In 2005 Barry Marshall and Robin Warren shared the Nobel Prize for their work showing that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori is the cause of most peptic ulcer, reversing decades of medical doctrine holding that ulcers were caused by stress. Such was the resistance to their theories that in order to ‘fast-track’ their research, Marshall infected himself with the Helicobacter bacterium. I thought this story could be turned into a play for Day 10 of the 29 Plays Later challenge.
By 11pm I’d just about marshalled my research into five scenes and hadn’t written any dialogue. Doom! To tell real history, where do you start? Too much linearity is boring, it’s just history as ‘one damned thing after another’. I felt that the key event, Marshall drinking the Helicobacter, was actually better happening offstage. The lead-up and consequences are more interesting.
The key dramatic event for the play is actually when he has to confess to his wife that he’s infected himself with the bacteria. This is the heart of my play, and the fourth scene. After that I started the fifth scene, which is a retrospective (a happy ending!), then the third scene is the lead-up to Marshall’s self-experiment (which happens between the third and fourth). These scenes are duologues and are sort of okay.
I needed to show how Murray’s action arose out of two things: the resistance of the rest of the medical profession to the new truth, and the needless human suffering this resistance was prolonging. The second scene is a pretty bad stylised speech scene in which Murray and Warren argue with ‘Medical Rep’ about science and ethics. I’d run out of time to write better drama, but opening with Murray delivering a monologue seemed to work reasonably well, with a vivid depiction of the human suffering that he had made it his life’s work, and risked his own life, to improve.
Day 10 – Spiral Jetty
10_-_SPIRAL_JETTY_-_AJ_DEHANY (pdf, 20pp, 4 actors)