When Alan Hopgood was diagnosed with cancer in 1994, he kept a diary. An established actor, screenwriter and playwright, his decision to keep a daily log was natural. Following a successful operation, the diaries were published as Surviving Prostate Cancer.
The book was a success – and next, these reflections evolved again into a successful, widely-toured play. ‘The most important thing was I made it a comedy, so that the guys would stay in their seats and not run for the exits.’
Alan’s ability to tell difficult stories with warmth, humour and grace resonated deeply. The momentum led to a second play, and then a third, and eventually 13 plays addressing issues such as diabetes, grief, and depression.
The plays came from personal experiences - a colleague of Alan’s, for instance, or in the case of Wicked Widows, an approach from a doctor.
‘Dr Susan Feldman did her PhD on the subject of widowhood, and she interviewed 80 widows. She let me read her thesis and I said ‘Well, I can’t put 80 women on a stage… but can I take three women’s stories?’ With permission granted, the play was developed from three life experiences.
‘We had a fabulous reaction because it spoke to so many things that have troubled women… they have someone in the bed next to them and then suddenly one day they’re gone. The shock; the adjustment.’
The Carer, a one-man play that completed two tours of Australia, was praised for its sensitive treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, and contained both warmth and humour. It is the story of George, initially played by the late great Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell, and then Alan himself.
‘I would meet the audience afterwards and hear their responses, and it was the best part of the night to be honest. It’s lovely to deliver something that’s not only entertaining, but moving.’
In the performance, one of the few props includes a piano, upon which rests a photo of a woman - signifying George’s late wife. During final calls, the photo is signalled to by the actor playing George.
‘When Bud was in The Carer, the photo on the piano was my mother-in-law. I used to tell my wife that every night, she’d get a round of applause. And when I was The Carer, I put a photo of my late sister.’
A key element of the plays is a discussion following the performance led by an expert of the specific health issue, for further conversation and aware-ness raising. In 2005 Alan was made a Member for the Order of Australia for services to the arts and to the community.
As live performances are off the cards for the time being, Alan is thrilled his work can continue to be shared. ‘The beauty about radio is it can go anywhere… people can still hear the message of the play. When I heard about the Radio reimagined] I thought “fantastic.”’
Listen to Alan Hopgood's radio plays, Wicked Widows and The Carer at Victorian Seniors Festival radio Reimagined Radio Plays.