Plays by Sarah Daniels

Beside Herself

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

St. Dymphna's is a halfway house for people with mental illness. On the board of management there sits Evelyn, an MP's wife, who is struggling desperately to make people like her; helping her father round the house, acceding to colleagues' requests and absorbing the stress she is quite obviously feeling, her innermost thoughts voiced to the audience by the otherwise unseen Eve.

For it seems that Evelyn is also not well, the spectre of mental illness dogging her as she puts on a timid, polite manner and faces the world as though nothing is the matter.

Named after the patron saint of the mentally ill – a girl whose father tried to seduce her then murdered her when she refused – St. Dymphna's Community Group Home becomes not just a place of work for Evelyn, but a safer space in which she can work out the problems afflicting her, and cut right to the source that caused them.

Beside Herself was first performed by the Women's Playhouse Trust at the Royal Court, London, on 29 March 1990.


Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set in the seventeenth century, Sarah Daniels' play Byrthrite tells the story of a group of women who, using a variety of tactics and paths, fight back against the growing, male-dominated obsession with herbal medicine, so-called 'witchcraft', and the purging of innocent women.

Grace, the oldest of the women, is to be condemned as a witch, but time and again, the women with whom she is friends band together in solidarity to protect her from the attention of the 'Newly appointed Woman-Finder General', Pricker.

In Byrthrite Daniels again and again shows the connection between the medical profession and the subjugation of women: as timely an observation in the era of IVF and the fight for abortion rights as it was in the seventeenth-century Britain, suggesting that solidarity amongst women in this matter can and should transcend all other dichotomies of politics, religion and wealth.

Byrthrite was first produced in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, in 1986.

The Devil's Gateway

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Second floor flat in Bethnal Green, and the world is looming large over the lives of Betty and her neighbours. If it's not Social Services, then it's Social Security; if not's unemployment, then it's the bomb. Betty and her old friend Enid, who is trapped in an abusive marriage, are mirrored across town by Enid's daughter Linda, and Linda's lover Fiona, while Betty's daughter Carol tries and fails to duck in and around the whims of her bullying husband.

And all the while on Greenham Common, women are taking action. Against the bomb; and against the patriarchal system that would drop it. We're used, Daniels writes, to seeing men go off to war but we should get used to women going off for peace.

The Devil's Gateway was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, Upstairs, London, in 1983.

The Gut Girls

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The women of Deptford Foreign Cattle Market are up to their elbows in the guts of animals, working twelve or thirteen hours a day preparing meat for London's butcher shops. They are pilloried, and marginalised, even if they are well-paid.

One local well-to-do woman decides that the Christian thing to do would be to teach these women how to act like young ladies, train them up for a life as maid-servants. 'Improve' them. Of course, it doesn't work out that way: the women get laid off from their jobs and end up separated and even imprisoned via the wealthy houses of London society.

Gut Girls contrasts the bloody mess of independence and solidarity with the apparently pristine face of upper-class life. It was commissioned by and premiered at the Albany Empire theatre in Deptford, London, in 1988.

Head-Rot Holiday

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It's Christmas and that means, at Penwell Special Hospital – or the 'Head-rot Hotel', a psychiatric prison for women – it's time for the patients to put on their best clothes for the Christmas disco.

Head-Rot Holiday follows the stories of three women – Dee, Ruth and Claudia – who have each been imprisoned for various crimes, for which their punishment is to be 'treatment'.

In her introduction, Daniels writes that she became 'interested in how women's mental health is defined and I wanted to write something specifically about a woman detained in Broadmoor or a 'special hospital' – the new euphemism for an institution for the criminally insane . . . with the help of WISH (Women in Special Hospitals), Clean Break set up a research period, during which I was able to talk to ex-patients, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, social workers and solicitors, which enabled me to find a focus for writing about the treatment women receive in those places.'

Head-Rot Holiday was first performed by Clean Break, a theatre company that provides theatre in education to women in prison, at Battersea Arts Centre in 1992.

