The Graffiti Room, Trinity Centre, Trinity Road, Bristol BS2 0NW.   

                                          Thursday, January 20th., 7.00 p.m.

‘I want to be age queer by rejecting not my age but the fixed meanings that people assign to it, the roles and stereotypes that I decline to abide by.” (Applewhite, A. 2019:43)

Sickened by institutional ageism in U.K. society, a sociologist  explores age queerness through the lives of Alan, an architect and gay man and Norma, a barmaid, occasional sex worker and later in life, an artist.  He  guides us through the formative, political events and settings in 1980’s London that shape their  world-view, individuality and which ground their ongoing friendship.  The play takes the form of an ethnography,  the sociologist  alternately intruder and provocateur within the action, or guide, critic and narrator outside it. 

The play considers whether Alan’s  and Norma’s radical, sensual pasts inform their resistance to  the ageist stereotyping and challenges to their autonomy they face  in later life.  Is being age queer a viable identity?    

The play runs for approximately 1hr. 20 mins.

[This script was supported by Theatre West in 2021 under their Arts Council funded, Zooming Ahead Scheme for Women Writers  Theatre West - What (]

Some images (thank you Andreea Brown and Rebecca Braccialarghe)

I wish I had booked longer, allowing time for a proper Q & A rather than asking audience to scribble comments on the back of the programme sheets. However some good and useful feedback:-

Really enjoyed it, lots to like, very engaging. Thought the framing of the 1981 year / era worked well.  The images were very emotive eg. Bobby Sands.  One of my favourite bits was Brian the well meaning Silver Quester / Funeral Director. Some of these bits of dialogue were hilarious and highly accurate insightful. Think this could be developed further. Excellent writing.  Characters seemed very real.  Liked the use of props eg. toys.  Liked how Norma’s hunger strike linked back to Bobby Sands.


Script was beautiful, almost poetic.  The flow of the story was good.  I was able to keep track very easily.  I felt the scene at Mark’s house could have been put further towards the beginning to prevent the back and forth.  I cried at the end.   Truly captivating.


 I feel that it took shape and told a story in an imaginative, funny and moving way. The actors did a great job of it, I thought the young woman (Penny??) was really good - very focused, intensely human and likeable, great to watch on stage - they all did well, I thought.

I thought the scene at the door of the lockdown residential home was strong and got me all emotional - it portrayed the sense of powerlessness on both sides of the door with raw clarity. The loss of identity with that awful night dress!


Things that worked: Scene with 2 characters and charity worker in the café.  80s scene with brother of the artist who owned the flat.  80’s scene with policeman and Bobby Sands poster.

Things I found  challenging; Not sure about the sociologist too much telling and not enough showing?  Personally found the ending very sad but maybe that’s the reality!


Verbal comments:  The play highlighted how much age, as in later life,  is neglected in society and nobody takes account of how different we all are.  One audience member made reference to relatives whose lives  were reflected in the play.  How accurate the care home setting was. 


ACTORS’ feedback:  What about Norma and Alan being played by actors in their late thirties who might better capture both ends of the age spectrum in the play?

There’s a need to clarify the degree to which the sociologist objectifies his research subjects, Alan and Norma and the extent to which he empathises with them.

+ a very useful debrief session with Tom Cuthbertson giving me more thoughts for clarifying the script. 





Friday, September 10, 2021



In 2019 I enthusiastically read Ashton Applewhite’s “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto against  Ageism” and was immediately drawn to this concept.   

‘I want to be age queer by rejecting not my age but the fixed meanings that people assign to it, the roles and stereotypes that…. (I) decline to abide by.  I claim my age at the same time that I challenge its primacy and its value as a signifier.’ (Applewhite, 2019:43). [1]

 I lost no time sounding it out amongst friends of all ages, gay and straight, and via arts networks I am linked to.  It always triggered a smile;  here’s something new,  fresh.  We liked it. Then there was Covid.  It seemed that all the sterling work that had been done to challenge age stereotypes and the homogenisation of later life went down the tubes.   Older people became the lumpen, vulnerable elderly. 

So why theatre?  I have been in the business of showing rather than telling for most of my life.  Drama school, drama teacher, community theatre, then a much valued detour around academic sociology and gerontology, before finding myself going full circle back to theatre. Bizarre that I should get work as an actor in my sixties when even a PhD wasn’t going to get me a job.  I had to up my game, reskill and learn new conventions far removed from my initial training in the 70’s.  The collision of these complimentary disciplines that had so enriched my life was inevitable.  I wanted to create theatre far removed from what I call ‘DDD’  drama, whether on stage or film.  By this I mean the current proliferation of ‘decline, dependency and dementia’ narratives, however excellent and relevant.  

