'tokens of affection'
by Maureen Lawrence



Stage History

The play was first commissioned in 1985 by Northern Studio Theatre, under the direction of Annie Castledine who had a commitment to supporting new work by women writers. With the generous backing of Yorkshire Arts, Northern Studio work-shopped the play, and subsequently rehearsed and toured an initial version in the north of England. A year later a re-write was commissioned by Hampstead Theatre but not produced. In 1990 this new published version  was produced at Derby Playhouse, brilliantly directed once again by Annie Castledine, whose faith in the play was unwavering.



Synopsis

A play about communication, social care and the frustrations of both staff and ‘clients’ in the mental health sector.

Set in a centre for the containment of violent or maladjusted girls. This often witty and disarmingly charming play is also extremely hard-hitting. Full of energy whilst at the same time addressing the futility of government social care programmes, which theoretically a good idea in theory, never manifest as anything other than a holding pen.

Seen through the eyes of a new social care professional, the detention centre is a place of chaos and struggle, with no real sense of what it is trying to achieve, apart from keeping the girls off the streets during the day and sending them home to whatever social care they have been deposited. The small glimmers of hope come from the humour and wit intrinsic in the plays’ younger characters as even though almost broken by circumstances, their resilience is astounding.



The Play and its Evolution

This two act play although written and set in the late nineteen eighties still resonates today; lack of funding for social care in the community, under-funded mental health care and care for abused young females, as well as the stresses and strains on social care workers, are as relevant today as when Maureen Lawrence wrote this play from her own experiences working in the sector.

The evolution of this play is best illuminated in the words of the playwright herself:

“During that time my working days were spent trying to get through to girls whose capacity to communicate had been severely damaged. What concerned me was the fact that my own position as communicator was deeply suspect. I was there to earn my living. But what exactly was I supposed to be doing? This was the question the girls asked in no uncertain terms. Their attitude to the staff was a constant challenge. It led me directly to the moral and social problems that I eventually tried to anatomise in the play. But first and foremost it was felt as a direct threat. Violence was part of the atmosphere of the place and it became the keynote in the play…. Essentially the unit was a container….The official policy was a different matter: its aims and ideals would be written into the educational policy of the time – involving familiar notions of personal fulfilment and social utility, leading to a balance between the needs of the individual and the group. But actually, the aim put crudely was to ‘keep the lid on things’. However prettily dressed and misguided this aim might be it was, stripped of its pretence, a repressive process, designed to neutralise the volcanic energy of the client in order to render them harmless to other people….to me the rage of the girls seemed justified. The girls were often cruel to each other. But the punishments and deprivations they suffered were out of all proportion to the offence given. The notion of fair play was invoked in a context where the very ideas of justice and equity seemed meaningless. I tried to find a way of reconciling these conflicts in my own head simply because I needed practical solutions. Eventually when I came to write the play I offered no overall solution: the problem was too big. First of all it needed understanding.”



About The Playwright

Maureen Lawrence was born and educated in Leeds, read English at Nottingham University, taught for a while and then went to America, where she studied at Michigan University and began writing. Her first novel – The Tunnel – was published in both Britain and America in 1969; a second novel – Shadow on the Wall – followed two years later. A third book – A Telling and a Keeping – was published by The Women’s Press in 1990. The long gaps between books has been filled by raising a family, teaching, writing, and, latterly, learning to become a playwright. Tokens of Affection is her first play. Since that production there have been three more adult plays – Black Ice, The Pergola and Dream Lover.



Reviews of the Original Production

‘There are rare theatrical occasions of such complete absorption that the outside world does not exist, that the audience is so much at one with the action that they seem part of it. This is one of those preciously few times of total theatre…this is a play that will leave you benumbed’

(Geoff Hammerton Onstage, May 1990)

 

‘It’s a very claustrophobic nerve-racking experience, that makes you question your own feelings and allegiances towards the seven female protagonists.’

 (Kevin Lloyd, Derby Evening News May 1990)

 

‘What fills the evening is the varied behaviours of children and staff….in an unfriendly schoolroom with an unfriendly office in once corner. But there is nothing unfriendly in Maureen Lawrence’s humanity. Affection is indeed her theme’

(B. A Young. Financial Times - May 1990)



My relationship with the Play

I first worked with Annie Castledine in a final year production at the Guildhall School of Music and drama in 1893 and from that moment up until her death, she remained both a close friend and a mentor. I was fortunate enough to be cast as Debbie in the first professional version of Tokens of Affection in its published form at Derby Playhouse. It was an extraordinary production and one that remains very close to my heart. I always believed my ‘relationship’ with this play wasn’t over on the closing night at Derby and presumed that maybe in the future I might get the chance to play one of the older characters. However, 10 years ago I discovered vocational teaching and directing and gave up acting entirely, as I was finding much more creative freedom and expression in my new found career. When I left my full time position as Head of Acting at ArtsEd, a post I held for six years, I completed my Masters degree in Text & Performance from RADA/Birkbeck and decided to go freelance, and one of the first things I did was contact Maureen Lawrence, as the holder of the rights, and asked whether she would be happy for me to mount a production of the play, she was more than happy to give me permission, and as soon as I got that permission I began in earnest to start the financial planning for a small scale production.

Charlie Barker - director Persever Productions Ltd


TOKENS OF AFFECTION

by Maureen Lawrence

(published in full in Plays by Women: Nine edited by Annie Castledine, Methuen, 1991. ISBN 0-413-65850-3)



February 5th - 24th 2019 at Waterloo East Theatre, London

Brad St. London SE1 8TN, UK

020 7928 0060

info@waterlooeast.co.uk

https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/tokens-of-affection

to book tickets go to:

https://waterlooeast.ticketsolve.com/shows/873595675