A new play based on research that explores the experiences of parents caring for disabled children is showing at Exeter Phoenix. 

Until Tomorrow was inspired by Associate Professor  Siobhan O’Dwyer’s research with parent carers. The play opens at Exeter Phoenix on 23rd of January at 7:30pm and follows three parent carers through a moment in their life – one that is both catastrophic and everyday. In dramatising the highs and lows of caring for a disabled child, the play encourages audience to reflect on their own caring roles and the support they provide for carers in their community.

Professor O’Dwyer said “Unpaid carers are the invisible scaffolding holding up health and social care in the UK. They shoulder an immense responsibility and for parent carers this is often a lifelong role. We’ve long known that caring takes a physical and emotional toll, and international research has started to show that the challenges can become so intense that some consider taking their own lives. We’re now working with parent carers across England to understand how many have thought about suicide, and what situations and experiences put them at risk. These are complex, sensitive issues and the play allows us to create a safe space to share the emerging stories / This play starts a conversation with the wider community about the kind of support we need to be provide to  parent carers and their children”.

The play and was written by emerging playwright Brenda Callis. Professor O’Dwyer, who conducted the research at the University of Exeter, said: “It’s been wonderful to partner with Brenda. She has approached these difficult topics with such care and compassion, to produce a play that captures the joy, heartbreak, and humour of caring for a disabled child.

Playwright Brenda Callis, who helped her parents care for her autistic brother, described the opportunity to write Until Tomorrow as “incredible” and one that showcased the unique yet similar experiences of care. 

Brenda said: “The plot and characters are a blending of real shared experiences, and all highlight a different, important aspect of care which was reflected in the research. Every carer’s experience is different and complex, but what surprised me were the similarities – things I recognised from my own experiences, and from speaking to other carers.

“I hope creating a piece of theatre founded in truth means an audience will emotionally relate and react to the urgency of these needs of parent carers.”

Professor O’Dwyer’s research, funded by an NIHR Research for Social Care grant, is the first UK study of suicide and homicide risk in parent carers. The development of the research play has been funded by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Accelerator award and the University of Exeter Medical School, with support from Julie McNamara, an expert in disability arts, and is directed by Ellie Buckingham. Siobhan O’Dwyer is Associate Professor of Social Care at the University of Birmingham and Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Exeter. Brenda Callis’ previous work, Elise, was shortlisted for the Mental Health Fringe Award at the Edinburgh Festival.

Tickets can be purchased for £10 from the Exeter Phoenix website, with discounted tickets available for carers.