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The Glad Game and the Power of Positivity

The Glad Game has been turned into a book, play and film, to help people stay positive during the darkest times.

Phoebe, right, with her mum and brother

A cruel fate

When actor Phoebe Frances Brown, from Nottingham, was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour in November 2018 at the age of just 26, it was doubly cruel. 

Acting “defined who she was” so having a grade 3 astrocytoma in the part of the brain that controls speech, language and memory meant it would be extra challenging for her to continue performing.  

But Phoebe carried on acting right until the end of her life, using a concept called The Glad Game, which has now been turned into a book, play and film, to stay positive during the darkest times.   

The Glad Game

Her mum Gail explained that Phoebe had always been a quietly confident child who started doing impressions of the singer Dolly Parton to entertain family and friends.

Later, Phoebe joined the Nottingham TV workshop and went on to get a First Class honours degree at the University of Birmingham.

She performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Donmar Warehouse, The National Theatre, Nottingham Playhouse and Birmingham Rep. 

Gail said: “Phoebe would say herself that she was hopeless at sports, but she always had a go. She backed herself, she was very funny and feisty. She liked holding court and doing little plays but she was never a show off.  

“She was very close to her brother – there are only two years between them. He’s a big cricketer and she’d say to him that there were similarities between going out on the crease and performing.  She always really loved life and people. She was on the school council and was a force of nature but modest with it. Despite all the knockbacks she said it’s just what you’ve got to do.” 

Phoebe gave her last performance at Hampstead Theatre in February 2022 and died two months later.

The film, book and play of The Glad Game, created by Phoebe’s family and medical team in 2023. ensure her legacy lives on. There’s also a t-shirt designed by Phoebe’s brother and her friend Jane Upton, with £15 from each sale going to The Brain Tumour Charity.  

I play The Glad Game every day. I’m glad because I had 29 years of Phoebe in my life. Even when I feel at rock bottom, saying that to myself just keeps me going. It’s been my lifeline.”

Gail Brown

Gail said: “People say to me, ‘how can you watch the play?’ But it’s been incredibly cathartic because it makes me feel like she’s still speaking to me and that you can get through this. Phoebe was incredibly resilient. Her attitude was that life’s sh*t sometimes and we can either curl up and not face things or embrace it as much as we can. It’s heartbreaking but it’s my manual to get through life.” 

A review of it said:

It navigates playfulness and the inevitable fiery overwhelm of living with cancer…But it’s not only a show about her and her cancer, it’s one which looks out and, in its most unexpected moments, asks what kind of mettle our political leadership is made of.” 

Exeunt Magazine

Paying it forward

Gail’s family and friends have now set up the Phoebe Frances Brown Trust to keep her story going and help others. They want young actors to take bits of the story and use it for self-tapes or auditions. They’ve also set up three awards in her name: The Phoebe Frances Brown award for writing, The Phoebe Frances Brown film fund and an award at The Trinity School, Nottingham for a Year 7 student who has shown the desire to go the extra mile in the performing arts.

Of The Glad Game, Gail said: “The play is also important for raising awareness of symptoms as it goes into how Phoebe kept getting headaches and couldn’t get up in the mornings. She thought it was depression and put it down to being an actor. But when she got the diagnosis, she wasn’t going to let it stop what she was doing. She was determined to live her life to the full. 

“I just don’t know how she did it – she continued with her acting; her last performance was at Hampstead Theatre in February, and she passed away in April. I was there looking after her – she could hardly walk. But when she was on stage she lit up and you wouldn’t have known.  

“When she had the news that they were going to stop treatment and we were all crying, she said do you know what mum I want a party! I checked with her neuro nurse who said you need to do it soon. We invited the guests for half seven and told them she was likely to be tired so it could all be over by 9. But she was still doing what she called chair-dancing at 2am while we were all shattered! It was magical – absolutely brilliant.”  

I hope that as a very proud mum, The Glad Game continues to encourage people to live life to the full, whatever the world throws at you. Life can be tough, I certainly know that, but in the words of Phoebe, there is always something to be glad about. 

Gail Brown

The Glad Game Theatre was directed by Tessa Walker, co-produced by Nottingham Playhouse and Pippa Frith, and supported by Arts Council England, Television Workshop, The Bush, Hampstead Theatre and Leicester Curve. The Glad Film was created with TEA Films and co-directed by Tea Films and Tessa Walker. 

For additional support, please visit: Bereavement resources