Care & Destruction of a Childhood // Lemn Sissay

Where does one start with an energy like Lemn Sissay’s? Lemn appears on stage and immediately builds a rapport with the audience as only he can. Lemn takes us on an intensely personal journey full of humour and poignancy. I have been privileged to have heard many people speak about the care system, and it is indeed a privilege to listen to his thoughts and experiences.

Sissay’s story begins in 1966 when his mother came to England from Ethiopia whilst pregnant. As a single mother, she was sent to Lancashire to give birth to Lemn, who was then promptly placed into foster care in order for his mother to complete her studies in Berkshire. Lemn goes on to say that he was given the name ‘Norman’ and placed into the foster care of a white English family. “Norman?” he asks, “Do I look like a Norman?”. I feel stunned. He is talking of a system that is trying to take away his identity, his name, his culture, his background, his people. This is what that feels like.

Lemn is at pains to stress that to foster a child is amongst the greatest acts of humanity, and that his story should not deter from that. It is, after all, his story he is telling and no one else’s. Intertwined throughout his talk are profound observations like “Dysfunction is at the heart of all functioning families”. It takes a moment for that statement to truly sink in, but it makes complete and perfect sense.

Although it is the story of his journey, there are also life lessons. He talks of the need for people to be kind to themselves, to try and forgive, for it is only through forgiveness that Lemn has found redemption and a certain closure. I leave the auditorium reflecting on Lemn’s journey and what he has to say, and although there are moments where one feels dismay at the social care system, it is also a story of hope and never giving up on dreams and aspirations. Inspirational!

- Amar Hussein

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay (Profile) - Guardian

The Emperor’s Watchmaker (Lemn Sissay Blog)

Lemn Sissay: Why Does Society Hate Young People in Care? - The Big Issue

Poet sets out to help young care leavers - Channel 4 News

Who Cries Wins // Martin O'Brien & Guests

This discussion of autobiographical performance and trauma explored a notional increase in artists making work engaging with these themes. Are there really more artists using personal stories as the basis for their work? Or is it simply that the particular qualities of this labour are now acknowledged more readily? That testimonies of trauma (particularly by artists of colour, disabled artists and those with lived experience of mental health issues) are now recognised as far more than mere self-indulgence? The artists Martin O’Brien, Mele Broomes and Amelia Stubberfield made up a panel presenting three very different but interrelated perspectives on these questions, refracting the central theme of the festival (Care & Destruction) back through their personal narratives and artistic practices.  

O’Brien is an artist whose exploration of his own status as someone with cystic fibrosis has pushed his body to the limits of endurance. Through his strategic deployment of SM techniques, medical ritual and pop-cultural mythologies (most recently the figure of the zombie, after passing his life expectancy of 30) his work challenges audience to witness the process of the body and the experience of sickness. This is very different to Broomes, whose work Grin was performed in excerpt at Care & Destruction. Broomes discussed her experience as a dancer of colour, someone whose very body troubles the overwhelmingly white spaces of institutional culture, and the pressure that goes with it. How even well-meaning attempts to engage with artists of colour can still leave the onus on them to both explain their experience and offer solutions for how it could be resolved. Stubberfield, whose piece Borderline was also part of the festival weekend, offered a very different perspective. Presenting a more narrative practice, an investement in stand-up as a form, which centres the notion of story more than either O’Brien or Broomes, they discussed how comedy might provide a vehicle for serious and honest discussion. 

Although very different practices, each artist arrived by their own route to a series of similar and related questions. Who is in the audience and does autobiography serve them? The presentation of personal testimony can be a powerful catharsis. Who gets to make the decisions around the work? How is performance dealing with the intensely personal presented, marketed, made public, and where? Each artist claimed their practice as a way to take responsibility for the work they wanted to make – the assertion of something important to each of them. And in that, perhaps, there is much for the audience, venues and cultural institutions to consider.  

-      Lewis Church

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Martin O’Brien - BBC Ouch Podcast

About V/DA - Mele Broomes

Amelia Stubberfield

Autobiography and Performance - Deirdre Heddon

Lyn Gardner: Theatre is embracing diversity, but it’s still not enough. - The Stage

Mental Health in the arts: Are we talking about it enough? - London Evening Standard

As Far As Isolation Goes // Tania El Khoury and Basel Zaraa

As described in the Care & Destruction programme, “As Far As Isolation Goes uses touch, sound, and interactivity to bring audience members in contact with those faced with inhumane detention centres and a mental health system that disregard their political and emotional contexts.”

I faced a wall with headphones hung at the side and a seat facing sideways. Right next to it was a hole big enough for an adult arm to go through. I put on the headphones and started hearing haunting music. Suddenly a voice starts speaking and I’m told I need to put my arm through the hole - which is gently guided in. I listen to the voice telling me about systems and policies, about separation, isolation and loss. I feel strange, a little disoriented, and start to get lost in my own thoughts and feelings on the matter.

