Play shines a light on a cancer that’s been kept in the dark

Play shines a light on a cancer that’s been kept in the dark

21st February 2020

The Islets of Silence (The C Word)

There are many ways to support a cause and raise awareness.

One way of reaching people is through the arts, an area Isobel Barrett knows well.

The director of Tram Direct, a Glasgow-based theatre production company, has written a play called The Islets of Silence (The C Word).

Isobel Barrett, Director, Tram Direct

Isobel lost her husband John to pancreatic cancer, only three weeks after receiving a diagnosis.

Her play is written from the heart. It centres around the Gourlay family. They are dealing with the everyday situations most of us recognise. Parenting, teenagers, growing up, school, work, hopes, dreams, plans for the future, friendships – relationships.

Cast L-R James Gordon, Amber Murphy, Sam Stuart Fraser, Frances Knows, Alasdair Ferguson, Aimee Hannah
Photo Credit: Maria Katerina Nicandrou

Then life throws a grenade. A pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Everything changes and flips upside down. It’s something Isobel knows all about.

She said: “I did not know a lot about pancreatic cancer until my husband died of this silent killer. Realising that the arts can deliver a powerful message I decided to write a play to raise awareness for others.”

Isobel says that while the topic is tough, the play has a good dose of typical Scottish humour in the way we deal with life and its many ups and downs.

The play is for everyone (age 14+), and as a former teacher, Isobel wants to engage the younger generation.

She said: “What’s exciting about today’s young people, is that they are becoming very knowledgeable about lots of issues, they can make a difference. They have a central part in the play. I want to reach as many people as I can, and all ages.”

Within the play there’s also hope.

Isobel explained: “The play is about an ordinary family getting through life as we all do until the devastating diagnosis is given. As individuals they all react differently but through it all they never lose the close family bond. Change happens to us all and this we cannot avoid. However, love, hope, and a belief that things will improve will always see us through the dark tunnel that sometimes engulfs us.”

The play has been funded by Pancreatic Cancer Scotland (PCS) and also through Culture & Business Fund Scotland match funding managed by Arts & Business Scotland.

Murray Easton, our Head of Fundraising and Supporter Relations helped Isobel to find funding for the play. PCS will also support the play by making sure information and leaflets are available during the tour.

Murray said: “Survival rates for pancreatic cancer have barely improved in five decades and awareness levels remain low. 76% of people in Scotland cannot name a symptom of pancreatic cancer(1). We need to take action and as a charity we are determined to change the numbers.

“We need to look at new ways of increasing awareness. When our supporter Isobel Barrett approached us regarding Islets of Silence (The C Word) we thought it was an excellent way to reach more people through the arts; local theatre networks, local press and social media.

“Writing has proved to be very therapeutic for Isobel and we know how much hard work has gone into getting the play to this stage.”

(1) Pancreatic Cancer Action, July 2019, survey based on 2,000 participants

The play will tour to various venues throughout Scotland from March through to September. For tour dates and to book please visit