My Inspiration: Tom Machell | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Written and performed by Tom Machell, Ticker is a play exploring male identity, toxic aggression, and the negative consequences of not talking about how you feel. It follows twenty-something Spencer, a Geordie millennial who is deeply in love with inestimable Gabi and whose life is torn apart by her untimely death. 

Here, Tom shares the inspiration behind his creation ahead of its run at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle from 19th-23rd November

I wanted to write a play that has a central character that an audience wouldn’t always like. I find storytelling like this interesting and within contemporary theatre a more truthful reflection of people and society. Ticker is a story driven by the characters that surround Spencer, he is a frustrated, angry young man who prefers to blame everyone except himself. He is an outsider not only to the circumstances he finds himself in but also within himself. 

I lost someone who had been a big part of my life to a condition I had never heard of. Ticker is not a play about her but dedicated to one of the best people I have ever known. 

In June 2013, I was walking down Peckham High Street on the way to work and I got a call from an old school friend. Her voice was quiet, not chatty like she usually was, almost blunt. ‘Tom – I’ve got something I need to tell you, it’s Steph, basically, something has happened, we’re not sure what but she’s died’ I didn’t know what to say, we stayed in silence on the phone. It felt robotic, I think I was in shock…It’s very hard to remember exactly your actions when you receive news like that. It took six weeks to find out what happened. Steph had been at work, as a copywriter, and had collapsed at her desk. She had an undiagnosed heart condition which had caused a sudden cardiac death, something so common to happen in 18-35 year olds but something almost no one is aware exists. Twelve fit and young and healthy people die every week from one of these conditions in the UK. 

Steph was an incredible, funny, smart, beautiful weirdo with whom I had the pleasure of going to school with. She was one of those girls that did everything at school and I don’t think there was a boy in my year who wasn’t in love with her. She had the sort of personality that meant if you weren’t laughing within five minutes of meeting her, there was something wrong with you.

After Steph died, I didn’t cope with it very well. I wasn’t sure how to grieve. I wasn’t part of her immediate family and all the planning of her funeral was happening in Newcastle and I was down in London. I was doing a show at the time, which also meant I could only go to the first part of the funeral, missing everything else. I think to the outside world it looked like I didn’t care. I wasn’t there like everyone else was. I just had to get out and remove myself from the situation as I found it too hard.

Over the past six years, I have always wanted to do something for her. Others have run marathons, done bake sales. I have made Ticker. Steph loved going to the theatre and was the only person from school who came to every single one of my performances. I didn’t want to write about her specifically. I think she would have hated that. She was a very private person and I think I would find that too difficult. So I decided to use my experience of her loss to develop this play. The aim of Ticker is primarily to highlight and raise awareness of sudden cardiac death, so more young people get tested (a free, non-invasive, and incredibly easy process), but also to explore and highlight the problems with male grief. We don’t talk about things. Steph had a dozen close male friends at school and we have never sat down together to talk about her. I’ve cried on my own but I have never had the courage to talk to my mates about it. Ticker is dedicated to the memory of one of the best people I have ever met. I hope I can do her proud.

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