All the while, I feel the touch of someone who I cannot see drawing on my arm. It is a strange feeling for me and I start to concentrate on what’s going on around my arm. I find myself thinking “I wonder what is happening?”. It feels uncomfortable that my arm is being drawn on by an artist, who I am assume has lived the experiences and whose voice I am hearing through the recording in the headphones. My feeling is not unlike other feelings I have experienced when hearing the stories of migration, of loss, of struggle, of the need to be respected as a human being. This feels like it needs to be heard.

At this point I get lost in my thoughts about this particular issue and the audio is a bit of a blur. I quickly regain focus because I want to listen to and hear what’s being said. At the heart of it all is a story, a story where hope has been eradicated in places like Palestine, a story where people are literally fleeing for their lives, a story where upon reaching the so called promised land they’re treated as unwelcome guests, aliens, as not worthy of having access to opportunities. At the end, my arm is freed, and I feel relief, and passed to me is a piece of chalk to write what I like on the wall that divides us. For a fleeting moment, I feel I am the refugee and write a comment about how capitalism needs reform, as this struggle is related to the capitalistic ideals much of the world holds dear.

- Amar Hussein

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Tania El Khoury / Basel Zaraa

Music in Detention

‘The Jungle’: Putting the Refugee Crisis Centre Stage - NY Review of Books

The Jungle - National Theatre

EU Claims Migrant Crisis is Over - Quartz

Oral // Viv Gordon

ORAL is a play about mouths and starts with Viv Gordon running. It is the 90s, and she is running away. In this neon-lit setting, Viv starts to tell her story. She talks about her fear of dentistry and her love of cooking. Cooking — she explains — is predictable: it’s a safe-space. But her daydreams of being on MasterChef often end with an unhappy twist as the dish she tries to create based on a childhood memory is found unacceptable by the censors.

ORAL is a play about childhood sexual abuse and its effects on adult survivors. It is a story of a survivor, made not only to raise awareness and visibility, but to empower other survivors, and it does so with the utmost respect. Viv’s memories are told in allegory; she compares her childhood self to a princess who lives in a colourful kingdom but gets lost in a deep, dark forest.  It talks about topics that are still considered taboo today even though 90,000 people in the UK alone are affected by them. 

While the play deals with heavy topics, it still manages to maintain an optimistic outlook. Alongside the comedic elements, like the surrealistic dance with cheek retractors,the main source of light remains hope. The effectiveness of hope lies in its subtlety, as at the moment when Viv is ready to leave the dentist's office and the doctor mentions that he read the article that she had sent earlier. This simple act of reading her article about the connections of childhood sexual abuse and dental fear fills not only Viv, but also the audience with hope for the future.

The 90s are having a renaissance today. Like the recently premiered Captain Marvel film, which seemingly starts with a clichéd ‘girl-power’ agenda of having to prove your worth to your abuser but debunks it by the end, ORAL shows how feminism and mental-health activism have changed in the past three decades. Victim-blaming has slowly been recognized as a problem, and the idea that people can remain comfortably neutral on certain topics too. 

ORAL is a play about hope and ends with Viv Gordon running. It is the present day, and she is running towards the future. She is running with her fellow performers, who are also her friends and allies. They remind the audience about the importance of change — about how by not pursuing it, we as a society, maintain a status quo that is harmful to many. In our time, having good intentions is not good enough: only our actions matter. 

-      Masha Laszlo

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Viv Gordon

Key Facts and Figures - NAPAC

Tips for Abuse Survivors - Dental Fear Central

Dental Hygiene Care for Survivors of Childhood Abuse - Oral Health Group

The Psychological Impact of Victim Blaming and How to Stop It - US News

Captain Marvel Has Nothing to Prove to You - Pajiba

I Tried To Fuck Up The System But None Of My Friends Texted Me Back // Travis Alabanza

In the the Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room at the end of an intense festival weekend, the audience experienced this work through headphones, pre-made recordings, mime, audience interaction, dance and the combing of hair. Intimacy was referenced and we were given an insight into the artists’ thoughts through headphones that place Alabanza ‘inside’ your head. We were on the London Underground. A woman was crying. A man tried to comfort her. It felt better. 

Alabanza narrates dimensions of loneliness. It’s in the soles of your feet, it’s compassion verses danger, it’s failure and perfection and it’s about fear of people you don’t know. Their voice is strangely comforting as they talk to us about texting and everyone being on a podium. They talk to us about how they cried on the Underground after a friend died and no one helped. London is ranked as one of the loneliest cities in the world, and loneliness is about a lack of connection or communication with other people or animals. It can be felt even when you’re surrounded by other people.

Gradually, throughout the piece the audience were able to decide to join in: to dance, to be a human sculpture, to comfort people. The show ended with someone from the audience combing Alabanza’s hair, just as their Mum used to. This was loneliness and togetherness as an epic, multi layered and multi-sensory experience. The piece discussed chronic loneliness, but somehow by the end I felt, as many of the audience seemed to, as though we’d shared something together. This, as Alabanza explains, is a way to fuck up the system and to make a change. 

