The play
Chapter Two

Matthew Scurfield I COULD BE ANYONE, all rights reserved.

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Performance ethnography: Performance ethnography uses the idea of performance both as a method for practice and as a means for understanding. Norman K. Denzin Ph.D., University of Iowa (Sociology)                                                                                                                                                           


Drama and Self-Esteem

Given the curricular flagship of academic excellence, held up as the only way to survive the adult market place, dyslexia, or learning difference, is riddled with negative connotations. The experience of those whose needs stand out as being different at school, so often has clear and demonstrable damaging effects on their self-esteem and quality of life, particularly in adult years. These research findings are very eloquently brought to life through this autobiographical performance.  

“Having devised a piece of theatre, which sprang to life from the pages of a book I wrote about growing up as an undiagnosed dyslexic in the midst of academia, in post-war Cambridge, I started out by doing a couple of performances in Malta, with the Maltese actress and television presenter Clare Agius. Amongst the audience was Dr Ruth Falzon of the University of Malta, a diminutive force of nature, who found the piece powerful enough to invite us to do six consecutive shows at the University. Somewhat paradoxically for me, Ruth had set up these performances in conjunction with the dean of the Faculty of Education and the head of the Department of Psychology.

As an out and out academic failure, you might think that performing under such a cerebral banner would create a certain level of discomfort, and you would be right. However, by the time I got to know these few luminaries at the University a little better, the reason for my linking arms with them became clear. In fact, my interpretations were turned upside down: their passion for equality, within the regime of schooling, their personal realisations as to how violent the system can be when we marginalise children were on par with mine.

In acting out this autobiographical drama the crippling lack of esteem is revealed and purged. And when a good part of the audience is mixed in with those who have found their own way, despite the so-called learning disability they grapple with, or, if they’re lucky, celebrate, a revealing debate kicks in. There were moments when individuals in the auditorium were so engaged they began expressing their own very personal stories. Without realising it, the audience was contributing and taking part in an aesthetic act within a theatrical tradition, performance ethnography.” Matthew Scurfield

When I COULD BE ANYONE played the DYSPLA festival in London 2011, the artist and teacher Katherine Hewlett and Dr Ross Cooper, from the charity AchievAbility, were inspired enough by what they saw to set up a showing at the House of Commons in Portcullis House, by way of the chairperson of AchievAbility Barry Sheerman MP. Thus began an encouraging and intriguing collaboration. Dr Ross Cooper is one of the main organisers behind The Festival of Dyslexic Culture, which, among others, will host this performance in November 2014.

Matthew and Clare bring to dramatic life a truly personal and transformative story. Using their own emotional triggers, they explore the very real possibility of embracing the collisions between the spectator and actor in a life enhancing way. This simple piece of theatre is able to offer a dramatic, new and riveting way to learn and engage with those of us who are often left out on the margins as dysfunctional others.  

Having believed and even participated in this performance ethnography, neighbours, strangers and spectators often open up, spontaneously, to a redeeming dialogue with the lost child.

I went around all day unable to snap out of the intense emotions and profound thoughts stirred in me by your work. I have not been so shaken by a theatre piece for a long long time. Dr Isabelle Gatt- Lecturer in Drama and Art Education

An enlightening and positive experience, loads of food for thought and soul searching reflections. Ms.Nadya Grech Learning Support Assistant

Powerful, poignant and touching.  Mrs Catherine Gonzi, wife of the Prime Minister of Malta

A truly humbling experience. Charmaine Agius Ferrante M. Teaching Support Consultant


It was as if I was seeing my son there. The nerves, rash attitude, impatience are mirrored in my son’s behaviour. Ms Anna Maria Baldacchino Head of Customer Care Ministry of Education, Employment and the Family, Malta


A very powerful performance. Maud Muscat M.Ed School Counsellor, Lecturer

Funny, highly original… a howl of protest at the way dyslexia has been regarded for the past 65 years. Jack Shepherd actor, director and playwright


Part confessional, part autobiographical… great theatre that deserves wide recognition. Jim Cartwright actor, author and playwright


"I found your show utterly inspiring, particularly your idea of loss of innocence. I had never thought of it that way round. It's made me think hard." Professor John Stein, University of Oxford, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Chair of the Dyslexia Research Trust

"I'm very glad I saw I COULD BE ANYONE. The monologue at the very beginning was incredible."  Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography University of Oxford

"A truly moving and fascinating experience that rang so true. I'm sure the audience was inspired as I was. Thank goodness I saw it." Rosemary Wilton playwright and television producer

“The performance of 'I Could be Anyone' was a powerful insight into the world of growing up with dyslexia. It combines monologue, interview, Greek drama and audience participation in a unique blend. However, for me, the most important thing is its impact beyond the theatre on the lives of young people struggling to make sense of written communication through the outreach work inspired by the drama” Dr Ian Finlay Educational Development Consultant (Humanities and Social Sciences) Oxford Learning Institute

