ILLNESS

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

SPOONFACE STEINBURG / Top Right Theatre

SPOONFACE STEINBURG / Top Right Theatre

Spoonface knows that people in operas die beautifully and she wants to die beautifully too. Diagnosed with autism, and later terminal cancer, the child walks along silver linings in this hour-long monologue. Tackling the difficulties of development disabilities and terminal illness, Spoonface’s optimism never falters, as the backing track of Puccini’s ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ lulls us into a romantic view of death.

ELEPHANT OF MY HEART / Prospero Theatre

ELEPHANT OF MY HEART / Prospero Theatre

There’s a long and rich interplay between meditation and the arts, including music and artworks including the ancient Indian tradition of mandalas. But bringing meditation into conventional theatre is a little more unusual. ‘Elephant of my Heart’ is a stage adaptation of Jessica Clements’ book of the same name: Clements herself even performs in the show’s chorus. It’s a memoir of her time in hospital recovering from a brain haemorrhage as a nine year old child. She believes that the inner travels she went on, guided by an elephant, triggered her healing process. 

ALTERED MINDS, ALTERED REALITIES / Augustus Stephens

ALTERED MINDS, ALTERED REALITIES / Augustus Stephens

Altered Minds, Altered Realities is a one-act, one-man play in which the playwright and actor, Augustus Stephens, depicts six characters in turn in a series of monologues, poems and songs. Each named character is living with a different serious mental illness.

SWEET CHILD OF MINE / Bron Batten

SWEET CHILD OF MINE / Bron Batten

While Bron Batten’s performance of Sweet Child of Mine (seemingly) did not seek to directly explore ideas of ageing and care; making the piece with her father led to an additional layer of performance gently weaving itself in. In this piece, the lines between Bron’s relationship to her parents on and off stage begin to blur.

WHEN I FEEL LIKE CRAP I GOOGLE KIM KARDASHIAN FAT / Mighty Heart

WHEN I FEEL LIKE CRAP I GOOGLE KIM KARDASHIAN FAT / Mighty Heart

The two elderly women whose voices are heard in Mighty Heart Theatre's When I Feel Like Crap I Google Kim Kardashian Fat speak of the past with a glow, as a time when women felt less media and social pressure to conform to a particular look or body image.

BEND IN THE RIVER / Deep Water Theatre Collective

BEND IN THE RIVER / Deep Water Theatre Collective

Have you ever heard of Hansen’s disease? What about its more common name, leprosy? A disease that feels like it should belong in the history books, more than 200,000 people are still diagnosed with Hansen’s disease every year around the world, mainly in South America, Africa, India and south-east Asia. Given this distribution in the developing world, it’s easy to forget that it was a problem in the US until well into the 20th century.

TRACING GRACE / OffTheWallTheatreCo

TRACING GRACE / OffTheWallTheatreCo

Sixteen people are diagnosed with encephalitis – severe brain inflammation – every day in the UK, yet most of the public have never heard of it. Based on the real life experiences of writer and director Annie Eves, whose sister Grace was diagnosed with the condition at just three weeks old, Tracing Grace aims to open our eyes to the existence of encephalitis and the challenges of living with its long-term impact.

THE INEVITABLE HEARTBREAK OF GAVIN PLIMSOLE / SharkLegs

THE INEVITABLE HEARTBREAK OF GAVIN PLIMSOLE / SharkLegs

Few body parts are more engaged with (both literally and metaphorically), in theatre and literature, as the heart, and The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole joins a healthy tradition of artwork in which heartbreak informs a medical heart condition, and in which a medical heart condition informs the story of a heartbreak.