- Gini Simpson

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Travis Alabanza

Is Travis Alabanza the future of theatre? - Guardian

Loneliness Lab

Samaritans (UK)

Humans of Greater London

#UKDrillProject // HighRise Theatre


When a performance starts with a rave, you might think of it as being quite bizarre. People were being asked for their ID upon entering, which gave off the impression that you were about to enter a night club. When you did you found a VIP section and a drinks bar at the ready. DRILL music was being blasted out of the stereos. DRILL music videos were being played on the wall, which you could put headphones on and listen to. This immersive part of the performance gave the audience a chance to get to know one another and break the ice. Whilst you were in this room you become more aware of your surroundings. It was a chance to appreciate the images and displays that were shown on the walls. One in particular was quite intriguing - not a picture per-se but a type of fact file which explained in bold letters how two DRILL rappers had been sentenced to nine months in prison because they were performing their music to a live audience.  


As the partying part of the performance came to an end we were then led into the auditorium. Here the performers addressed the stereotyping and racial discrimination of people who listen to DRILL, and how DRILL is deemed to be a main source of street crime. Where people are inexplicably being arrested because of the colour of their skin, DRILL and the type of music they listen to is the excuse. Why it is ok to arrest an individual whom was just revising for an exam, or just calmly walking down the street? As the performance tried to show, nobody wants crime, nobody wants to see their friend being shot in front of their eyes, and nobody wants to be stabbed on their way home from school. People unjustifiably force people into one category, and have been doing so for so long that those people are then saying to themselves “if that’s what they think of me then I might as well fit their description. Maybe then they will leave me alone”. Members of the public are getting up to two years in prison and why? It’s the DRILL music, apparently. 


Society has branded DRILL (a form of expression) as a violent form that we must get rid of in order to make the streets safer. In order to really make the streets safer, Theresa May and the government need to actually listen to the youth, the up-and-coming generation, for they have the answers to how to stop gun and knife crime. If you are not listening and have already made your mind up, if you blame DRILL, then you haven’t caught the right guy, you’ve framed him.

-       Selen Adem


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

HighRise Theatre

#UKDRILLProject - GQ

What is UK Drill? - Red Bull Music

 Conversation on Drill Arrests - Reddit

Unkown T Interview - Evening Standard

Elephant in the Room // Lanre Malaolu

Bouncing across the stage of Camden People’s Theatre, Lanre Malaolu uses the physical to reflect the social. His movement on stage mirrors his movement through life, echoing the way his body as a black man in Britain today is seen, read, and considered by others. Taking on stereotypes but looping them, making them strange by heightening and twisting their dynamics, his athletic investment adds weight to what might otherwise be familiar representations. The characters Malaolu embodies are varied, from the inspirational football coach to someone all cocky young swagger. They are each archetypes of identity consistently played out in television, film and the media, from news reports to Channel 4 drama. He differentiates each through a discrete posture (like a slouch in a Nando’s booth), and/or a series of sparse actions (sedately trimming hair in a barbershop). 

Although distinct, within the show these different characters, both the central ‘Michael’ and the unnamed others, could easily also make sense as a single figure – one person rendered in multiple fragments. Malaolu’s shifting shows how the articulate and inspirational speech given to even younger men in a half-time huddle might itself cloak a deep insecurity, always at risk of fracturing under the pressure. Or how the wisdom of an older man might reflect a lifetime of the same pressures he now gives advice on. In doing so it makes plain how the marginalizing operations of society relies on those it puts under pressure to prop up those it will fall on next. 

As much as each set of movements, postures and different voices delineate characters, Malaolu’s performance adds one more. The body of a trained dancer, the way someone moves who has put in the time to learn his technique, is itself an embodiment of a personality. A way to exist in the world, a way to define your own body, from the mastery of steps to the poise of the stance. It controls the gaze of the audience, the way the body is seen, in a way that those young men represented here are usually denied. 

-      Lewis Church


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Lanre Malaolu

Elephant In the Room – Guardian

‘Up My Streets’ Project – MIND

Perceptions of Young Black Men – Independent

MANDEM– Media platform for young men of colour.

100 Black Men of London 

Borderline // Amelia Stubberfield

Borderline by Amelia Stubberfield bears a similarity to the recent evolution of stand-up (with Hannah Gadsby's Nanette as the iconic example), where the conventional structure is punctured, warped and eventually collapsed in the face of true stories of suffering.

For Stubberfield, these stories centre around their years of mental health issues, distilled to a tome of medical notes and a three-letter diagnosis: BPD. Borderline personality disorder, affecting less than 2% of the population can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including fear of abandonment, suicidal ideation and difficulty in maintaining relationships. As Stubberfield self-deprecates, 'the Tinder profile writes itself'.

Their medical notes, along with recorded interviews with both friends and clinicians, offer different windows onto their experience of BPD - "Or, as I call it, life". Medical notes and similar documents have been used by other artists (from Bobby Baker to the vacuum cleaner) in attempts to illustrate the lonely and often grueling journey through the mental health system. With this piece, they serve to fracture the storytelling, as Stubberfield's BPD is seen through the eyes of many separate people across the mental health system - some looking with warmth, some coldly clinical.

