A play inspired by the death of a young cyclist will aim to highlight the danger of riding a bike in London.
Tamara von Werthern used the case of Eilidh Cairns, who was killed by a 32-tonne tipper truck in Notting Hill, as the basis for her play The White Bike.
Eilidh, 30, (below), was hit from behind as she cycled to work in February 2009. The first permanent ghost bike in London was erected in her memory nearby. HGV driver Joao Pedro Lopes was convicted of driving with defective eyesight and fined £200.
Ms von Werthern, 36, a mother of two from Hackney, said she decided to write the play after returning from maternity leave and passing the crash site on her daily ride to work in Shepherd’s Bush.
She saw many similarities between Eilidh’s life and her own and used it as the basis for her main character, Isabel, who is killed riding to work.
“The central piece of the play is that she finds herself seemingly alive and her bike, which is now the ghost bike, is there by the side of the crash,” she said.
“I saw the [police appeal] posters and the ghost bike. Because she was my age, it sparked the thought: what if this happened to me? I wrote quite a lot of the play in my head while I was cycling.
“It’s really a love story first of all. Not just between the woman who was killed and her husband and child, but also her love of the life she is separated from.
“It’s like a love letter to cycling. It’s not meant to put anyone off cycling, even though it could come across as that. It highlights that there is a need for things to change so that a senseless death like this one won’t happen in the future.”
The play ends with Isabel and other dead cyclists attending the “die in” protest that saw hundreds lie down in the street outside Transport for London’s Southwark headquarters last November after the death of six riders in a fortnight.
Ms von Werthern, (pictured above by Kirsty Harrison), who works for a theatre publisher, spoke with Eilidh’s sister Kate Cairns and researched evidence provided to the inquest. She also spoke to Debbie Dorling, widow of Brian Dorling, who was killed cycling at Bow roundabout in 2011.
“What has struck me in talking about the topic is that there are so many people, especially women, who would love to cycle but they’re too scared to go on the roads,” Ms von Werthern said. “I want to address that and the fact it’s still not safe enough for everyone to just get on a bike.
There was something about Eilidh that made me feel very connected, and made me realise that this is something that can happen to anyone. Cycling in London is a bit like Russian Roulette.
Kate Cairns said she was “touched, surprised and moved” that her sister had inspired a play. “I am delighted and privileged and proud that my sister continues in death what she did so powerfully in life: To leave a long lasting and unforgettable impression on people who come under her sphere of influence,” she said.
The play has been showcased at the Arcola theatre in Hackney (top picture, by Christian Schmermer).
A 15-minute showcase is planned on June 11 at Queen Mary University. Ms von Werthern is working with director Oliver Rose to turn it into a full production and hopes it will be accepted by an off-West End theatre, such as the Bush. Profits will be donated to RoadPeace, the charity for road crash victims.