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Isle Of Dogs: How David Grindley is set to star in his own play at The Space

The Island resident and original SpaceWorks member will stage a show from July 26-31, 2022

David Grindley is set to star in David's Play at The Space
David Grindley is set to star in David’s Play at The Space – image James Perrin

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Adam Hemming joined The Space in 2004, subsequently stepping up to the role of artistic director a couple of years later.

Not that it’s a competition, but David Grindley has been involved with the Westferry Road venue for longer than that – about 19 years, in fact. 

“I get a lot out of it,” said David, whose speech and movement is affected by cerebral palsy.

“It saved my life. When I was in a home, I was shut away a lot, but when I came here, I could do drama.”

Now the Isle Of Dogs resident has decided, as an original member of in-house company SpaceWorks, that he’s going to star in a production and that there’s really nothing Adam or anyone else can do about it – even if they wanted to. Actually, they’re complicit.

“This is the second play that we’ve done with David,” said Adam.

“The first was 2015’s The Man Who Found His Freedom, which was about a period in his life when he was in a care home and how he escaped to live a more independent life in east London. It was quite a hard-hitting drama.”

Whatever David’s Play turns out to be after the machinations of writing, rehearsal and devising, it won’t be that. Audiences are in for laughs.

“With this show we wanted to have a bit more fun,” said Adam.

“It’s a backstage comedy based on the last 10 years of David’s life – his time at The Space and the adventures he’s got up to since he’s been here.”

 Adam and David discuss the production
Adam and David discuss the production – image James Perrin

David’s disability hasn’t deterred him from consistently pursuing starring roles, something that’s key to the forthcoming show.

“The main thread of the story is that David is a part of our company SpaceWorks, where local people take part in creating theatre,” said Adam.

“At the end of each production we would talk about what we were going to do next, and David’s suggestion was always My Left Foot – I’d always shut him up.

“There are complications around staging My Left Foot, which was a book originally, then a film with Daniel Day-Lewis, but David was always suggesting it so that he could be the star of the show.

“In the end we decided that, rather than doing that production, we should create a play for David, which he could then star in, so that’s how it all began.”

David’s Play will be directed by Adam, David and deputy artistic director at The Space, Matthew Jameson, who all appear on stage as versions of themselves. 

“Nothing can go wrong,” said David. “I think we’ll feel better with the first night done, but I’m sure it will be alright – I hope people like it.”

Adam added: “It’s quite a rare thing to see someone like David on stage, but we’ve laughed a lot in creating the show and doing the read-through, so we’re hopeful people will find it funny.

“David keeps telling me off because I keep trying to do serious acting.”

The Space has raised cash to help put the show on – partly through a crowdfunding campaign – with David suggesting on the accompanying video that, should sufficient money become available, it would allow him to hire a better director than Adam.

The Space is still accepting donations for the show, although it’s unclear if this could affect Adam’s position.

In some ways, the fundraising efforts feel apt, given David’s own commitment to generating money for the charity that runs the theatre.

“I’ve worked on the box office, been on various committees and done a lot of fundraising,” he said.

“I recently did my annual sponsored walk across the Isle Of Dogs, which I’ve been doing for 10 years.”

David's Play is set to play at The Space from July 26-31
David’s Play is set to play at The Space from July 26-31 – image James Perrin

“David takes his fundraising very seriously and he’s very good at it,” said Adam.

“David has 24-hour care and this is one place where he can come without his carer and get involved in what’s going on.

“He’s seen more shows here than I have, but he’s also organised lunchtime music recitals as well as creating work like this – it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

“David’s participation with SpaceWorks has helped to raise understanding about what someone with cerebral palsy is capable of.

“As a condition, it’s not that well-known, but he’s built up quite a good network of friends.

“He had a group of people go with him on his sponsored walk and then we had a barbecue fundraiser here before some other friends took him on to a pub quiz at The Ship – it was a pretty full-on day.

“The number of people supporting him during the day is a pretty good indication of how well-liked he is.

“One of the stories that we’ve used in David’s Play is about the year we decided to do a sponsored walk in Greenwich.

“I wasn’t with him that year and it turns out there are strict rules there about what you’re allowed to shake a bucket for.

“You have to have advance permission – it’s a bit different to the Isle Of Dogs.

“Anyway, some people asked David to stop and he didn’t take too kindly to that and in the end some mounted police became involved.

“Another story that’s featured is that there was an unfortunate incident where David fell down some stairs coming out of a pub so an ambulance had to be called and, on the way home, he asked the ambulance to stop outside The Space so he could get a drink before last orders.

“About 10 years ago David decided to stop drinking and hasn’t had a drop of wine since.”

David said: “My life has improved a lot since then. I don’t think I’d be here now if I’d carried on drinking.”

Created by David, The Space’s literary manager Mike Carter and the company, David’s Play is set to be performed at The Space from July 26-31, 2022, with shows at 7.30pm Tuesday to Saturday and 2.30pm on Sunday. 

Tickets for the shows cost £15 with 20% off for bookings made by July 12 (so get in quick).

Anyone who would like to donate to support the production or The Space can find more information here.

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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