In Borderline, Stubberfield vividly illustrates the entanglement of identity and illness by scrawling phrases from her medical notes on her body. In this way, they highlight how easy it is to conflate the sufferer and the symptoms. One therapist is 'bored during sessions with Amelia'; another notes they are 'casually yet appropriately dressed'. Where is the line between Stubberfield's actual and Disordered Personality? Every action is vulnerable to pathologisation, as seen in a re-enacted phone call with the CMHT officer.

Though life with BPD is described openly and vividly, the greyscale 'other place' of mental illness can only be truly understood by those who have already been there. It is alluded to right at the start, before Stubberfield steps onstage: we hear a rising cacophony of noise and drone, building to an uncomfortable volume. A snap from black to a spotlight, revealing Amelia and a microphone. The stand-up starts and the first topographical lines are laid of that other place, from which they may only recently have returned.

- Hannah Maxwell

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Amelia Stubberfield

How common are mental health problems? - Mind

Borderline Personality Disorder - Mind

Community Mental Health Teams - Rethink Mental Illness

Bobby Baker: The Art of Surviving Mental Illness - Guardian

the vacuum cleaner - Mental


Every time I see Jamila Johnson Small dancing in Fury I remember how it feels to stand on a dance floor undulating, oscillating, swinging and wavering. 

I used to be a party girl, and as such have often lost track of many things going on around me whilst I was trying to lose myself. 

Every time I see Jamila Johnson Small dancing in Fury I can look for those things, trying to recognise me and the indistinct multitudes that trundle around a dance floor seeking for love. We are all falling, and slouching, and seeking for love.

- Camilla Carè

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Last Yearz Interesting Negro (Jamila Johnson-Small) - Fury1/FuryZ

Art in the Club - Crack Magazine

Dance Memory - Duke University

Clubbing, Dancing, Ecstasy, Vitality - Ben Malbon

Who's Afraid of Ideology? (part 1) // Marwa Arsanios

A woman is standing in the middle of a valley, a brown landscape of mountains and rocks. She walks towards the camera and starts to talk. The camera retreats, slowly and continuously, keeping her in frame as we listen to her voice. But something seems to be off. The movement of her lips doesn’t match the voice we hear. There is a kind of displacement, something that we still cannot fully understand. By disconnecting the voice from the body in the image, Marwa Arsanios seems to suggest that we need to slow down a bit, to escape immediacy, to pay attention and listen carefully. 

The body will be later replaced by landscapes. Snowy mountains from elsewhere. The words reverberate in that space, and when they come back to us, they seemed to be charged with something else. The connections are there but we need to jump into a space of contemplation and reflection in order to find them. It’s as if it’s not necessary to find answers, but to inhabit the questions in-between the silence and the landscape. 

The film is built from material - images, interviews, conversations and thoughts - collected by Arsanios during a period in which she stayed with the Autonomous Women's Movement in Rojava in northern Iraq. It presents a series of stories and reflections that are linked to the experience of the Kurdish people’s resistance, and to the relationship between ecology and feminism within it. 

To think about ecology, especially about an ecological consciousness developed within the frame of war, makes me think about the very idea of protection, and the spaces of protection that we have left, or believe that we do. A later voice talks about a common understanding of the liberal system, that individuals and groups must surrender the means of protection to the State. The State, therefore, has the monopoly of violence as the only one authorized to exercise it. It reinforces that the use of force is most frequently a tool for the maintenance and the support of the established geometries of power. That is still constituted today by the definition of the bodies that must live and of those who can die, an idea that the philosopher Achille Mbeme has developed under the concept of necropolitics. 

When the state no longer defends us, what kind of strategies can we use in order to defend ourselves? Where do we flee and where could we find protection when the experience of life itself cannot be separated from the mediation of the state? 

The idea of protection as a right granted to a citizen of a certain state becomes especially problematic when the very notion of nation-state is falling apart, and if we take into consideration the huge amounts of individuals that are continuously pushed out of this system. In the same way, the idea of peace, or of living in peace, has become a strategy of governance in the systems that we live in. To live in peace means not only that we should surrender the fight but also to accept the conflict that is imposed on us by others. This dynamic might also be what allows the transfer of violence to the red zone of the world, far away from the centers of power. Violence became then a distant idea, something that happens outside of the safety of the west, making invisible the mechanisms of control that operate or our societies.

When the idea of peace became a strategy to govern bodies within certain geographies, how can we understand resistance and radicality? Is it possible to operate under a different paradigm? 

A voice from the screen talks about how the state works to break the relationship of the individual with nature, as the only possible way to legitimise its power. And I’m led to think that this is no longer just about safety or protection, but about the individual's ability to establish relationships of survival without the State as their intermediary: “existence is based on the ability to defend yourself”.

