Meet the Leeds playwright whose scripts are inspired by real-life tragedies

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Even though by his own admission his plays will never make the stage of The Alhambra, a Leeds playwright has found his niche writing about social taboos.

They will, he says, at some point affect us all.

Brian Daniels' most recent piece was inspired by the suicide of TV presenter Mike McCarthy's son, Ross, and was performed this week in Sheffield.

He has previously written about children in care with his first play of this type, "Where's Your Mama Gone", driven by the murders inflicted by Peter Sutcliffe and the effect they had on the victim's families.

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Leeds playwright Brian Daniels.Leeds playwright Brian Daniels.
Leeds playwright Brian Daniels.

Other productions have looked at early onset dementia, dismissiveness of older people in society and cancer.

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He returned to Leeds around 12 years ago and it was an opportunity to work with writer and director Kay Mellor, also from Leeds, that got him to thinking about writing himself.

He said: "It was so interesting - she came from a modest background as I did - how you can turn yourself around to create something. I just loved the process that it took to write a play. When I had those theatres in London we did a lot of plays with a lot of production - 200 over 10 to 13 years and for many of them I thought 'I could write something no worse, if not better'."

The work of Brian Daniels over the last 12 years has been inspired by social issues.The work of Brian Daniels over the last 12 years has been inspired by social issues.
The work of Brian Daniels over the last 12 years has been inspired by social issues.

The first major piece was "Where's Your Mama Gone" which was about children in care and Mr Daniels actually worked with Richard McCann, the son of Peter Sutcliffe's first victim, Wilma McCann.

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He said: "I worked with him for quite a while. I fictionalised the story but it was inspired by him."

The show did a run in Leeds at The Carriageworks and also had two runs in London.

"There was so much interest in that. So many people had been impacted or affected by it in some way. I looked at the psychology of him (Sutcliffe) and made no judgements of the women, they were doing the best they could to put food on the table.

"The Heritage Lottery Fund funded to create an exhibition with every performance to look at looked after children. Wilma McCann's children were put into homes or foster. That really interested me - 'what happened to them and the rest of the family after the media frenzy?'"

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From there the desire to understand people, psychology and the worst of real life issues has driven the focus of subsequent productions.

"Don't Leave Me Now" was inspired by a friend whose same-sex partner had been diagnosed with alzheimer's disease and the other studies in the play were an elderly couple who were traditional and, perhaps, opposed to the relationship. But, the same struggle they were having and the play brought them together.

"Don't Leave Me Now" has been performed 250 times and was followed by "Where or When" - a hospital commission about how dismissive society can be of older people. He tries to write two to three plays a year.

Mr Daniels said: "When you have an illness you get access to people you would not normally meet and you build up a rapport and relationships and break down discriminations. I try to look for something good to come out of something bad.

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"You think 'why am I doing this?' and you feel you are reaching out and touching other people, and other people know that that dilemma or struggle (in the play) could be theirs and that is something that they identify with.

"It can be quite cathartic and get people talking about experiences or feelings. That is what drives me towards writing theatre. I don't write the kind that will be shown at The Alhambra in Bradford, but I am using performance in a different way."

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