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

Pint of Science

Two-thirds of the way through Pint of Science: Beautiful Mind, talk turns to Socrates and the pursuit of happiness. Familiar conversational territory for a regular night out. 

Jim Lockey invites us to join him on a journey of creation and loss. He recently built, then captained and sank a paper boat in local shallow waters. We are asked whether grief is merely a by-product of human evolution, whilst considering themes explored in Ode to A Nightingale by Keats.

Thou we’re not born for death immortal bird

No immortal generations tread thee down

Tim Rittman condenses years of his work analysing footage of task-free brains and the rigidity that develops in those with neurological degeneration into ten minutes. He likens the brightly lit areas on the scans to conversations at a cocktail party and introduces us to the experiments of William Lennox, a scientist who stuck pins into the jugular veins and carotid arteries of his volunteers.

Within her Weight installation, Aiste Janciute encourages participants to use all five senses as they explore words or concepts that weigh them down or lift them up.

Without gravity, the cosmos is everywhere


Dr. Shabhana Khan returns us to the laboratory and to work being undertaken there to increase efficacy in the treatment of anxiety disorders by balancing three key -amines. She works in the field of optigenetics. Endeavours include the use of light to control cells and tickling mice.

Charlie Murphy, resident artist with the Created Out of Mind project, firstly outlines the complex science behind attempts by the team to grow brains from the skin cells of anonymous volunteers then explains how she transformed this process into a series of dance moves and created her Neuronal Disco.

Work it harder

Make it better

Do it faster

Makes us stronger

Two pints of science and three shots of art. I’m left with thoughts around the poetry of the former and the rigor of the latter and how the two push and pull the other into new spaces. The next morning, I feel a slight sense of disorientation as I work to recall, unpack and re-order conversations from the night before. Perhaps only fitting when themes of life, death and the transition between these states are explored, whether this is done through the medium of science or art or over a drink with friends in the pub.

- Melissa Jacob


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Pint of Science

Pint of Science on The One Show - 18 April 2018

Byron Vincent - Live Before You Die

The Love Affair Between Poetry and Science – New Statesman

The Neuronal Disco

What is the Common Ground between Art and Science?Guardian

Triage! A Nursing Cabaret // Zuleika Khan

Love your nurse. 

Fight for your nurse. 

Support your nurse’s selfcare.

Respect your nurse’s training and intelligence.

Recognise your nurse’s incredible emotional labour.

Make sure your nurse gets a raise. 

Stop buying ‘Sexy Nurse’ outfits (Zuli can, and does look awesome, but most y’all should not until stereotypes of nurses are destroyed)

Prioritise your nurse every once in a while so you say ‘Nurses and Doctors’, because it’s fucked up that it’s ALWAYS ‘Doctors and Nurses’.

Talk honestly with your nurse – they can see right through you.

Help nurses resist burnout – physically and emotionally.

Strike in solidarity with your nurse.

Learn from your nurse.

Laugh with your nurse.

Obey your nurse.

Zuleika Khan has much to teach the world about nursing and the attitudes, stereotypes, conscious and unconscious biases and politics which affect how the profession of nursing is discussed, funded, berated, demeaned and looked over inside the medicine/health care hierarchy. But despite the mistreatment, the lack of time for selfcare, and the emotional labor which comes from such intensive patient experience, Khan’s world is one which seems motivated and inspired by her profession. Underneath each comedic portrayal of a patient or jibe about a doctor’s patronizing glances, is a dedication to a cause, a commitment to her family’s healthcare lineage (Khan grew up in her family’s medical surgery) and a love for patients. 

The UK (alongisde much of the world) has a crisis in nursing, as caused by NHS cuts, public sector pay freezes, Brexit on the horizon, and a general lack of care for some of our society’s most essential first responders. When Khan first appears in a ‘sexy nurse’ costume – and reveals the very-believable fact that ‘nurse’ is the number one sexual fantasy/fetish – there is a stark reminder of how casual sexism and deeply embedded misogyny prevent the development of a truly non-hierarchical or holistic healthcare system. If nursing is gendered as female, and we still underpay, under-respect and under-acknowledge so many professions gendered as female… well, how can we expect our nurses to have time for the critical work of selfcare, to feel pride in their work, to feel as part of a team helping the whole community. 