Who is afraid of ideology? opens space for us think about ecology, not only in relation to nature, but in the very set of relations that individuals establish with all their surroundings, with communities, knowledge and territories. And the question that remains is, as artists and individuals, how can we learn from the experiences of those who live in different communities, under different paradigms, to build strategies of resistance? When difference is continuously threatened, can art still be a space of protection?

- Túlio Rosa

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Who’s Afraid of Ideology? Ecofeminist Practices Between Internationalism and Globalism - E-Flux Journal

Kdo se boji ideologije? / Who is afraid of Ideology?

Thinking Projects - Marwa Arsanios

NECROPOLITICS - Warwick University

Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus // Oona Doherty

The audience hubbub subsides as a clapped-out old car with a bin bag taped over the front passenger side window revs up to just in front of Vooruit, its shell suited occupants diving out to fall to the floor. From the car blasts out music, lyrics suggesting the Northern Irish origin and Belfast base of the artist. People crane their heads in the drizzle to see over the shoulders of people in front of them, and the two who tumbled from the car continue to dance.

This street scene makes sense as the place where the piece begins. It reminds me of the earlier days of teenage licenses, aimless driving around and the blaring of music on suburban streets. Of brief furtive incursions into the city, from where you live to where it all happens. And then the car drives off, leaving the artist alone in the road with the reedy bass from the car fading off into the distance. This forlorn figure, angry in their loneliness, turns back to the crowd.  

Go inside the theatre! Go inside the theatre!’ they bellow.

Obligingly trudging up endless stairs and taking up seats, the solo movement which follows trips and wallows in the universal visual language of bored and disaffected men. Gender is the subject throughout, a physical and vocal cycling through anger, cockiness and vulnerability in language after language - from German to English to guttural cough. The transition from space to space is as smooth as the invisible seams between dialect shifts, suggesting perhaps a universal European anxiety, an illustration of a free movement of deprivation, forgetfulness and the rejection of empathy that prowls round the backs of our superficial wealth. 

The solo ends in rapturous choral form, before the back doors swing open to reveal the picture of the missing driver, long lost from the car and alone at a cheap folding table. Watching tinny football on a glowing laptop whilst drinking beer. It’s an image that could be snapped in any country in the world of an isolated man and the undocumented experience of small room unhappiness. The audience are invited to share a beer in the space of the stage, a social bond to be formed in the dim half-light from the sad picture behind. The move-down begins and ends in the slow shuffle of feet, with drinks clasped to our breasts like guards against feeling. The football plays on. 

-      Lewis Church

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Oona Doherty - Hope Hunt and the Ascension in Lazarus

Oona Doherty takes on Belfast’s Hardest Men - Irish Times

La danse virulente et poétique d’Oona Doherty - Le Monde (en Français)

The Crisis in Modern Masculinity - Guardian

A Tale of Two Masculinities - The New European

Fury1/FuryZ // Last Yearz Interesting Negro, Rowdy SS and Shelley Parker


Standing in a club space with occasional flashes to illuminate the dancing body and the active DJ. Wielded by the audience, beams of torchlight tracing back the gaze and the slow traverse of the space by a single figure on the floor, watched over by the music. Snatches of text singing out of the audio blur. 


Sitting on a dance floor, staring up at the dancer weaving between the crowd and moving on the high podium. A whispered negotiation of support leading to a step up the back of a kneeling man. Furious dance filled with flashes of neon colour. Transitions across the floor to these stages as much a part of its content as what happens up there.


In both, the music pounding through my chest as it does through the body of the dancer. Involuntary swaying and nodding around the central defiance of the performer, the audience perhaps unsure of their expected role but staring away. Left in the moment, outside but in.

In both, the intricacies of experience traced across the body by the eyes of those watching. An assertion of experience, of difference and sameness marked by race/gender/sex/ability. Each of the pieces unstable in its liveness and immediate in its impact.

Sound as a partner not accompaniment, responsive to the movement of the crowd as much as the journey of the dancer. Blurring the border between ‘dance’ and ‘Dance’, the questions of form and participation that define and insist on integrity to established forms. 

- Lewis Church

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Last Yearz Interesting Negro (Jamila Johnson-Small) - Fury1/FuryZ

Rowdy SS (Soundcloud)

Shelley Parker (Soundcloud)

Different Angles - AQNB

In Conversation with Last Yearz Interesting Negro - Skin Deep

Some Thoughts on Capital-D Dance - Movement Research

As the Body Is, So it Knows // Kopano Maroga

Kopano begins this workshop by offering a congratulation to the participants for taking the time to honour yourself in a society that doesn’t want you to. For often pressures on our time remove us from our bodies and the things that they know, cutting us off from the knowledge contained in bones, muscles and the way we move. Our time here together asserts writing as a bodily practice as well as a cerebral one, and it asks its participants to share intimacies with each other as they share the space, filling pages with dialogue as we fill the space with our dance and shouting.  