The Madness of Esme and Shaz

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

'Out of the bleakness and horror, a love story emerged; not a romantic or sexual but one of friendship. I suppose it's a sort of fable about two people who've never experienced love and don't even recognise it when they do, but their lives are irredeemably changed by it . . . I overheard the director, Jessica Dromgoole, describe it as a collection of ugly things brought together and transformed into something beautiful. I felt I couldn't have been paid a higher compliment.' Daniels Plays: 2, 'Introduction', 1994.

Recently released on probation, Shaz is troubled by her past and the crime she committed that sent her away. The probation services have teamed her up with Esme, a woman in her seventies whom, despite being her aunt, Shaz has never met before. Esme is a religious Christian who insists on certain standards, many of them which Shaz is not capable of meeting.

Still, an unlikely friendship blossoms between the two, building to a solid relationship which proves the redemption that Shaz has needed for so long.

The Madness of Esme and Shaz was first presented by the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in association with the Royal National Theatre Studio on 10 February, 1994.


Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Masterpieces is a fiery and uncompromising condemnation of pornography and the objectification of women.

The play opens on three couples having dinner in a restaurant, exchanging sexist jokes. The response is varied: some of them laugh uproariously, some of them uncomfortably, and one is deeply unhappy. Their domestic discussion about the morality of pornography is suddenly amplified a thousand-fold in the next scene, in which Rowena is on trial for murder. She had just been to see a ‘snuff’ film, in which a porn actress is actually mutilated and killed on screen, and then pushed a man under a train because he was harassing her. The play is the story of her journey, through seeing a porn magazine for the first time to a thwarted attempt to help an unhappy prostitute, from uncomfortable laughter to radical and disgusted protest at female subjugation.

Masterpieces is an angry and defiant play, first staged in 1983, at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.


Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Neaptide by Sarah Daniels is a modern story of custody battles, sexual identity and gender politics, framed around the ancient myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone.

Claire is a history teacher at a local school where two teenage girls have come out. Their principal, Bea Grimble, is none too impressed, and aims to have them expelled. Claire, who had been hiding the fact that she is homosexual, speaks up on behalf of the girls: this in spite of the fact that she is fighting her ex-husband Lawrence for custody of their daughter, the precocious and happy Poppy.

All around Claire hardened attitudes are challenged – and confirmed – as she must decide whether to try to maintain a position of honesty, and battle hypocrisy, from within the bounds of the law, or without.

Neaptide was first performed at the Cottesloe National Theatre, London, in 1986.

Ripen Our Darkness

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Mary doesn't seem to be herself lately: the dinner's never ready on time, the shirts need to be sorted and she barely has the breakfast ready when it's time she was here with the tea. If that weren't enough, she never makes it to Sunday service on time: and she the wife of a church warden. Pity her poor husband.

In Ripen Our Darkness, Daniels casts an acerbic eye over the relationship between church and the state of the churchmen's marriages: from the put upon Mary, to the vocal Daphne. When behaviour is considered 'sin', Daniels surmises, we are not far from calling it insane.

Ripen Our Darkness was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, Upstairs, London, in 1981.

Sarah Daniel's plays include Ripen Our Darkness (Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, 1981); Ma's Flesh is Grass (Crucible Studio Theatre, Sheffield, 1981); The Devil's Gateway (Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, 1983); Masterpieces (Manchester Royal Exchange, 1983; Royal Court Theatre, London, 1983/4); Neaptide, winner of the 1982 George Devine Award (Cottesloe, National Theatre, London, 1986); Byrthrite (Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, 1986); The Gut Girls (Albany Empire, Deptford, 1988); Beside Herself (Royal Court, London, 1990); Head-Rot Holiday (Clean Break Theatre Company, 1992); The Madness of Esme and Shaz (Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, 1994); Blow Your House Down, based on the novel by Pat Barker (Live Theatre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1995); Dust (Cottesloe, National Theatre, London, 2003); and Flying Under Bridges (Watford Palace Theatre, 2005).