Khan uses her Triage! cabaret as medicine: sometimes it burns going down, sometimes it makes you woozy, sometimes it makes you laugh, sometimes it makes you emotional.  Khan uses Triage! to collect her allies (the nurses in the audience nodded with vigor throughout), humorously shame those who don’t know what a speculum does (or looks like), and inspire new, more radical perspectives on nursing, a profession which – whether we engage with it everyday or only in a crisis – remains critically important and critically under-supported.  

- Brian Lobel


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Triage! A Nursing Cabaret - Zuleika Khan

Brexit and Nursing - Guardian

No Show - Gender Stereotypes in Circus

Nursing and Striking - Independent

Selina Thompson on Self-Care at the Fringe - Exeunt

On Nursing and Burnout - National Nurses United

PreScribed (A Life Written for Me) // Viv Gordon

In PreScribed, made by Viv Gordon based on verbatim text from interviews with GPs and research at the University of Bristol, there is an air of nostalgia for how healthcare used to be. The ideal seems to resemble the life of Dr John Sassall, an English country doctor whose dedicated, all-consuming approach to caring for the people in his community was captured by John Berger in A Fortunate Man (1967). But, as Dr Gavin Francis has written, 'in today’s culture of working-time-directives and the commercialisation of disease it would be almost impossible to sustain'. (It may have been almost impossible in the 1960s too, if Sassall hadn't had what was then called manic depression).

The voices of some of today's GPs, chosen and channelled by Gordon onstage as a medical 'everywoman' character, speak about lifetimes of (over) achievement, trying to meet parents' expectations, years and years of study. Once qualified, they then found the profession was even harder than they'd expected. They are constantly being squeezed by NHS funding cuts, the churn of government policies and the ever-decreasing time they have to spend with each patient. No wonder their own mental health can suffer as a result, but who can they turn to for help? Their GP? 'Telling someone who does the exact same job as you that you can't manage is impossible'.

Hearing only the doctors' point of view risks making the show a bit like a one-sided tennis match. The only other character on stage, the practice manager, remains silent throughout and patients are initially represented by jellies on plates, vulnerable and easily smashed. There is little counter argument or context. For example, the doctors believe their profession has one of the highest suicide rates in the UK. This is based on research, but in fact, the latest statistics show that male doctors are at a lower risk of suicide than the general population, and while female healthcare workers are at a higher risk, this mostly relates to nurses. This is not to diminish the importance of GPs getting support whenever they need it, but current mental health services in the UK fail many more people than just those who work in them.

There is no doubt, however, that increasing pressure on GPs and other healthcare workers while ignoring their own health needs can only damage the NHS. We can't go back to 1967, but for the future of the NHS to be sustainable, we need to support it properly, as well as the people who make it work.

- Michael Regnier


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

PreScribed (A Life Written for Me) - Viv Gordon

Who Cares for the Clinicians? Spiers et al - British Journal of General Practice (2016) 

NHS Spending Per Person Will be Cut Next Year, Ministers Confirm - The Independent 

John Berger's A Fortunate Man: A Masterpiece of WitnessThe Observer 

Mental Health Staff Recruitment Plan for England - BBC News

Suicide by Occupation, England: 2011-2015 - Office for National Statistics (2017) 

Help if You're Feeling Suicidal - The Samaritans

Fix // Worklight Theatre

In a blend of text and songs we follow three characters, each made up of a collage of the various people Worklight spoke to during a two year research period. The broad topic of addiction is filtered through the lens of behavioural addictions and these determined performers navigate communicating the science of how dependencies manifest in the brain, alongside their intimate character portraits.

The trio preface their findings with the message that the numerous range of causes, impacts and treatment for addictions are ‘up for debate’ and what unfolds before the audience seems to be about humans chasing connections - neurological, emotional and physical. These connections are inherent in the process of social bonding and evolution and yet, frequently disrupted by the loneliness of addiction. Or rather, the loneliness of disconnecting from family, friends and/or the gradual but entrenched process of political and economical disenfranchisement, which then fuels addiction.  

Digestible science-y bits about the habit forming centres of the brain, which addiction alters, travel the audience into the impossibly complex matrix of neurones that explode our soft tissue into a mess of cravings. These longings become more concrete with each cycle of repeated fixes and pauses between fixes. 

The show grazes the surface yet provides a compassionate glimpse into the scope and consequences of addiction. Near the end, there are undertones of devastation in an assertion that ‘you can’t cure this…no one is ever completely fixed’. What springs to mind is how long term care, compassion and the continual re-understandings needed to treat addictions, each sit uncomfortably within impatient, globalised capitalism. Short sharp treatment courses, 6 NHS therapy sessions, TV talk show hosts-cum-doctors

So, how do we make more time? How do we replenish healthcare resources? How do we nurture rather than rupture emotional connections in order to counter getting a fix, a release, an escape from destructive patterning and habits? 