Many of the movement exercises engage with the trauma that lives in the body by borrowing movement practices from somatic therapy. The notion that trauma is a physical reality is one that is increasingly understood by psychiatric professionals - a biological process where the rush of adrenalin migrates deep into the core of tissue. Within the workshop, Kopano instructs us in an extended period of shaking and trembling designed to free whatever experience of this form of trapped history we may own. We then turn from this movement to the writing of letters to those people or things that we might want to forgive in our lives, linking this freeing of emotion through movement to the production of text. Writing in silence before sharing these letters with a partner, the movement sparks new connections across language, nationality and experience. 

Its paradoxical that self-care can become an added pressure to an already hectic life. Competitive wellness is a fundamentally modern phenomenon, with time spent in exercise construed as achievement. What the time here in this workshop reminds its participants is that the brain and body are not only linked but one and the same, with subjectivity created through being and relation rather than internal definition. My body is what writes, and my mind and emotions are what direct my body to move. By taking time to link the two once again, I understand the extent to which my practice relies on this relation.

- Lewis Church


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

 Kopano Maroga - As the Body Is, So it Knows

Time to Move Beyond the Mind/Body Split - The British Medical Journal

Working with Traumatic Memory in the Body - NICABM

Somatic Therapy - Psychology Today

Writing Dance - Lila Dance UK

Self-Care Won’t Save Us - Current Affairs

21 Pornographies // Mette Ingvartsen

The performance pivots on a body harsh in the light, with power, sex and violence evoked through the calm narration of decadent sexuality. Dukes, kings and magistrates taking part in an orgy of privilege are slowly revealed through a slow drip of context, delivered by the artist in a measured storyteller’s tone. Ingvartsen orients the audience within the geography of the narrative. The room within her description is layered over the top of the one we sit in. Watching quietly becomes participation and culpability, a rehearsal of our own participation in the desiring looks that run under the societies we walk through. It reveals our acceptance of sexualised interactions and of abuse used as a plot point, and the fictionalisation of experiences that are a reality to thousands across the world.  It raises the unequal dynamics of power at play in who gets to see and who gets to be seen as a sexual being.

Part of a series of choreographies (the ‘Red Pieces’) that explore sexuality, Ingvartsen draws those listening into the decadence she narrates. But this storytelling continually contrasts against the fierce and sudden use of movement. Ingvartsen barks like a dog through swift image flashes, unsettling the conventions of interaction with the audience set up moments before. Bare skin glows under naked strip light, and smoke, strobe and dance provide a parallel narrative to the text the artist recites. Occasionally aligning but rarely exact, the significance of the movement is one that builds to question looking itself through the brightness of light. Watching the body spin becomes impossible to sustain, forcing the audience to look away as their eyes involuntarily close against the glare. Noise explodes forth without warning to disrupt the passive listening to stories of sexual atrocity.

The dissonant combination of text and movement requires careful attention to the questions it asks. The piece offers no solution or remedy but stages and makes explicit the tension within the display of the body in a culture of desiring looks.

     Lewis Church

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Mette Ingvartsen - 21 Pornographies

Mette Ingvartsen - Delving into Dance

The Voice of the StorytellerThe New York Times

Sex, Health and Society - The Conversation

The Representation of Women in Advertising - AdAge

Children's Free Play // Dr David Whitebread

Children's Free Play explored the role of play in pre-school and beyond, and the impact that overlooking this in education has seen over the last thirty years, with increased childhood mental health and obesity problems and poorer cognitive, emotional, and psychological capabilities.   

In 2008 the Children's Society reported that 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) had a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet 70% of them had still not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early stage. Heads Together tell us that more than 1 in 5 children are overweight or obese when they begin school and almost 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.

Dr David Whitebread from Cambridge University 'grew up in a very different era' where as a kid he was packed off to ‘play out’ for the day and wouldn’t return until teatime.  I relate to that as, similarly to most kids back in the 1950s and 1960s, after having been taken to infant school once or twice you then took yourself.  I had a friend who was waiting for heart surgery due to a birth defect and two of us would take it in turns to push her there and back in a trolley.

Dr Whitebread tells us about how experiments have demonstrated that adults who don’t know how to play with their kids are less successful parents. Hovering supervision over children gives little wriggle room for them to test their boundaries and take risks. He recommended that instead of telling kids not to do something because it's dangerous, like rolling down a hill, we positively encourage them and do it together. Whitebread mentions that some early learning classes have discarded play areas in schools, which bypasses an opportunity to harness a child's creative imagining. Task-based projects, by contrast, give a wider brief to incorporate multiple subjects, develop better reasoning skills, and a passion for enquiry.  

Dr Whitbread informs us that brain development regarding games and their rules starts as early as three.  He shares a video to demonstrate how some little kids of this age invent a game which incorporates an unspoken rule of lining up in an orderly fashion to walk through a puddle of water.  And that when slightly older, children will spend more time negotiating the rules than they will playing the game itself. Roughly 80% of brain development is completed by age three and 90% by age five. A study in Jamaica which taught mothers to play with their children and twenty years later the results showed that those children were comparatively better adjusted, committed less crime and were earning 25% more than children who didn't get the learning through play intervention. Dr Whitebread's talk shows the ripple-effect that not prioritising 'play' is having on society as a whole and why policy makers MUST take these hazardous indicators more seriously.

