An invitation to collaborate: Playwright Paul Brooks’ new project on the Contagious Diseases Acts

The Play’s The Thing…

George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817-1904) Found Drowned c.1848 – 1850, oil on canvas

Paul Brooks, writer, director and producer and founder of Public House Theatre Company, writes:

Genuine conversations No.1:

‘What are you reading?’

‘An article on syphilis in Victorian London.’

‘Right… Pint?’

I’m quite lucky with my friends. As a journalist and sometime playwright, they’re used to me researching and discussing all manner of weird and wonderful topics. Some of them are genuinely interested and genuinely fascinated, while some of them are generally perplexed.

The topic that many of them have found most interesting in the past few years, though, is that of prostitution, which I first used as the basis for a play I wrote some five years ago. At this time, the play was indirectly about Pall Mal Gazette editor WT Stead and his infamous Modern Babylon campaign, which exposed the horrors of child prostitution in 1880s London.

I suspect my friends’ fascination sometimes has more to do with some of the more salacious stories I uncovered rather than the historical documentation or any analysis from a socio-economic point of view. But it’s now a subject I am returning to again to examine the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s.

And it’s this area of research that I’m asking for help on. I’ve obviously started my own research and my current reading list includes: City Of Sin: London and its Vices by Catherine Arnold; Josephine Butler by Jane Jordan; Prostitution and Victorian Social Reform by Paul McHugh; London The Wicked City: A Thousand Years Of Vice In The Capital by Fergus Linnane; and Prostitution And Victorian Society: Women, Class, And The State by Judith R Walkowitz. So if there’s anything obvious I’ve missed I’d love any additional reading recommendations if anyone out there shares a research interest on this topic.

What I really need, though, is advice on negotiating the foreign landscape of medical research and how the Contagious Diseases Acts were greeted by the medical community of the time. I’ll also be looking for help and guidance in other areas of research and I’ve been very lucky to find an ally in one academic working in the field… but if there’s anyone else out there who may be interested then I’d love to hear from you.

I’m in the early stages of putting funding bids together and putting a production team in place so there may be some form of financial reward involved. But I’m obviously making no promises, apart from if there is money on the table I’ll ensure everyone else gets paid before I do.

As a playwright, I’m fascinated by the Contagious Diseases Acts. The acts were brought in to protect serving Navy and Army personnel from the spread of venereal disease, which once contracted would leave them unavailable for active duty until cured. In reality, the acts represented a major invasion of civil liberties and they were eventually repealed. And their examination asks all sorts of questions about when the needs of the state over-ride the rights of the individual. And that has obvious echoes with human rights infringements going on today.

So please contact me on my email address if you can offer any help or if it sounds like a project you may want to be involved in. The project is slated in for November 2014 and will be the launch project of a new theatre company. If you want to find out more about me or the company then check out the soon-to-be-launched Public House website.

About Centre for Medical Humanities

Centre for Medical Humanities
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