“I have just attended the most moving drama performance on the 4th floor, entitled 'I could be anyone', on the autobiographical experiences of a learner with dyslexia and its damaging effects on self-esteem. This gave me more insight into the effects of this learning difference in the short hour of live performance than any amount of reading and had a considerable impact and resonance with all those present. The audience included young pupils and teachers from Cotham School, local authority personnel, artists, lecturers etc - many of whom were inspired to share their own stories of dyslexia by this performance.” Wan Ching Yee, Research Fellow, Programme Co-ordinator, MSc Educational Research Joint Departmental Research Ethics Co-ordinator Graduate School of Education University of Bristol

Matthew’s book and the story it tells reinforced a feeling I have had for a long time, namely that somehow we need to educate parents to value their children for what they are not for what the parents would like them to be. Ivan Newman, PG Cert TADLHFE, BSc (Hons), MBA, C Eng, Eur Ing, CITP

I hope as many people as possible will come to see the play. I thought it was a very powerful and moving account of the emotions and consequences of being dyslexic on an individual and their life. Dr Kate Saunders Chief Executive Officer of the British Dyslexia Association

Press Blurb

Matthew, Lena and Clare have been collaborating on the performance I COULD BE ANYONE for several years, both with the University of Malta and Achievability UK, as well as the Dyspla Festival for dyslexic writers and performers in the UK



Matthew Scurfield

Matthew Scurfield has acted in many different theatre projects in the UK, traversing the far corners of the stage; from Dundee to Cornwall, from the pantheons of Berkoff’s London Theatre Group, to Shakespeare’s New Globe, The Royal National Theatre and a lengthy adventure with ground-breaking Complicite. He has appeared in numerous films and television productions. Since moving to Malta, Matthew completed his autobiography I Could Be Anyone. He and his wife Lena, along with Malta’s own Clare Agius, adapted part of the book for the stage, which has latterly been adopted, as performance ethnography by the Faculty for Social Wellbeing University of Malta.

Television & film credits include: Out of Hours, Kavanagh QC, A Dance to the Music of Time, Cosmic Sucker, Dangerfield, Hetty Wainthrop Investigates, Casualty, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Tales from the Crypt, Pie in the Sky, Wycliffe, A Touch of Frost, Here Comes the Mirror Man, Karaoke, Look Me in the Eye, Time after Time, Piglet Files, Minder, Sharps Honour, Smokescreen, Coronation Street, The Chief, Blue Heaven, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Murder of Quality, Zorro, Brookside, Shelley, A Murder of Quality, A Guilty Thing Surprised, Heart of the Country. Byron and Il commissario Rex. A Different Loyalty, Game of Thrones and Sinbad.  Amy Foster, Black Beauty, Dakota Road, Monster Maker, Wedekind, The Loss Adjuster, 1984, The Jigsaw Man, Raiders of The Lost Ark, Sweeney 2, McVicar.

Clare Agius

Clare Agius is an Actress, TV Present and Producer who has been hosting TV programmes, Events and Festivals for the past thirteen years establishing herself professionally as one of Malta’s leading personality. With more than 2500 Aired programmes to her name, she has developed a skill of interviewing people and making them feel at ease in front of the cameras while bringing out the best in them.  To date she has produced and presented most of her shows with great success and following and is renowned for her ‘Natural Flair’ of presenting.

As an actress she started at a very young age appearing at Malta’s National Theatre (Manoel Theatre) several times during her career.  She has played leading roles like Juliet (in Romeo&Juliet by Shakespeare), Salome (in Salome by Oscar Wilde) and Yerma (Yerma by Federico Garcia Lorca).  She later went on to play leading roles in popular TV series on Malta’s main channel – TVM.

Lena Scurfield

Being a mother of three grown sons, who have had very different educational experiences, Lena has developed a keen interest and a broad view of the impact formal education can have on our children. She directed Matthew and Clare’s performance I Could Be Anyone. Directing grew from collaborating in the early stages of rehearsal, and her involvement with and learning acquired through Matthew’s story. Realising the significance of sharing this story with an audience, she saw it stimulating a much needed debate. The varying and intense effect the education system, good and bad, has had on other family members and friends also propelled this step.

Living with a dyslexic for over thirty years has given me an escalating and personal understanding of what the profile entails. I also understand how difficult it is for non-dyslexics to fully understand what is going on; as it took me many years of best intentions to really "get" what my husband was trying to explain to me about what had gone on for him and how it affected him. Having helped him through the ups and downs of writing a book has also deepened my understanding of and empathy with the way his dyslexic mind-set operates. The process has forced me to continually look at the part I unwittingly play in exasperating the frustration that can build up for the nonlinear thinker in our linear world. Collaborating with Clare and Matthew on the performance I Could Be Anyone and helping Matthew with parts of his book, felt like being a catalyst of sorts, an interpreter perhaps, between different but equal ways of being. Lena Scurfield

Clare Agius