Charlotte Bennett

The director of a new play inspired by the terminal breast cancer of Coronation Street actress Morag Siller remembers her friend as the pay launches without her

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I am about to enter tech week for Genesis – a new play about breast cancer prevention by Frazer Flintham, debuting at the Lowry on Friday before embarking on a short tour. And I am thinking about my friend Morag Siller – an actress who originally inspired this project who passed away in April.

I am thinking about her because I am sad she is not here anymore. I am thinking about her because I am particularly sad that she is not here this week. And I am thinking about her because I miss her and her endless energy.

I didn’t know Mo long. I met her in 2013, but the impact she had on my life has been immeasurable. When I met Mo she already knew she had incurable breast cancer. I had personally never lost anyone to cancer before (which sadly makes me one of the lucky ones), and to know that this disease was taking a woman still so full of life, love and laughter made me angry. But the amazing thing was that Mo wasn’t angry. As a patron of the charity Prevent Breast Cancer – the UK’s only charity to solely focus on breast cancer prevention – she let her situation only fuel her more and more to raise awareness of this charity that she so passionately believed in.

It was theatre that would best tell the human side to the science that underpins Prevent Breast Cancer’s work

Genesis began with Mo at the helm. It was originally her idea to create a new play that would raise awareness of breast cancer prevention. And when she asked me to work with her to make this happen I jumped at it. We both shared the belief that theatre can be a powerful tool in connecting and discussing complex ideas with a wide audience and that it was theatre that would best tell the human side to the science that underpins Prevent Breast Cancer’s work.

The brilliant playwright Frazer Flintham joined the process and he and I spent two years meeting with patients and scientists through the charity, which then informed our story. Morag was the lynchpin of this research, connecting us to the charity and using her own experiences to feed back along the way.

Frazer and I became a tight team, poring over the interviews, sitting with science books trying to get our heads around it all and working together to create an authentic voice for the work. We debated, agreed, argued, laughed, cried, pushed each other and exhausted each other. It was one of the hardest processes we had ever undertaken – each person we met had a story to tell and all of them felt so important. In the end we trusted our gut and pushed forward with our choice to focus on a story about genetic testing. And Genesis was born.

In November 2015 Mo texted me to say she had been told she was very ill. Her cancer had spread and she was terminal. She had just turned 46, just finished a successful run in Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet and was gearing up for a new year. I sat down on the street and cried.

In February 2016 we did our final development on the play and several people we met through the research, including Mo, came along to the sharing and gave feedback. Frazer and I took it all on and developed the play further.

In March 2016 I went to Prevent Breast Cancer’s 20th anniversary ball. Mo did a speech in which she told the room that she was not ready to die. I went to the toilets with her afterwards and we shed a tear over the hand-dryer and then laughed that we were crying whilst stood over a hand-dryer that kept going off. She told me how much she wanted to be here to see the play happen and I said that of course she would be – she gave me a look. It was a look I will never forget. That would be the last night I would see her.

When Mo passed away I had a word with myself. It was time to embrace some of her spirit and push harder and harder to make this project happen. First off I decided to devise an engagement programme to run alongside the play. This includes free pamper sessions for breast cancer sufferers, a photography exhibition of people who have had mastectomies, a free education programme teaching body confidence and breast checks, a series of post-show talks and a live stream of the show online on Saturday 12 November, 2.30pm.

The last time I saw Mo I told her that this would always be her play

At the time we also didn’t have all our funding or our team and so I worked with our producers to raise £55,000, assembled an incredible team of people to make the show and booked a tour of venues. To carry on this project without Mo made me so sad and in lots of ways didn’t feel quite right – but at the same time highlighted exactly why it still needed to happen.

The last time I saw Mo I told her that whether she was here or not, that this would always be her play because she is the reason it exists. And so she will always be with it, in a way. To honour that, we are touring an amazing portrait of her with us as part of our photography exhibition. It doesn’t make up for her not being here but it is a firm nod to a brilliant, fierce and hilarious woman who fought for a breast cancer-free future right to the very end.

Genesis is about to embark on a UK tour, coming to the Lowry, Salford (11-12 Nov), Beggar’s Theatre, Cumbria (22 Nov), Continental, Preston (23 Nov) and Cast, Doncaster (24 Nov). For more info and tickets, please visit

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