More thoughts on mental health in the theatre – point me in the direction of better stories.


Just so you know chaps, Spoilers ahead…

Two weekends ago I went to see the play Equus with a friend of mine. I don’t want to turn this blog into a ‘review of psychological plays’ blog, or indeed give the impression that I am more cultured than I am, always off to the theatre. The reality is more sitting in bed watching telly with my partner and cats rather than glamorous outings to the theatre. However I do have some more thoughts on this issue after seeing this play.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on Cypress Avenue by David Ireland (which was on at the Royal Court Theatre) but now I can’t seem to find the blog post, only the title – did anyone see the text? – it was a good post (even if I do say so myself) but wordpress seems only to have saved the title. I don’t know what happened, and I don’t think I’m going to re-write that post. Basically by thoughts were: was very funny, and probably has a lot to say about the legacy of violence in Northern Ireland. It’s the kind of play that middle class people  who are mostly untroubled by violence or poverty (I say this being a middle class person) come out of saying things like ‘shocking’, and ‘very powerful’. However from the point of view of talking about mental health, it’s really problematic. I’m really fed up with the ‘traumatised man goes mad and kills his whole family narrative’, it’s time for the ‘person goes through trauma and then turns that experience into something positive for them and their community’ narrative’, or the ‘person goes through trauma, and it’s pretty horrible, but they end up ok, and don’t kill anyone narrative.’ So that’s a summary of what that was about – I am sorry if you ended up seeing a blog post with a title and no content (especially after I claimed I was going to be a bit more consistent with my blogging again).

Cypress Avenue was a relatively new play compared to Equus, which was written by Peter Shaffer in 1973. I liked this one better, performed at the Stratford Playhouse, as I will explain, but I have different issues with this one. So basically it’s a play about a boy who blind’s six horses with a spike, which was a real world event in the 1970’s. Apparently the playwright wanted to think about what would drive a person to do such a thing. The story is of a boy who has built a vivid inner mental world that results in the blinding horses situation. It’s quite an intellectual play, based on a psychoanalytical perspective that ultimately manages to tie (because it’s freudian after all) everything back to some sexual event. I’m being a bit glib and a bit brief here but that’s the jist of it – I enjoyed the play and think it’s worth seeing/ reading. There were some really wonderful physical performances by the actors, and it very much treats the young man as a person, as a human being in pain, not as some kind of monster. I liked it for that. I also like that it kind of raises the question of whether it is right to take away someone’s belief system, just because it does not align with the majority view, although it does not answer this question (I am not sure that it could).

But here’s my problem with it. Many times through the play we hear that ‘the boy is in misery’ but we don’t actually see much of that on stage. So it’s a bit of sanitised view of that misery, and mostly we just have to take the word of the ‘professionals’ on the stage that this is the case. The boy has built an elaborate belief system around horses, and he then goes on to violate that belief system by attempting a sexual act in the stable (the symbolic Temple of Equus). The whole play basically treats mental illness as a puzzle – if you can just solve the puzzle then you will fix the person. I just don’t think it works like that in real life for many people. It’s an intellectual approach to mental health that I don’t think really respects the kind of pain and distress that people live with and go through. Many people who experience mental health problems (including myself) haven’t built elaborate belief systems that can be analysed and ‘solved’ in this way. Many people have been through understandable trauma, or live difficult, stressful lives, or are bullied and belittled on a regular basis or made to feel by society that they are ‘wrong’ in some fundamental way. It’s not a complicated secret to them where their pain comes from, what is complicated is how to alleviate that pain. For most people experiencing mental distress – it’s not a puzzle that can be solved and fixed, it’s an ongoing, day by day experience that they continue to endure. Understanding your own story can be the start of a healing journey, but it’s rarely the whole solution.

So, I still think we need better stories about mental health. However, as I confessed to at the beginning of this post, I am someone who mostly sits around with her partner and cats watching telly, it’s very likely that I have missed them. I would very much appreciate it if anyone has any good recommendations for plays, films, or books that give a more nuanced picture of mental health. Drop your recommendation in the comments – at some point I will write a post about the results.

Posted in Anxiety, Art, Craft, creative work, Theatre | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Baby Magpie

It’s been a little while since I last blogged, and quite a while since I blogged a proper update. There have been a few reasons for that. For those who follow the blog you will know that I had IVF earlier in the year and was feeling very tired. Now I have a more positive reason to feel very tired. We were very lucky, and our first go at IVF took. So after about 3 years of tests and treatments, baby magpie is on his or her way. I am currently about four and a half months pregnant and am really feeling it. Turns out it takes a lot of energy to grow a baby.