- Alexandrina Hemsley


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Fix - Worklight Theatre

Behavioural Addiction vs Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological Views - US National Library of Medicine

Action on Addiction

Codependency Help & Treatment - Rehab & Recovery

Addiction and Recovery

Give Me Your Love // Ridiculusmus

Being stuck in a box is the central image of Give Me Your Love, both as a metaphor and as a literal attempt by the central character to deal with PTSD from military service. A former member of the Welsh Guards haunted by his experiences in Iraq, Zach hides within and speaks from inside his pockmarked cardboard shelter. This first box is contained within another, the grimy walls of a dilapidated flat, another four walls to keep people out and away from his damage. The voices which intrude from the outside corridor, a wife and a friend, are trying to offer help without adequate support from a government that makes cynical use of its soldiers.

Combat stress, PTSD and other mental health issues are endemic to veterans, compounded today by the nefarious project of austerity and a culture of silence (particularly for men). The turn towards self-medication, like the self-prescribed MDMA cure pursued by Zach, occurs when other effective treatments are unavailable. As mental health services are cut by governments, defunded and under-supported, more and more people are cut adrift, even when their injuries are the result of their national service. MDMA has proved remarkably successful in clinical trials, but such initiatives occupy a bleak confluence of political blindspots – the trauma of war and the scars it leaves, the effectiveness of a drug long demonised and the recognition that what has already been offered has been markedly inadequate.

Whilst men and women are still sent to kill in the name of a nation, they are owed the support and medicine to deal with the after-effects of this responsibility. Whether, as Zach’s delirious monologue suggests, he witnessed a heinous decapitation or is simply traumatised by the lack of action during his tour, clinical innovation through projects like MDMA therapy deserve the support of the countries that sends it citizens to work as soldiers. War is hell, but a purgatory of distress and flashbacks is no acceptable journey home.

-       Lewis Church


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Give Me Your LoveRidiculusmus

Combat Stress – The Veteran's Mental Health Charity

Treating PTSD with MDMA-Assisted Therapy

MDMA for PTSD?Live Science

Concerned Clinicians and Researchers Network

War Neuroses: Netley Hospital, 1918 – Wellcome Archive

Desperation Bingo // Creative Electric

It is brave to incorporate a game of chance like bingo within a show that has a serious message, but Creative Electric manage it well with a pair of camp, confident hosts. Eyes down, dabbers ready... The audience is playing, but there are also three 'contestants' who respond to each called number with a fact about themselves based on that number. It might be something that happened when they were that age, or something they bought for that amount of money, or the number of years they've been taking medication to treat their anxiety.

The audience can win prizes in the first two rounds, even as the information we learn about the contestants' characters gets more personal and more desperate. By the third round, it is clear that the point is to rage at the deadly impacts of the current government's austerity policies in the UK. A case here in Leith is mentioned, in which a local man died by suicide and the coroner said the trigger had been the decision of the Department of Work and Pensions to rule him fit for work, in spite of contrary assessments by his GP and psychologists.

Unlike Kaleider's Money, seen in Edinburgh in 2015, which asked the audience to agree on how to spend a pot of money, Desperation Bingo culminates in the opportunity for one audience member to win £82. The prize is the weekly benefits of the final contestant's mother, which she is at risk of losing now that her Disability Living Allowance has been replaced by an opportunity to apply for Personal Independence Payments. Last night the audience member declined, and it would be interesting to know whether anyone has ever, with an actor shouting 'You are Iain Duncan Smith; you are the Tory government', dared take the money.

- Michael Regnier


Links relevant to this diagnosis: 

Desperation Bingo - Creative Electric

The Money | Kaleider - British Council Edinburgh Showcase 2015

What Is Austerity? - The Economist 

GP's Report Was Ignored During Assessment - Pulse

Life and Death Under Austerity - Mosaic

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

The Samaritans - How to Get Help

Fashionable Medicine: Syphilis, Spas and Melancholy // Sibbald Library Productions

How should art deal with science and medicine? Should it even try? It often does, ‘science plays’ have been around for centuries, and films have covered these topics since their inception. How should those working in science and medicine explain what they do and why it’s important in a non-condescending way?