 I envisaged age queer functioning firstly, as a provocation.   I wanted to give voice not only to my fellow children of the 60’s, the activists and  free spirits I have grown up and grown older with, but also anyone, whatever their age, at odds and  uncomfortable with the status quo in the U.K.  Conformist, reductive approaches to later life perpetrated by the  Government, the Market, the  Media and unfortunately some of the charities dedicated to older people, however well-meaning.  We cannot see our faces in the sanitised world view they represent.  But it’s those faces and their voices that dominate policy and practice and not ours.   

Secondly, as a counter-blast.   A challenge to the way these institutions use chronological age to bracket-off older men and women from the mainstream of society. Being an ‘older’ person often  begins at 55 in the U.K.  Interventions and activities targeted at those who are 55+ are a feature of every neighbourhood, representations of which reinforce a dominant narrative of what ageing should be:  respectably active, virtuously healthy.  Ignored is the fluid, dynamic nature of the individual life course.  At this point I’d be very remiss not to point out that gerontologists have been rattling cages like for ever, but the(gate) keepers, the policy makers are seemingly deaf. Life Course sociology in this field has indicated that the traditional stages of a life should no longer be informing public policy as it did during the 20th century.[2]   For heaven’s sake, many over-55’s are mums and dads at the primary school gate or contemplating a new career rather than retirement. 

Thirdly and in light of the above, I wanted age queer to be a wake-up call.  I wanted to flag up the complexity of older generations, forged by the cultural and political changes they have lived through.    All this is overlooked by a tick-box approach to diversity that lends itself  to having the dimensions of your later life calibrated by algorithm.  I love the way the  author, Elif Shafak  underscores this in a  remarkable talk:  ‘So slowly and systematically we are denied the right to be complex…. I have multiple attachments just like all of us do.  And multiple attachments mean multiple stories.’ [3] Elif’s focus here is the  authoritarian state.  The question is how authoritarian, particularly in the wake of Covid, and Brexit,  has the current U.K. administration become?

Having served very well to establish a distinction from traditional and conformist expectations of heterosexuality, I like the way queer can be re-purposed to define an individual’s divergence from normative and often negative expectations of later life.  But  if you use a concept you have to do justice to it.   I did not want it to qualify visible difference or behaviours; just some up-to-date term to replace what have often been markers of disapproval, for example, being ‘bohemian’ or ‘eccentric’.  Nor should it reflect the optics of being cool across generations.  I was struck at the time by the musician Paul Weller, lounging in a designer chair, cigarette in hand, on the cover of his album True Meanings [4].  An image I could identify with in a broadly tribal sense, but it does not hint at the potential of age queerness and the work it is capable of in asserting individual self-determination. 

A natural corollary presented itself. Queer theory, as a philosophical standpoint, has for some time offered an understanding of contemporary, later life in line with our Life Course sociologists.    As Linn Sandberg suggests:

‘Queer temporality may thus challenge what is considered normal and good ageing but also reveal the taken for grantedness of normative time…….. by thinking queer theory and old age together a resurrection of knowledges is made possible, outside the good, successful and respectable old age.’(Sandberg, L. 2008)[5]

So we can subvert the institutional use of chronological age as a means of managing the ageing demographic  when we turn our attention to our preferred place in the fabric of time, regardless of our birth date.  We  need to draw out life course events that matter to us and the imprint they leave on our world-view, values and decision-making. In the play, “Age Queer” I wanted to demonstrate an historical sense of self and a rejection of the assumed life trajectories imposed on us by the institutions described above; the straight, socially conservative, middle England version of events that evokes so much anger in my peers.

At the beginning of 2021 I submitted a draft script to Theatre West for their Arts Council funded,  Zooming Ahead scheme for women writers.  Mine was one of ten scripts out of a total of eight-three to be awarded  support.   My script underwent considerable redrafting thanks to the dramaturgical, moral and intellectual input provided by Theatre West. [6]  I was given three, Zoom readings by some amazing actors  who captured  characters I’ve grown  very fond of.  At the time of writing, theatres are barely beginning to recover, so under current circumstances a future production remains a hope rather than a reality. 

Here’s an overview of the way I have structured my play, indicating how  the fusion of  history, identity and  material culture, once embedded in the characters’ younger lives, determine their world view in the present.     

Central to the drama is an older character, a sociologist, aware of their own vulnerability to ageing by stereotype or algorithm and furious at the institutional appropriation of their date of birth.

