Playwright Abi Bown talks to Hannah Pender about Dayglo


Evelyn 48, self declared punk priestess with a rich and chaotic life lived on the fringes of the establishment. Now diagnosed with breast cancer.

Stella 17, Evelyn’s daughter raised by the artistic community, her grandmother and herself. She has moved back in with Evelyn to support her.

Noel 19, serves at The Chicken Shack, a fast food joint on the site of ‘Backtrax’, Evelyn’s old record shop haunt.

Brian 32, Oncology nurse, gay. Brian fell in love with Evelyn’s music when he was 18 and clubbing it. Brian was the only staff member to recognise Evelyn on the cancer ward 6th months ago and they became close friends.

Plot Outline

Stella arrives home in Brighton to visit her mum Evelyn after a five year absence. Anxious
about the reunion, she stops off at a chicken take- away joint and is served by Noel, who
dampens her fears with his wit. Stella meets her mum at an eclectic sea-front flat and learns
that mum is recovering from breast cancer.

Stella feels manipulated into staying on in Brighton, but can see Evelyn is in need of
support. Noel at The Chicken Shack says he has a brother with sickle cell anaemia so he is
familiar with the idea of illness within a family. Together they set about familiarising
themselves with Evelyn’s medical condition. They discover that Evelyn has a family history of
breast cancer of which she was unaware, Great Great Grandad Douglas died of it in 1920,
his two daughters also died from cancer years later. The family history information means
Evelyn is now eligible for BRCA testing to see if she is positive for BRCA 1 or 2 – genes
which increase the risk of breast cancer.

Stella persuades her mum to have the BRCA test but Evelyn is cautious: she has fought
most of her life from the standpoint of anarchy - what the state has got on you they can
use against you - including your genes. Also, if Evelyn turns out to be BRCA positive, this
will have implications for Stella because it indicates that the cancer has a higher chance of
being inherited. The implications of having a genetic test for cancer are compared with
having a genetic test for sickle cell. Noel has had a genetic test to see if he is a carrier and
whether he can be a bone marrow donor to help his brother.

The test results show that Evelyn is indeed BRCA positive. Evelyn’s nurse, Brian, is
optimistic, pointing out that Evelyn may benefit from new drugs called PARP inhibitors
which are targeted to BRCA positive tumours. This is an example of pharmacogenetics at
work. The treatment options for cancer are compared by Noel to the lack of options for
sickle cell which has received less than its fair share of funding and is still shrouded in
stigma and misunderstanding

Evelyn does not automatically have access to the PARP inhibitor because it has to undergo
clinical trials in order to be shown to be safe, and to work in the way intended. Running
such trials is dependent on people being willing to take part and ‘chance’ being randomly
given the new drug or the best existing treatment, ie some form of chemo.
Stella wants Evelyn to join the clinical trial, while Evelyn is reluctant to subject herself to
further treatment and side effects in the 50/50 hope of getting the new drug.

Finally agreeing to the trial, Evelyn distracts herself with collating her musical past which is
to be a posthumous gift for Stella should she not do well. Stella is between a rock and hard place,
with every new bit of information a new challenge emerges – should she now get
tested herself? If Stella too is found to be BRCA positive she may be offered regular
screening or preventative surgery. Would Noel still be interested in her if she has the “bad”
BRCA gene? Noel himself carries the gene for sickle cell but in many ways choosing to have his genetic test was easier for him. As a carrier, he has not got sickle cell himself and will never get it. The implication of knowing his genetic status is that if he has a baby with another person who is also a carrier, there is a 1 in 4 chance that his child could inherit sickle cell. If Noel and Stella were to get together, it would be important to know if Stella was also a carrier.

Evelyn comes off the trial early having found her health worsening whilst others on the trial
appear to be flourishing/dramatically improving. Stella is angry, her mum is giving up and not
helping in the advancement of a cure that Stella herself may need one day. Evelyn would
rather hire a swanky hall in Brighton Pavilion for a farewell gig. This is what all the
information from unearthing dear old Great Great Grandad Douglas has led to - Evelyn’s
choice and Stella must accept it. Evelyn hires a room in Brighton Royal Pavilion for a punk
party, Stella can’t bring herself to go. Noel pleads for Stella to consider turning up but
there’s too much baggage from Stella’s past, it’s Stella’s choice to stay away, she runs to the
beach as the gig plays out behind her.

Evelyn finds Stella under the pier at dawn. Reunited in the moment, mother and daughter
watch the sun come up together and finally the emotional healing process truly begins.

Abi Bown October 2011

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