I Love You, Mum - I Promise I Won't Die
A play by Mark Wheeller
In May 2014, just months after Dan died, the DSM Foundation commissioned award-winning playwright Mark Wheeller to write a verbatim play that told his story, so other young people could learn the lessons he sadly no longer could, and make choices that would keep them safe. The title takes Dan’s joking last words to his mum, Fiona, before he left home for what turned out to be the last time: ‘I Love You, Mum – I Promise I Won’t Die’. Mark worked on the very first production with his talented youth theatre company in Southampton, Oasis Youth Theatre, and the play had its first public performances in March 2016, with previews in Southampton and its premiere at the BRIT school, just a mile from Dan’s home in Croydon, South London.
Dan loved drama, and his school drama teacher, Izzy Forrester, became one of the first Trustees of the DSM Foundation. It was her idea, in those early months after Dan died, that we consider using drama as a means of communicating our important messages to young people. Mark Wheeller was the number one choice for her. She had taught his plays for many years – Dan had studied ‘Legal Weapon’ himself at school – and she had witnessed the power of his writing on young people. She checked with Dan’s parents, sent Mark an email, and the result is this moving piece of theatre, that captures so beautifully the joyful life and tragic death of Dan, and captivates audiences of all ages.
The play was published by Bloomsbury (Methuen Drama) in 2017. Since then, it has been being studied, taught and performed in schools, colleges and community youth theatres across the UK and as far away as Australia, Tasmania and Vancouver. It was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2018 by Lloyd Theatre Arts, gaining official five-star reviews, and again as part of the online Fringe in 2021 with TiU Theatre’s filmed production, again getting great reviews.
“What’s most moving about this show is the painful honesty of it: the script contains all the teenage awkwardness you would expect from verbatim responses, and to their credit, the company capture this in the integrity of their performance…It’s the finest production I’ve seen so far this year…Take your children. Take your parents. And take care of yourselves.” EDINBURGH49 Reviewing Beyond the Fringe!
Five hundred performances of ‘I Love You, Mum’
During Spring 2022 ‘I Love You, Mum’ was performed for the 500th time, an incredible achievement in just five years since publication. This is thanks to its widespread appeal in schools and colleges since the very start, as well as the continuing popularity of our Theatre in Education touring productions. And this number doesn’t include the times it’s been used in GCSE or BTEC assessment pieces, or drama lessons. We hope it’ll reach its 1,000th performance even more quickly, as awareness of how very relevant, engaging and impactful it is spreads further.
‘I Love You, Mum’ – a GCSE Drama set text: from September 2022 (Eduqas)
We’re delighted that from September 2022 the play will be one of seven set texts on the Eduqas GCSE drama syllabus, alongside Shakespeare, JB Priestly, Malorie Blackman and Benjamin Zephaniah. We hope this will bring the play to many more drama studios and classrooms across the country and around the world, with its important messages of risk, choice and consequence, friendship, forgiveness, love and loss.
Resources for Drama teachers and students:
There is a range of resources available for anyone working with the play, whether in drama lessons, school, college or youth theatre performances, or studying it for GCSE or BTEC assessments.
Paperback copies of the full play scripts are available from our webshop in sets of 5, 10 or 15 copies. Due to our publishers discount, buying your class set from us will raise funds for DSMF, helping us to offer workshops within schools.
A new book to support teachers and students studying the play has been produced by Mark Wheeller, ‘The Story Behind…I Love You, Mum – I Promise I Won’t Die’. This verbatim book draws on the testimony of the many people involved in creating the play, from Dan’s family and friends who gave their words, to the young people and team of Oasis Youth Theatre, who worked with Mark on the original production that became the published play. It includes a detailed scheme of work created by Annette Hulme, Head of Academic Drama at Leicester Grammar School.
This short documentary, produced by Danny Sturrock, shows the journey of the play from the page to the stage and beyond, through interviews with Dan’s parents, Tim and Fiona, playwright Mark Wheeller, and members of the Oasis Youth Theatre cast, along with extracts of the original OYT production in 2016.
Live Q&A with Dan’s mum Fiona
Schools where students are studying or performing the play are able to book a conversation online with Fiona, and prepare questions to help them understand the story, the people, and the process behind the making of the play. To book please email firstname.lastname@example.org
About Mark Wheeller
Mark has been writing successful plays since the 1980s, and writes powerfully for young people, using Theatre in Education to communicate about issues that affect them. His plays are extensively used in the drama curriculum in schools, he has been one of the playwrights recommended in the Edexcel GCSE drama syllabus for many years. Two of his plays, ‘Hard to Swallow’ and ‘Missing Dan Nolan’, have been set texts on two out of four of the GCSE drama (9-1) specifications from 2016- 2023. His play ‘Too Much Punch for Judy’, written in 1987, is one of the most performed contemporary plays in the UK.
For ‘I Love You, Mum – I Promise I Won’t Die’, Mark used verbatim theatre to take the actual words of Dan’s family and friends, recorded in a series of interviews, which were painstakingly transcribed and then turned into the script of this two-act play. He took eighteen months developing the script and performance with Oasis Youth Theatre, based in Southampton. Through his incredible skill, and the huge talent and commitment of the young people and team of Oasis Youth Theatre, these raw words were transformed into a stunning performance that brought the audience to tears at each of its performances.
Drama is an incredibly powerful way to communicate important messages to young people, and Mark Wheeller’s play has become a core part of our vision to enable young people to understand the risks, and potential consequences and impact of experimenting with drugs. The final play, however, is as much about love, friendship, forgiveness and loss, as it is about drugs.
Mark was on record early on as saying this is by far the best play he had written to date, partly at least because he feels the words he was given by all those involved, Dan’s family and friends, are so open, honest and eloquent.
Feedback from school productions:
“I think the most important things are first that the audience was given a life-changing, perhaps life-saving, experience, and second that you have really helped make someone’s shortened life somehow have lasting value. Time to reflect. Drama should be that important.”
Pipers Corner School, High Wycombe
“Being able to spread the sycamore seeds has had a more profound impact on our students than I could have hoped for. I have taught Drama for over 20 years now, and have lost count of how many plays I have directed, but the impact at the end of last night’s performance on both cast and audience was something I have never experienced in education. We wish you and your family all the very best for the future and we will continue to do what we can to tell Dan’s story.”
Paul Stevens, Assistant Principal (Teaching and Learning), Wootton Upper School & Arts College
“As a parent of a teenage daughter I try to educate her in the dangers of drugs amongst other things but sometimes feel that I get the “Yeah Mum. I’m not that stupid” attitude but sitting there with her last night and seeing how much it affected her emotionally and the conversation we had after made me think that she’s not. Watching her peers performing a true story about a situation she could find herself in really hit home and a conversation she had with a friend later that night confirmed that she had taken everything in and was scared she could in the future have to deal with something like this.”