So don’t fuck about with my age.  That would be messing with my sense of time which belongs to me.   My being in the world, where I’m at.

To investigate the age queer thesis, they conduct an ethnography on the lives of two friends via their roles as participants in, and  custodians of a sensual, radical history:   Alan, an architect and gay man and Norma, a barmaid, an occasional escort and later an artist. I decided that Alan and Norma should be played by younger actors throughout, not least to underscore the paradox of them being talked down to in the later scenes of the play.

 I adapted participant observation methodology for theatre. As participant, our sociologist intervenes in the action:  as a policeman, a thug, a charity volunteer, funeral director, M.P. and care assistant.   As  observer, they  mediate between Alan and Norma and ourselves as audience.  So they are alternately intruder and provocateur within the action, or  guide, critic and narrator outside it.  An off-centre zone of a minimal set contains a desk and laptop from which the sociologist  pulls up iconic, relevant images for projection. Beside it a coat stand holds coats and jackets to distinguish their participant roles.

The play is in  two acts: the first set in London in 1981 and the second act shifting between the present, when Alan and Norma are in their late sixties, and the mid-1980’s.    It begins with their initial chance, chaotic meeting in a multi-storey car park in Bayswater, London.  An affinity develops between these two, along with a sensibility and a breadth of vision,  when they engage with two significant events of that year.  Alan, living on the New Cross Road, shares his neighbours’ horror at the circumstances of the infamous house fire. Norma will join him on the subsequent protest march, the Black People’s Day of Action.    We go to Norma’s run-down flat share in Kilburn.   A casual visit by a policeman turns into an interrogation when he sees a poster of IRA hunger striker, Bobby Sands,  Norma defending her feelings about his recent death.  She is arrested as a sympathiser and taken to Paddington Green police station for questioning.

SOCIOLOGIST:Your presence matters alongside the presence or absence of someone else.  Someone who’s been brutalised by the State.   But you haven’t.  You’ve been spared.  But you’re still implicated.  You’re within touching distance.

On her release, Alan takes Norma to the legendary, London, night club Heaven.  She dashes off to make friends and have fun.   Alan holds back.  Finding himself isolated, he is confronted by a mysterious thug from his past.  He physically bullies Alan, taunting him about his sexuality and challenging his political activism.  Norma returns, excited to have met an artist called Mark (not an actual character) who, she says, calls her his “Angel of History”.  The analogy here is the philosopher Walter Benjamin’s interpretation of Paul Klee’s “Angelus Novus”.  Norma is touched by the fact that she is taken seriously, that she is special.  She  is inspired to become an artist, Mark, her likely mentor.  

I include this reference to underscore our friends’ relationship to the seismic events of that decade, the epiphanies that require them to reorient their lives and that distance them both from the perceived, and often tired,  cultural tropes associated with their chronological age. 

SOCIOLOGIST as THUG: (to Alan)  Later down the line, the line of your privileged life, the only history expected of you is what was top of the Hit Parade when you met your wife or when you ate your first Vesta Chow Mein 

The second act of the play begins with our friends, now in their late 60s, enjoying a drinking session in a suburban café.  Norma, is an artist and Alan, a successful architect.   They are interrupted by a charity volunteer (the Sociologist again in role) promoting age-appropriate activities for the ‘over 55s’. As the wine flows, the action is punctuated by  ironic, childhood guessing games reinforcing Alan and Norma’s resistance to the bland stereotyping the volunteer unwittingly imposes on them:

ALAN:  In my left hand I have what is  called a Diamond Card.  Smacks of aspiration don’t you think?  Like an American Express Gold Card?  Now watch carefully the interaction between the card and my  mottled, wrinkled,  right hand. Hey presto – it’s an  Old Age Pensioners’ Bus Pass.     Once on that bus I might as well lick my Diamond Card and slap it on my forehead like so…….. Flash this card and my masculinity, my sexuality, my professional  identity evaporates. 

However the power balance shifts once the charity volunteer reveals his day job is that of a funeral director, his sales patter turning to the extensive range of coffins Alan and Norma might chose.   He singles out Norma as a problem, a transgressive refusenik, deviating  from the  traditional old age society expects of her.  Until the inevitable meeting with himself.  After he leaves,  Norma finds yet another childhood pursuit to explicate her own distinctive queerness for our benefit. Like many contemporary café bars there is a children’s corner with a toy box.  Alan notices an Action Man doll, abandoned,  trousers round its ankles:

NORMA:  If you’re queer then so am I.  Like Action Man I don’t fit into any box.  Put me in there with Peter Rabbit or some artisan, crafted, rag doll and I tell you it wouldn’t end well.  Watch this. 