-      Jane Unsworth


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

All Work and No Play - The Atlantic

Unstructured Play is Critical for Kids -

Children's Play Advisory Service

Play is Vital for Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing -

Lego Serious Play

Policy Resources - Young Minds

What the **** is Normal? // Francesca Martinez

Although this was the second time I’d seen Francesca Martinez, her show was still my highlight of Normal? 2018. Francesca’s experiences of school and life beyond mirrors my own. She describes how school ground the confidence out of her and how bullying, by both pupils and teachers, affected her mental and physical health, and then describes how she found a way out of the course that had seemingly been set for her.

Her description of her life draws empathy rather than sympathy. 

She doesn’t want to be patted on the head and told 'Poor little thing'. She totally rejects the description of herself as ‘disabled’, preferring instead to call herself 'wobbly'. The stories she tells are laugh-out-loud funny, but she is also a campaigner and educator, addressing school children to give them the confidence that she was robbed of. Martinez points out that society deliberately makes us feel inferior, or, as she puts it: 'Society breeds self-loathing'. Many of us can remember being told, during our teenage years, that ‘how we look is not important’. But, of course, at that stage of our lives, how we look can seem to be the most important thing in the world.

Martinez’s show emphasizes :

‘Don’t fear difference’

‘Being different is important’

‘Only care what you think of yourself’

‘Life is too short to be spent doing something that you hate’

- Keven Blake


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Francesca Martinez - Russell Howard's Good News (YouTube)

A Wobbly Girl's Battle Against the Last Taboo - The Independent

Martinez and the WOW Welfare Bill - Disability News Service

Francesca Martinez on Woman's Hour - BBC Radio 4

Street Wisdom // Phillip Cowell

At the core of Street Wisdom is the idea that every moment is extraordinary, and each street full of inspiration. With an open mind, comfy shoes and clothes fit for the weather, the streets can provide answers to a myriad of questions. All we have to do is ask.

And that’s what we did at Normal? Festival of the Brain, expertly guided by the genial Street Guide Phillip Cowell in a fun and practical mix of psychology, cognitive science and mindfulness. 

We began with some ten-minute exercises. One asked us to notice 'what you’re drawn to' (and what you’re not attracted to) whilst another, tailored to each person, asked us to look for 'the patterns and what connects them' or, in my case, 'sense the story'. Stories, it turned out, were everywhere.

After the warm up, we set off with our own questions in mind, open to whatever answers the streets provided. These, Phillip explained, could come in any form: street signs, passers-by, shop windows, doors, windows, graffiti or overheard conversations…

We live in sped-up, switched-on times. Street Wisdom gave us permission to slow down and focus on the signs and signals all around us. This method is useful for anyone struggling with day-to-day personal stuff, tackling a challenge at work or seeking a creative breakthrough. Philip advised us to keep our questions manageable – not too big nor too small. In forty-five minutes, walking slowly and with purpose, each participant found the answers they sought.

The session closed with a chance for us to share our stories of what the street has taught us. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The walk had given us an opportunity to get out of the autopilot mode we live in for so much of our time. Answers had come to us in the form of a poster in the window, or down by the beach. We were excited at how fluid and magical the streets became when we tuned in to their hidden messages and unexpected discoveries.

Street Wisdom has grown into a global movement, and it’s not hard to see why. With free public events, these immersive walking workshops teach participants that answers are everywhere. Just remember your waterproofs, and bring an open mind.

- Charlotte Forfieh


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

10 Good Reasons to Go for A Walk Street Wisdom

Go for A Walk – You Could Discover the Meaning of Life - Guardian

MindfulnessMind UK

Have You Heard About Walk and Talk Therapy? - Counselling Directory

My Head Hurts

My Head Hurts explored grief beyond that which stems from the loss of a person. In this talk chaired by Michael Bassett, the speakers shared their experiences of grief:

Artist, Jim Lockey spoke of ‘feeling orphaned’in the seeming conflict of being both an artist and a Christian, through the suspicion of a liberal art world towards churchgoers. He accepted the feelings of loneliness and loss that ensue. The latter is reflected in his work Boat, also exhibited at Normal? There he comments on the ‘entropy of all things’ by constructing and setting sail in a cardboard boat which inevitably disintegrates. 

Occupational Therapist Rayya Ghul relayed the grief experienced by her refugee parents through geographical changes and cultural shock.  Her German mother’s way of coping was to enact an elaborate, traditional German Christmas every year, even changing the curtains. Ghul also expressed her grief in ageing and accepting ‘the loss of a past that cannot be had and the loss of hopes for a future that is no longer possible’.

Clinical Psychologist Reinhard Guss raised the notion of political grief in terms of the current US presidency and Brexit. His own grief, as a German who calls the UK home, stems from being in a place where he is no longer welcome.  He remarked that although there seemed to be a pressure to ‘work’ on grieving or to refer to stages or psychological models, in reality the ways of grieving are less structured.