I’ve been struggling with energy levels but have managed to do little bits of art and writing here and there. I think my big challenge over the next few months will be to think a bit about how to keep the creativity going when I am a new mum without completely stressing myself out about it. I am sure other people manage this. I wasn’t at all expecting we would have success with the IVF and so am still a little shocked, even as we are almost half way through. I imagine this will take a little time to figure out. I will try not to make too much of this blog about being a mum, there are lots of others around that do that very well. However I may make some posts about being both creative and a parent – and if it is possible for me to do those two things together.

In some ways I feel it is a bit of a ‘now or never’ time. I will have some time off work, which will mostly be filled with a baby but it could be an opportunity to think differently about how I do things. With that in mind I have just started a writing course which is designed to help me develop my novel. I’ve also set up a patreon here. I’m not necessarily looking for paying patreons, but I would like to build up a bit of a following there as I am posting some different bits over there, including some of my writing. So far I have no followers, it’s kind of lonely. If you fancy keeping track of what I’m doing artistically with a few more photos and videos please follow me.

Other than that, I’m going to try to get back to posting more regularly, pregnancy permitting. I hope you are all well, and would love to hear from other bloggers who have faced ‘now or never’ moments, and what they did with them.

That’s all for now,


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Reasons to be greatful: lazy afternoons in the park

It’s been really hot in London the last few days. I’m not great with the heat and tend to really struggle.

This morning I swam with my sister and then my partner met me at the park with a picknick. We grabbed a spot under some oak trees. He has gone off for an ice-cream and when I look up this is what I can see. Not to shabby huh?

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Art and cats

So this has been my afternoon. Art and snoozing cats. Not too shabby huh.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

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Reasons to be greatful: a morning of rain

It’s been so hot this week and it turns out that it’s quite difficult to cool down our flat when the sun is out. I really struggle in warm weather as I get light headed a lot and find it difficult to concentrate. I have not done much art this week, but I have done lots of extra sleeping.

This morning when I woke up I could hear the rain against our windows and the air was significantly cooler. Our cats have been having a nice time this morning looking out of the windows into the rain.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

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Paper cut kitty: Weekend work in progress

I’ve been working on a fun piece based on one of my cats. I’m about halfway there. Here are a few pics.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

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New story board attempt.

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to sit down and draw. After we moved and adopted the cats it’s taken a bit of time to settle in to doing creative things with paper. I’ve now been through a full cycle of ivf which was exhausting but ok. We are waiting on the outcome now. I also had quite a lot of animation work left to do on the computer and so prioritised getting that done.

But today I had some time to sit and draw some mini story boards for a documentary I’ve been working on for some time. I have some audio that needs visuals to go with it and I’ve been animating those sections among others. It feels really nice to be drawing again.

In other news I’ve started a patreon. There isn’t much on there at the moment but I’m planning to post pictures and updates on my drawing and writing which I’m less happy to put out in the public lest the ideas get pinched. I’d really appreciate it if people would be interested in following me there.

You can follow me here: Magpie

Posted in Craft, creative work, documentary film making | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Taking public transport in East London

A few months ago myself and my partner moved from Kent into East London to be closer to work. The plan was to cut down on our commuting time and take that time back for other things. I thought I would spend more time doing arty things, but actually I seem to spend that time having elaborate conversations with the two cats we adopted almost as soon as we got here.

Moving areas means that we have tried out a range of new tube, train and bus routes. I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently watching people, and watching the scenery from the top deck of the bus. Londoners have this reputation for coldness on public transport. Never make eye contact, don’t chat. Try to get a seat alone and absolutely don’t surrender it. I think this often reflects my experience of travelling around London in general. However I’ve been taking the bus in East London quite a bit recently and I have notice quite a different pattern. I have noticed many moments of generosity on the bus amongst people who appear to take the same route everyday and who know each other to look at. The father taking his kid to school who sees another parent and offers to chaperone her child too. The young man getting up from his seat for an elderly lady. The people who move about so a young family can sit together.

I think Londoners have a bit of a reputation for coldness, and East London has a bit of a reputation for worse. But if you look for it there is a lot of good stuff happening here too, like those little moments of kindness on the bus to work or school.

Posted in Craft, gratitude, Living in London | Tagged , , | 1 Comment