Skye Loneragan is bringing the first ‘work in progress’ sharing of her new show, May Contain Nuts (*), to Manifesto, our opening day event at CCA in Glasgow on 4 October. We caught up with Skye to ask her what to expect from the performance…
Hello Skye. The story behind May Contain Nuts (*) is fascinating. A BBC commissioning editor questioned whether you had the authority to write accurately about your own father’s schizophrenia, and you then had to consult a psychiatrist to prove that you did. Can you talk us through how this made you feel at the time, and why you wanted to turn this experience into a show?
It’s the absurdity of the whole thing that brought me to May Contain Nuts (*). A BBC radio producer was interested in a radio adaptation of my stage play, Cracked, for BBC Radio 4. He told me that the Commissioning Editor was really interested in the work, but flagged the representation of the mental illness in it (which was inspired by my own father’s struggle with schizophrenia) as a “hot potato”.
I desperately wanted to get the thing on air, and desperately needed the commission, so when it was suggested if perhaps if I could provide some reassurance, it would pass the submission round, I booked in to see a psychiatrist. I sent him the script and went to get some kind of sign off that what I had experienced was true. Getting something on letterhead became crucial if I wanted to reach audiences with what I knew, once I had made it up.
At the time I felt outraged, ostracised, bemused and desperate. Now, however, I am fascinated by what this was all about. It strikes me as incredibly funny, tragically so. The reason I am writing May Contain Nuts (*) is that this was not the only time something in my writing has become a hot potato. In fact, there are three more plays that have needed a kind of signature on Letterhead, due to mental illness. These other hot potatoes emerge in the play when I go to see a psychiatrist to verify that my own father’s illness is an accurate one.
You’ve made several shows now shaped by your experiences of family members going through quite serious mental health issues. It feels like you’ve always managed to do this in a way that’s respectful and not too exposing of the people involved. Can you talk us through that creative process and the kinds of choices you need to make?
I’ve always made stuff up based on what I’ve experienced, and what I know. But I struggle with this question of how to write what you know all the time.
A fab workshop I attended once by writer Rona Munro reminded me we all write what we know. But even in re-telling a memory we are re-writing what we know. And as we all know, three family members may have three very different stories of the one family event. I do not ever draw my actual family into anything and yet it is my family experiences I am drawing on. Tricky.
I’m always questioning why I might hesitate to write what I know. Again, I write about this in May Contain Nuts (*). I have come to see there must be stigma involved in all of this, for me to feel I can’t write what I know, or need to have some kind of permission to tell my story, and that is also why Stigma becomes a character with the best of intentions in May Contain Nuts (*). What I do know is I need to find the essence of something, the seed of an experience, and imagine how that might be re-grown, and that I can only take responsibility for what I intend, not its interpretation.
The performance of May Contain Nuts at this year’s SMHAF is a ‘work in progress’. How is it progressing? And can you talk about who you’ve been working with and what they’ve brought to the process?
Yes, May Contain Nuts (*) at Manifesto is very much a play-in-progress. The few days prior is, for me, a rare, funded opportunity to open up the script in development to some very strong creatives with their own maker-minds: performer and performer/writers Itxaso Moreno, Maria MacDonnell and Christopher Craig.
Years ago, when I saw Robert Softley Gale’s Purposeless Movements I knew I wanted to work with him. I loved that piece. It restored some of my faith in theatre. I just thought he would get what I’m trying to do. I’m so glad he was available to join me as development director for May Contain Nuts (*). He has already questioned who has the right to decide what stories we tell.
The theme of this year’s SMHAF is revolution. How does that resonate with you? And how does it relate to May Contain Nuts?
The word, ‘revolution’ sits uncomfortably with me but I’m asking myself why. I’ve associated it with violence and the overthrow of something through adopting a creed of what is ‘right’, a righteousness, I think. Condemnation (of the ‘other’) doesn’t work well in my experience if you want to transform belief systems. But I love the idea of overturning what is clearly not working. It resonates with me as an urgent cry to action to transform something. What I do love about the word is it suggests strength through connection, a wave forming.
The play May Contain Nuts (*) fits into the idea of a provocation which may inspire a revolution. Something that can stir in order to shift. Something that can question in order to re-arrange, re-build, re-configure. Revolution in the sense of transformation, radical change.
Finally, what do you imagine a mental health revolution could look like?
Radical change is something we so clearly need if we are to move into our future – given the current eco-emergency. I wonder how we do that and nurture our collective sanity. So a mental health revolution in my mind must be a transformation of what is considered sane.
Most of how we are existing right now is not sane (in the sense of rational, reasonable, sustainable, and realistic). I have trouble managing the acute love I feel for my daughter alongside the fear of what is to come, and how to prepare her for what is already happening.
I imagine a mental health ‘revolution’ could involve wiping a kitchen bench without falling apart. One thing that feels crucial is to be able to share experiences and practice a listening ear. Compassion. It could be honing the ability to sink into the present moment, I don’t know.
I would love to feel like I could talk about my own experiences of mental-health-wealth without feeling I’ve transgressed something, or voiced something that ideally remains boxed – something that somehow needs a signature on a Letterhead before it is deemed safe, or accurate, or real.
How to See It
May Contain Nuts (*) is showing from 2pm – 3pm on Wednesday 4 October at CCA, Glasgow as part of our Manifesto programme.
Tickets are available as part of the Manifesto Day Pass, which costs £5 / £10 / £15 on a ‘pay what you can’ basis and allows you to attend up to 5 events. Single tickets for this event are now also available for £3.
About Skye Loneragan
Skye Loneragan is a playwright, poet and performer, who often works on cross-artform projects and as an artist-in-residence. She has written several solo shows, including Edinburgh Fringe First winner Cracked and Though This Be Madness (which became Though This Be Online Madness with SMHAF during lockdown). She is currently working on Remembering Together, Edinburgh, a Covid memorial focused on co-creating with adults with learning disabilities, a new poetry collection exploring daily moments of eco-emergency and re-thinking the human, including a film-poem You May Lose Your Fingerprint with a visual artist, Adam Sebire.