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Playwright Mark Ravenhill: why I took up ballet after my mum died

He tried dance to cope with grief – and found himself in a class with ‘25 mostly retired ladies’. It all fed into his new play, about his mother, his

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He tried dance to cope with grief – and found himself in a class with ‘25 mostly retired ladies’. It all fed into his new play, about his mother, his childhood and his obsession with Jemima Puddle-Duck

The playwright of Shopping and Fucking, Some Explicit Polaroids and Mother Clap’s Molly House is remembering the joy of dressing up as Jemima Puddle-Duck. A trip to the cinema for The Tales of Beatrix Potter, featuring dancers from the Royal Ballet, left the young Mark Ravenhill so enamoured of the bonneted heroine that he mimicked her for hours while his father filmed the routines with a cine camera. “I was obsessed about performing the dances,” says Ravenhill. “Then I bought my little Woolworths book, How to Be a Ballet Dancer.”

The tale of four-year-old Mark, with his cardboard beak and a bedsheet for wings, is revisited in Ravenhill’s new audio play, Angela, named after his mother. It interweaves episodes from his suburban childhood and conversations, decades later, with his 84-year-old mum, disoriented by dementia. It can be upsetting but it is uplifting, too, partly through Ravenhill’s celebration of how the arts enrich everyday life. There is warm comedy when Angela introduces her husband, Ted, to her passion for am-dram, and Ted delights in acting out The Wind in the Willows to his young son. “It was my dad’s favourite book,” says the playwright. “He had different voices for all the characters.”

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