The panel all pointed to acceptance as key in coping with grief.  Rituals, in their widest sense, such as Lockey’s creating Boat or through the performative aspect of Ghul’s mother’s German Christmas may act to assuage grief.  My sense is that although every grief has a shape of its own and cannot be easily boxed or wittingly healed, and certainly not to a convenient timeline, through acceptance and practices like these there lies a possibility for its eventual transmutation.  

- Lubna Gem Arielle


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Boat - Jim Lockey

Ephemeral Art, What a Beautiful Thing - That Creative Feeling

Why the Five Stages of Grief Are Wrong - Psychology Today

Pema Chodron / When Things Fall Apart - BrainPickings

Physical Effects of Grief - BBC News

Talking to Grief - Denise Levertov

Grief is the Thing with Feathers - Max Porter

The Beat of Our Drums // Kevin Richards

How and where do you feel the beat of drums? Ask people to give a word to describe their experience and the most common one is ‘visceral’. The response starts in the head, the heart, the hips, the toes…a different place for each person. Many will say the rhythm touches their souls and wakes their spirit. Watch those who have let themselves go with the drumbeat. They can seem to be in a dream, on drugs or disconnected from the world beyond the rhythm. The music of band leader Benny Goodman was banned for some time because the drum playing of Gene Krupa was thought to be encouraging sexual responses.

There are few people who can remain still when they hear drums. A very few reject it, maybe because they recognise that it is reaching inside to a part which they do not want exposed. 

In The Beat of Our Drums Kevin Richards, who has been running djembe drumming sessions throughout Kent for twenty years, took a roomful of adults and children through the basics of playing the djembe, a chalice-shaped drum from West Africa. 

Rather than just giving out instructions, Kevin used images and analogies to teach us, making the learning easier and more interesting. Instead of 'Hit the drum', he would say 'Lift the sound out of the drum' Instead of 'get quieter', 'fade as if you are walking out of the door'.

Kevin explained that the drums were often used to send messages so we played to simple phrases using just the bass (B) and the tom tom (T) tones:

‘To the pulse, to the pulse. Won’t you take me to the pulse.’ (TTB TTB TTBT TTB)

We practised these phrases for several minutes before Kevin told us to listen to his playing and add our own rhythms. Initially there was a cacophony but gradually we synchronised and varied volume and pace along with him. We could feel that our quieter playing was soothing, while our louder playing created urgency. We became confident and everybody seemed to be lost in the rhythms. This combined drumming continued for many minutes and, as many of us closed our eyes to let the rhythm take over, it was mesmerising.

Each participant responded differently…some moved nothing except for their hands; some moved their heads; others almost bounced. It was interesting to see some of the passers-by adapting their pace to the sound of our drums; some even started dancing. 

Eventually Kevin led us deliberately faster and louder until we finished with a liberating ‘boom’.

Learning a new musical instrument can be frustrating when you are unable to make the sounds, the notes, the tune. But with the djembe, we were clearly playing it to a level with which even a beginner can be satisfied.

One participant came out and said she had found it satisfying, inclusive, democratic and a session which had created a sense of community. Not bad for just 60 minutes!

- Joy Pascoe


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Rich Rhythms - Drum Workshops in Kent and the South East

Bruce Allen Drums

Mamapama Live at the Folkestone Harbour Arm

What Goes On In Your Head?

Let’s start with some questions. R+ + you = what? What would you do for dopamine? What goes on in your head? What goes on in your teenager’s head? The last question was focus of workshops run by artist Jim Lockey, and the culmination was What Goes on in Your Head?, an installation and talk on behaviour and the brain.

The installation presented a range of answers to this question from the teenagers that took part. The art and words they created ranged from the direct and light-hearted to the profound. The installation aimed to show that when we ask a teenager this directly, or in the form of an exasperated rhetorical monologue, the answer is more complicated than you might think.

Tracy Mapp, an expert in the field of behaviour management, built on this with research about the growing teenage brain, paying particular attention to several areas. The first was the relationship between a person’s behaviour and the behaviour of those around them. The second was on dopamine and a teenager’s high senstivitity to it, as well as its implications for behaviour. What Goes on in Your Head?also looked at the changing structure of a teenagers’ brain, at the process of synaptic pruning in operation that takes the brain from a child to an adult. Moving on to consider ways of changing behaviour, Mapp challenged the view of punishment as an effective technique and explored instead the power of positive reinforcement - otherwise known as R+.  What Goes on in Your Head? explored behaviour; it’s origins, it’s influences and techniques to change it using science and experience.

-       Dave Horn


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Why Is Synaptic Pruning Important for the Developing Brain?Scientific American

Swedish Speed-Camera Pays Drivers To Slow DownWired

Wild teenage behaviour linked to rapid cognitive change in the brainGuardian

Kevin Becomes a Teenager Harry Enfield and Chums (1994)