‘Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star.’

Haruki Murakami

I’m really excited that my full length play Gazing at a Distant Star is having its first outing as a rehearsed reading at Greenwich Theatre on 6th October. In the run up I’ve been reflecting on the stories of the three characters and what prompted me to write it.

Remember the three London schoolgirls who went missing a couple of years ago and were found to have travelled to Syria to join ISIS? There was something about that story that really captured my imagination. Three ordinary teenagers doing well at school and looking towards their exams suddenly (it seemed) abandoned the safety and security of everything they knew for an abstract ideology. They seemed so vulnerable, so ill-prepared for the path they had chosen. The thing I remember most about the story, however, was the faces of their families on the news. They were bewildered, tear-stained and confused. How could the people they loved so much have been leading such double lives? It was a lesson for all of us that no matter how close we are to our loved ones we never really know everything about them.

I imagined the agony of the families waiting for news about the girls, the snippets of information gleaned from CCTV or social media. Most heart-breaking of all were the shopping lists the girls had made. The scrawled notes in girlish writing about underwear, coats and makeup made it seem like they were packing for their first girls’ weekend away.

My mind turned to other families. The choir I sing with supported the Missing People charity for several years and over time we heard stories of those left behind and the same themes of loss and utter bewilderment. Not having answers is heart-breaking. Many speak of living in limbo while their loved ones are missing and how they have two lives- the public one where they get on with it and the private life where they rake through every word, incident and photograph in the hope that some answers will appear.

People go missing for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, like the schoolgirls, they choose to leave their lives, others are forced to and some are missing simply because no one has looked for them.

I started with Karen’s story. When her son goes missing she is left trying to find answers by searching through his childhood. Where did it all go so wrong and who is to blame?

Arun came next: a young man desperate to go to university but hampered by lack of funds. As many are now forced to do (2.9% of the UK workforce and rising) he takes a zero hours contract. Zero hours means no security, no employment rights  and no pastoral system. When a friend and colleague doesn’t turn up for work is he missing or has he just had enough of the system?

Anna tells the story of her sister, of trying to live normally when the person you love has been ripped from the fabric of your life leaving a jagged wound that never seems to heal.

For some a small grain of hope remains but for others where do you turn when that hope runs out?

Every now and then there will be a small article in the paper about the runaway schoolgirls: they’re all married to fighters, at least one has been killed and my heart breaks for them, their families and the impossible choices we’re faced with in such a fast-moving world.

Do we ever really know our loved ones or are we forever gazing at a distant star?

A rehearsed reading of Gazing at a Distant Star directed by James Haddrell will be at Greenwich Theatre studio on Thursday 6th October at 6pm. Tickets are available here. 

Find out more about Missing People charity here. 

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