There are many different initiatives, such as the Pint of Science events that take place in pubs across the UK, which represent new ways of making science accessible. Fashionable Medicine: Syphilis, Spas and Melancholy is more of traditional approach. I listen to the lecture, watch the PowerPoint presentation and take notes. We’re in a venerable old hall that in itself might be off-putting for some, surrounded by portraits of great men (yes, men). Iain Milne and Daisy Cunynghame provide a slick double act; their presentation is funny in places and neither stuffy nor condescending. It is accessible to a far wider audience than has been tempted here. 

The lecture focuses on four aspects of fashionable medicine: theories, cures, diseases and clothes, using the college archives as illustration. They introduce the theory of disease linked to the four humours (black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm), which probably originated with Hippocrates nearly 2500 years ago, although it was later adapted by others, notably Galen. This nonsense wasn’t seriously challenged until the scientific and medical enlightenment that accelerated through the 18th and into the 19th century. Nevertheless, we still use concepts based on the humours, describing people as sanguine, phlegmatic and bilious. The fashionable cures involving spa waters at least did little harm, compared to other cures which were usually poisonous.

The main fashionable disease discussed was melancholy – a vague chronic disease, and thus ideal for doctors, who could prolong treatments and payment accordingly. Today’s fashionable disease is probably stress, a term that has been corrupted to cover everything from being very busy to suffering severe clinical depression. The syphilis of the title hardly gets a mention, but then concepts of contagion or infection were hazy and contentious until the mid-19th century. 

In contrast, Samantha Baines’ 1 Woman, A High-Flyer and A Flat Bottom, is a solo comedy act where she highlights 3 forgotten women of science. Its best example is Margaret E Knight, a 19th century inventor. Mattie lodged multiple patents and, amongst other inventions, came up with a machine to fold and glue the flat-bottomed paper bag that we all know. Baines' pun-laden informative comedy is a different way of making science accessible. Both ways are engaging and entertaining, but its important to engage if you are to be entertained. 

-       Alistair Lax


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Fashionable Medicine: Syphilis, Spas and Melancholy

Pint of Science

Science in Theatre

Royal College of Physicians Library Blog

Samantha Baines - 1 Woman, A High-Flyer and A Flat Bottom

Women Inventors 

SHARP EDGES / Amelia Sweetland

SHARP EDGES / Amelia Sweetland

Sharp Edges (written and performed by Amelia Sweetland) is an intense exploration of female mental illness. Filmed sequences and voiceover showing Sophie at home are used to break up a series of sessions Sophie has with the therapist her GP sends her to when she complains of insomnia. Slowly, Sophie's past and Sophie herself start to unravel.



In the 1980s, the Doug Anthony All Stars (DAAS) trio were a renowned shock-comedy band. Reunited now, the passage of time has left them as a self-described 'pensioner, cripple and human being'. Lead singer Paul McDermott performs a purposely uncomfortable attitude towards his bandmates that, combined with parody songs and stand-up, highlights a society in which people are allowed to 'fade out' once they leave the realm of healthy prime of life.

DECLARATION / Sarah Emmott & Art With Heart

DECLARATION / Sarah Emmott & Art With Heart

Declaration draws on Sarah Emmott’s experiences and (late) diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Developed with medical professionals, ADHD and mental health support groups, the piece begins with a highly energetic and comedic tone. Emmott shares childhood stories of embracing her then-undiagnosed self-defined “weirdness” within a supportive family context.

THE MAGNETIC DIARIES / Reaction Theatre Makers

THE MAGNETIC DIARIES / Reaction Theatre Makers

A poetry play based on Madame Bovary, The Magnetic Diaries describes a contemporary battle with severe depression, and the course of brain-altering repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) therapy that our protagonist, Emma, embarks on.



Adam Kay left a career as an obstetrician six years ago. In Fingering A Minor on the Piano, he shares observations about the realities of working as a doctor, creating a picture of the conditions and pressures that sit behind strike action.

FRONTAL LOBOTOMY / Jeu Jeu la Foille

FRONTAL LOBOTOMY / Jeu Jeu la Foille

Burlesque poet Jeu Jeu la Foille (Victoria Hancock) explores the 20th Century medical practice of frontal lobotomy in her show of the same name, drawn together with her own thoughts and experiences, and the life and music of Tom Waits.



Nils Bergstrand was the first disabled person to graduate from the musical theatre course at London's Royal Academy of Music. He auditioned after a passion for singing revealed itself through therapeutic exercises in acknowledging positive responses to the world, undertaken to cope with the post-traumatic stress of losing his leg.