Yet our sociologist remains unsatisfied, needing  to understand more about Alan and Norma.  So we return to the 1980’s, in fact 1986, this time shift serving as both prelude and contrast to the final scene.  There we find Alan in a flat that belonged to the aforementioned Mark,  he and Norma having  become close friends with him.  They, with others, have been caring for him in his final days before dying of HIV/Aids. Alan is packing away some of his valued possessions.   Norma arrives, wearing a kimono of Mark’s she refuses to part with. She has just had an abortion.  They share what becomes an emotionally charged task, each of Mark’s belongings evoking a celebration of friendship, intimacy and sensuality.  Norma tells Alan she has slept with Mark and that she loved him.  They are harshly disturbed by Mark’s estranged brother, an M.P., (the Sociologist in role). 

 I needed this scene not only to demonstrate the M.P.’s nasty prejudices, but also for its focus on artefacts and sensuality.  An over-riding memory for me  is the heart felt, material quality of care and solidarity  provided for friends and lovers with HIV/Aids during their final days.  Much later in my life, when researching elder care, I realised that this loving attention to detail was in stark contrast to the market-led, bargain-basement offer experienced by so many older men and women today. 

 P.O: So, Lord Algorithm, how do you capture this?  How do you make sense of all our muddled, messy, but oh, so sensual lives?  The glue that bonds our emotions.  Whether it’s a cologne, a bottle of wine or the stash of weed hidden in Mark’s bedside table that Alan failed to find.   What matters to you?

I will say little about the final scene which is set in a care home in the present.  Norma is there for reablement after a stroke.  Alan can only watch as she refuses to eat,  occupying  herself making a pirate hat and paper planes out of a copy of the Daily Mail.  Sensuality and history will coalesce as this  scene is played out.   

The play is self-reflective.  The action is set in  London, where I have spent most of my life: the Bayswater multi-storey car park, where my sex-worker friend took clients; low-rent flats in Kilburn, communities sympathetic to Irish Nationalism and resentful of British troops in Northern Ireland; references to pubs and clubs, like the Grenadier where I once worked, the Hawley Arms and Heaven.  The tragedy of the New Cross Fire impacted on East London teachers like myself; those youngsters might have been our pupils.  The solidarity we felt with the multicultural communities we served, and where we lived, needed realisation and this I did through the character of Alan for whom the New Cross Road was where he not only felt at home but valued in the community.    

The later, contemporary scenes,  the identikit, suburban café bar and the equally  identikit, suburban care home, are familiar to us all, particularly the latter if we have had to seek, in desperation, long-term care for a relative. Here I have also drawn on data from my own doctoral research[7] and the stories accumulated from friends about their relatives in long-term care; the cultural shortcomings and the inevitable cherished items getting “lost”.   What I have tried to capture throughout, as an ethnographer might, is a sense of place:  affective, hostile or liminal, rich description  woven into the characters’ narrative as we move from scene to scene.   

The action is busy and physical.  If there is a constant running through the play it is both the allusion to, or enactment of childhood games.  Firstly, as  paradox, given the infantilisation to which so many older people are subjected to.  Secondly, as a reflection of the way we use play and games as a means of self-determination, even rebellion.  Thirdly, games injected a dynamic unpredictability into the action.     

One curious thing though.  The very ending of the play was conceived  early on and did not change throughout each iteration.  I needed to demonstrate that our intrinsic sensuality and lust for self-determination should, by rights,  endure to the very end. 

 My fingers remain crossed that “Age Queer” will eventually be produced.  Maybe  age queer will gain traction as a preferred identity but my aim, as both a theatre maker and gerontologist, is that my venture  will kick start conversations about cultural diversity and complexity across the life course and ways in which we can resist the  creeping authoritarianism and disrespect for human rights meted out in later life.  


References & Links


[1] Applewhite, A. 2019. This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism. London: Melville House.



[2] I’d recommend Chris Gilleard’s and Paul Higg’s work. Eg. Gilleard, C. & Higgs, P. 2013. Ageing, Corporeality and Embodiment, London: Anthem Press.

[5] Sandberg, L. (2008) The Old, the Ugly and the Queer: thinking old age in relation to queer theory. Graduate Journal of Social Science – 2008 – Vol. Issue 2.

[7] My thesis: Truth to the Materiality of Later Life: the Significance of the Aesthetic for the Support of Older People (2015)  University of Bristol.  Available online via  the British Library.